BOOK REVIEW: Northwest of Earth, by C.L. Moore

northwest.jpg

Publisher: Gollancz

Series: Standalone

Genre: Cosmic Horror/Adventure

Pages: 343

Publication Date: 01/04/2019 (originally 1954)

Verdict: 4/5

 

Humanity has spread across Earth, Mars and Venus. But in this glittering new age, there are darker forces at work.

Our most ancient legends are derived from the horrors that dwell in outer space, and we will run into them again. But for those willing to risk an encounter with these ancient powers, the rewards can be great indeed. Assuming your survival is not reward enough.

For Northwest Smith, exile from Earth, the rewards are worth the risk. If there’s one thing he knows about space, it’s that a man can make his fortune out there. And that’s just what he intends to do . . .

 

This collection of short stories could not be more emblematic of the pulp era if they tried. We’ve got interstellar adventure, sinister monsters, use of ancient mythology, the word ‘ray-gun’ used unironically. It is utterly, beautifully macabre and fantastical in just the right way. With all the ancient, mind-warping qausi-magic going on, there’s a definite Lovecraftian vibe to proceedings. Later on there’s even time travel to the world of Jirel of Joiry, another Moore creation.

Northwest himself is an archetypal space scoundrel. The model for Han Solo, Mal Reynolds or any other you could think of. He’s a fast-talking, heavy-drinking, swindling, scruffy-looking, womanizer. And it’s that final fact that drives so many of the stories in this collection. Almost every story has Northwest getting into trouble as he tries, against all recommendations, to save a pretty face. As such, the stories do become a little repetitive towards the end. But plotlines aside, there’s enough delving into ancient ruins, bizzare alien encounters and desperate escapes to keep the reader entertained.

The Lovecraftian aspect I mentioned is more than just the unspeakable horrors. It also covers the style of the writing. I’m hesitant to use the word overwritten, because the prose does exactly what it should, creating a sense of unease and confusion. But it is grandiose and verbose, and words like ‘squamous’ and ‘eldritch’ would be right at home here.

‘Shambleau’, the opening story, is one of the strongest. Introducing the setting and characters while perfectly telling an unsettling and genuinely horrific story of vampiric seduction. Conversely, the final entry ‘Song in a Minor Key’, is a peaceful and reflective peace. More of a character summary than an actual story, but at only three pages it’s a quiet and somber end to the collection.

This is the sort of book I hoped to discover under the new GA masterworks line, and I’m a little sad to see how few books Moore wrote. Hopefully they’ll all be rereleased eventually, but I’ll be tracking them down regardless. If you’re looking for pure, pulpy goodness, then this is the place to find it.

All I have left to say, is that I am grateful to the SF Gateway project for bringing these lost classics to light, and I hope there are many more to come.

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