Doomsday Morning by C.L. Moore
By the mid-1950s, science fiction’s foremost husband-and-wife writing team, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, could be regarded more as coeds than working authors. After the release of their “fix-up” novel Mutant in late 1953, the pair released only five more short pieces of sci-fi over the next five years. And while it is true that Kuttner did come out with a series of novels featuring psychoanalyst/detective Dr. Michael Gray, for the most part, the two concentrated on getting their degrees at the University of Southern California. Kuttner, taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, graduated in 1954, while Catherine Lucille, paying her own way, took things slower and finished up by 1956. And the following year, she capped off a glorious writing career with a solo SF novel, her last, Doomsday Morning.
A companion piece in title only to Moore’s 1943 novel JudgmentNight, this is a very fine tale indeed. It is a bit unusual for the author in that its setting is not Venus, or deep space, or the distant future, or some unusually named fantasy world, but rather America — New York City and rural California, to be precise — of only 50 years in the future; in other words, around 2007, or right now! The America of Moore’s early 21st century has become a quasi-totalitarian regime run by a far-reaching entity known as Comus (short for Communications of the United States). This government department in essence controls not only all the communications in the country, but also the schools, transportation network, the hospitals, the entertainment industry, the military divisions, et al. Howard Rohan, a washed-up alcoholic wreck who had once been one of Broadway’s greatest stars, is pressured by Comus into putting on a traveling, open-air play called “Crossroads,” along with a troupe of five other actors, to entertain in California. That state, it seems, had been rebelling openly against Comus, and activists there had been purportedly hard at work perfecting some kind of “Anti-Com” device that might miraculously bring about Comus’ downfall. The story of how Rohan becomes a whole man again, after three years of grieving for his late wife, and how he becomes involved in nothing less than a second Revolutionary War of sorts, is the story of Doomsday Morning.
Moore peoples her novel with interesting characters (all the actors in Rohan’s troupe are at some kind of personal crossroads in their own lives), and although the sci-fi elements are kept to a minimum (indeed, without Comus’ tear-shaped Prowler cars, the spindly “hedgehoppers,” a weapon called a “scatter gun” and, of course, the Anti-Com itself, the book would hardly be science fiction at all, but rather a dystopian action tale), there are numerous thrilling sequences. Thus, Rohan’s participation in a Comus raid, his stealing of a hedgehopper, the nighttime fight against some seedy renegades, and a remarkably suspenseful denouement, with the fate of the country — and the very existence of California itself — hanging in the balance. The author even manages to work some nice surprises into her story, as we discover the real reason for the existence of “Crossroads,” what the Anti-Com actually is, and the reasons for Howard’s unusual dreams and psychological promptings. Rohan himself is a very interesting character, it must be said, whose motivations and loyalties seem to be in a constant state of evolution as he sobers up and sorts things out.
It need hardly be mentioned at this late date what a gloriously fine writer Moore was; from her very first story, the classic “Shambleau” in the November ’33 issue of Weird Tales, to this, her final book, she combined elegant yet colorful prose with a distinctive emotional flair and one helluva imagination. Her 20-year collaboration with Henry Kuttner resulted in over a dozen remarkable novels and hundreds of short stories, and the team was surely one of the sturdiest pillars of science fiction’s so-called Golden Age. What a terrible loss to the genre was Kuttner’s early death in 1958, at the age of 44. Moore never returned to the field of sci-fi after his passing, instead writing scripts for such television programs as 77 Sunset Strip and Maverick. Doomsday Morning, thus, was her last sci-fi hurrah, but what a fine note to go out on! Like all the other works from this remarkable team, I mo(o)re than highly recommend it!
This sounds wonderful, Sandy!
Well, Marion, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Kuttner and/or Moore that wasn’t!
This looks great! I’ve never read any of their work, but I’ve got Chessboard Planet sitting next to me. I ordered it last week based on your review.
Prepare yourself for one wild and woolly experience, Brad! “Chessboard Planet” is just about as way out as this team ever got….