C. L. Moore

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Catherine Leigh Moore shattered the masculine barriers of fantasy and science fiction when she started publishing her remarkable short stories in Weird Tales in the 1930s. Her character Jirel, the ruler of the fiefdom of Joiry in medieval France, was the first female Sword-and-Sorcery hero. And, considering how much competition she faces today from the warrior women who have followed the path she blazed, she remains one of the best.

—Ryan Harvey, in a review of Black God's Kiss

Catherine Lucille Moore (January 24, 1911 – April 4, 1987) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer, most often as C. L. Moore. She was one of the first women to write in either genre, and paved the way for many other female speculative fiction writers. She and her first husband Henry Kuttner were prolific co-authors under their own names and three pseudonyms.

Biography[edit | hide | hide all]

Moore was born on January 24, 1911 in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. She was chronically ill as a child and spent much of her time reading literature of the fantastic. She left college during the Great Depression in the United States to work as a secretary at the Fletcher Trust Company in Indianapolis.

Her first stories appeared in pulp magazines during the mid-1930s, including two significant series in Weird Tales, then edited by Farnsworth Wright. One features the rogue and adventurer Northwest Smith wandering through the Solar System; the other features Jirel of Joiry, one of the first female protagonists in sword-and-sorcery fiction. Both are sometimes named for their lead characters.

The most famous Northwest Smith story is "Shambleau," which was also Moore's first professional sale. It appeared in the November 1933 issue and netted her a hundred dollars. The most famous Jirel story is also the first one, "Black God's Kiss," which was the October 1934 cover story with subtitle "the weirdest story ever told". Her early stories were notable for their emphasis on the senses and emotions, which was unusual at the time.

Moore's work also appeared in Astounding Science Fiction magazine throughout the 1940s. Several stories written for that magazine were later collected in her first published book, Judgment Night (Gnome Press, 1952).[1] One of the most remarkable was the 1944 novella "No Woman Born," which went on to be included in more than ten different science fiction anthologies including The Best of C. L. Moore.

Included in that collection were "Judgment Night" (first published in August and September 1943), the lush rendering of a future galactic empire with a sober meditation on the nature of power and its inevitable loss; “The Code” (July 1945), an homage to the classic Faust with modern theories and Lovecraftian dread; "Promised Land" (February 1950) and "Heir Apparent" (July 1950) both documenting the grim twisting that mankind must undergo in order to spread into the solar system; and "Paradise Street" (September 1950), a futuristic take on the Old West conflict between lone hunter and wilderness-taming settlers.

Moore met Henry Kuttner, also a science fiction writer, in 1936 when he wrote her a fan letter under the impression that "C. L. Moore" was a man. They married in 1940 and thereafter wrote almost all of their stories in collaboration — under their own names and using the joint pseudonyms C. H. Liddell, Lawrence O'Donnell, and Lewis Padgett — most commonly the latter, a combination of their mothers' maiden names.

In this very prolific partnership they managed to combine Moore's style with Kuttner's more cerebral storytelling. Their works include a classic, "Mimsy Were the Borogoves," the basis for the film The Last Mimzy, and "Vintage Season". They also collaborated on a story that combined Moore’s signature characters, Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry: "Quest of the Starstone" (1937).

After Kuttner's death in 1958, Moore continued teaching his writing course at the University of Southern California but wrote almost no fiction. She did write for a few television shows under her married name, but upon marrying Thomas Reggie (who was not a writer) in 1963, she ceased writing entirely.

In 1981 Moore received two annual awards for her career in fantasy literature, the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, chosen by a panel of judges at the World Fantasy Convention, and the Gandalf Grand Master Award, chosen by vote of participants in the World Science Fiction Convention. (Thus she became the eighth and final Grand Master of Fantasy, sponsored by the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America, in partial analogy to the Grand Master of Science Fiction sponsored by the Science Fiction Writers of America.)

C. L. Moore was an active member of the Tom and Terri Pinckard Science Fiction literary salon, and was a frequent contributor to literary discussions with the regular membership including Larry Niven, Norman Spinrad, A. E. van Vogt, Jerry Pournelle, Robert Bloch, George Clayton Johnson, and others, as well as many visiting writers and speakers. She developed Alzheimer's disease but that was not obvious for several years. She had ceased to attend the meetings when she was nominated to be the first woman Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America; the nomination was withdrawn at the request of her husband, Thomas Reggie, who said that the award and ceremony would be at best confusing and likely upsetting to her, given the progress of her disease. That caused dismay among the former SFWA presidents, for she was a great favorite to receive the award. (Former presidents and current officers select a living writer as Grand Master of SF, no more than one annually.)

C. L. Moore died on April 4, 1987 at her home in Hollywood, California after a long battle with Alzheimer's.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted Moore in 1998, its third class of two deceased and two living writers.

Works written by C. L. Moore include:
  • Earth's Last Citadel (with Henry Kuttner; 1943)
  • Vintage Season (with Henry Kuttner, as "Lawrence O'Donnell"; 1946)—filmed in 1992 as Timescape
  • The Mask of Circe (with Henry Kuttner; 1948)
  • Beyond Earth's Gates (1949)
  • Judgment Night (stories, 1952)
  • Shambleau and Others (stories, 1953)
  • Northwest of Earth (stories, 1954)
  • No Boundaries (with Henry Kuttner; stories, 1955)
  • Doomsday Morning (1957)
  • Jirel of Joiry (Paperback Library, 1969); Black God's Shadow (Donald M. Grant, 1977) — the five Jirel stories collected; the latter a limited edition with color plates, signed, numbered, and boxed
  • The Best of C. L. Moore, edited by Lester Del Rey (Nelson Doubleday, 1975)—includes a biographical introduction by Del Rey, which is carefully noncommittal about the influence of her personal life on her writing, and an autobiographical afterword by Moore
  • Black God's Kiss (Paizo Publishing, 2007; ISBN 978-1-60125-045-2)—the five Jirel stories collected
  • Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith (Paizo Publishing, 2008; ISBN 978-1-60125-081-0) — the thirteen Northwest Smith stories collected


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  1. In 1951 Gnome had published Tomorrow and Tomorrow and the Fairy Chessmen, the omnibus edition of two short novels by Moore & Kuttner as Lewis Padgett, which had been two-part serials in Astounding during 1947 and 1946. Judgment Night comprised five stories by Moore alone—none from the Northwest Smith and Jirel series, which Gnome collected in part one year later.