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Wild Worlds & Weird Creatures,
This review is from: Black Gods And Scarlet Dreams (FANTASY MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
Volume 31 in the Fantasy Masterworks series is another collection of stories culled from the pages of the 1930s magazine 'Weird Tales'. Catherine Moore wasn't quite as prolific in the field as some of her better-known contemporaries, but managed to more than hold her own in providing the requisite bizarre creatures and strange worlds demanded of this type of pulp fantasy fiction. Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams is, in fact, two story collections. The first follows the adventures of Jirel of Joiry, Moore's warrior heroine, through five stories, the best of which is probably the last -'Hellsgarde', which is a bit like a cross between 'Xena - Warrior Princess', and one of Clark Ashton Smith's stories about rotting castles full of the living dead and gateways to other dimensions. We only get 160 pages' worth of Jirel and one is left with the feeling that a whole volume could easily be devoted to this character, although I have no idea whether Moore wrote any further stories about her.
On to part 2 and the adventures of Northwest Smith, laser gunslinger of the spaceways. Anyone concerned that the book is about to degenerate into cheap Western plots rehashed with a space setting will be pleased to learn that the first story contains a weird vampire-gorgon creature that must have provided the inspiration for using Caravaggio's Medusa as the book's cover art. Moore's prose style, particularly her descriptions of the various lurid landscapes in which Smith tends to find himself, is eminently readable. Unfortunately, plot wise these stories are often very similar, with our hero being threatened by a voluptuous lady alien who requires an essential part of him for some nefarious scheme. He usually escapes through the power of his will, sometimes helped along with a few bursts from his laser/ray/blaster gun (it changes from story to story). A book to be read more as a period piece, as well as a shining example of how a woman managed to succeed in the male-dominated arena of thirties pulp SF. Nevertheless, if you've been enjoying the books by Robert E Howard and Clark Ashton Smith in this series, then you could do worse than to while away a few pleasant hours with this volume as well.