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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 June 2014
'Weird Tales' was one of the most celebrated Pulp magazines of the 1930s. It published Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard's 'Conan' stories. But while lumpen Goths fawn over Gollancz' faux-leather 'Necronomicon' and elf-trilogy nerds puzzle over the fact that the Conan collection in the same binding is comprised of (horror of horrors) short stories, poems and only one novel (this was before, Tolkien, kidz), they remain ignorant of the third major figure to emerge from 'Weird Tales'.

Catherine Moore worked as a typist in a bank. In 1933, her story "Shambleau", a feverish,sensual tale of medusa-like vampirism on a planetary-romance Mars catapulted her to genre stardom. It has since appeared in dozens of anthologies and remains a favourite among true fanatics of SF, Fantasy and Horror. "Shambleau" introduced the sublime Northwest Smith, the greatest space adventurer of the Golden Age of SF, a badass leatherclad outlaw romantic, wanted on Earth, always confronted by the same dilemma: another girl, another planet.

'Northwest of Earth' compiles the adventures of the antihero I've always felt was the model for Han Solo of 'Star Wars' fame, except that Smith is meaner, harder, sexier and cooler. His overcooked adventures all feature him getting into scrapes with irresistible yet weird alien women (it's a tough life as an outlaw spacer), delivered in florid, multicolour-spattered prose from Moore, who makes Lovecraft seem tame in her dripping linguistic prowess. This is the pure stuff of pulp SF in that it's actually like what people assume science fiction is like when they haven't actually read any, not realising that this mode of telling disappeared from print a long, long, time ago....and what's more, Moore made this low form of hackwork feel like art. She was a genius of excess. Smith's adventures may follow a formula, but each one is like eating a different flavour of exotic ice cream...then best of all is the last one, the sublime, moody origin story "Song in a Minor Key" that does more in three pages than Tolkien manages in three volumes. Now that's popular writing at its finest.

'Jirel of Joiry' was the first female sword and sorecery heroine - and one of the earliest sword and sorcery characters full stop, preceding those of Leiber, Moorcock and Vance. Fiesty and quasi-historic, Jirel is often at the mercy of the sensual and the monstrous. The titles of the stories should explain : 'Black God's Kiss' is just one.

Another reviewer here has written well about 'Judgement Night', the full-length novel included with these two collections of tales about Smith and Jirel, so I'll not comment on the book other than to agree.

For an introduction to the REAL meat of true pulp SF, a revelatory view of a woman's sensuality and viewpoint in genre SF long before the likes of leGuin and Russ and for a helping of gorgeous weird writing to match Howard and Lovecraft nd Clark Ashton Smith, you can't go wrong here. Female readers in particular should be reading Moore, who beat the boys at their own game long before the even the parents of the current lady authors of YA teen dystopias got it on. Arguments about institutional sexism in SF begin here, with the revelation that Moore got in early and set the scene on fire with sensuality.

This is raw, primal writing from one of the most important figures in the history of popular writing, whose legacy and significance is unfairly obscured by the passage of time.
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