fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsJudgment Night by C.L. Moore science fiction book reviewsJudgment Night by C.L. Moore

Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, the foremost husband-and-wife writing team in sci-fi history, produced their novels and short stories under a plethora of pen names, as well as their own, and for the past half century it has been a sort of literary game to puzzle out which author was the primary contributor to any particular work. This has apparently been far from a simple task, as either writer was perfectly capable of picking up the other’s thoughts in mid-paragraph and carrying on. Catherine Moore has said publicly that many stories for which she was the primary author were published under Kuttner’s name for the simple reason that his word rate was higher than hers; this, despite the fact that Moore was a longer-established writer. (I suppose that unequal pay for equal work was a factor in the 1940s even more so than it is today.)

Despite the abundance of pen names — 17, by my count, the most well-known of which were Keith Hammond, Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O’Donnell, that last pen name often being attached to stories written solely by Moore — one generally regarded truism was that when a work appeared under C.L. Moore’s own name, that was a sure sign that the piece was hers alone. Such was the case with the novel Judgment Night, which initially appeared as the cover story of Astounding Science-Fiction in August 1943, under Moore’s name, and concluded in the September issue. (The team was so very prolific at this point, by the way, that its short story “Endowment Policy” also appeared in that same August issue, under the Padgett byline!)

Judgment Night displays all the colorful, emotional elements that are the hallmarks of Moore’s style. It tells the story of Juille, the headstrong, amazonian daughter of the galaxy’s emperor, and her last-ditch efforts to stave off a revolutionary attack by barbarians on her Lyonese empire and, specifically, her home world of Ericon.

Juille is somewhat similar to one of Moore’s most popular characters, Jirel of Joiry, a medieval, swashbuckling fantasy creation who appeared in a series of stories in Weird Tales magazine in the 1930s. The similarly named Juille can almost be seen as a space-age Jirel, trading a traditional sword for a fire sword; a horse for a star cruiser. As with Jirel, her battling ways come into direct conflict with the pull of romantic entanglements. One of the more interesting aspects of Judgment Night is the simultaneous attraction and repulsion that Juille feels for Egide, the blond-bearded leader of the barbarian hordes; this reluctant undermining of Juille’s “amazon code” gives her character some real psychological depth.

The book, first and foremost, however, is a thrilling adventure tale, with several stunning set pieces: the initial meeting of Juille and Egide on Cyrille, an artificial, orbiting pleasure planetoid on which any scenario imaginable can be created by the use of films and what I take to be holograms; the kidnapping of Juille, and an exploration of the mysterious catacombs beneath Ericon; a visit to the gods of Ericon, who dwell in a dimensionless temple in the forbidden forests; and, saving the best for last, an hallucinogenic battle royale between Juille, Egide and his brutish henchman Jair, back on Cyrille, as the clock ticks away towards Ericon’s destruction. This last section is a real tour de force for Moore, as her protagonists battle from one artificial environment to the next (from forest to desert to underwater to blizzard to beach scene, etc.), armed with mysterious superweapons discovered in Ericon’s catacombs.

Moore even manages to pull off a wonderful surprise ending for her story, as well as a suitably downbeat message regarding the folly of man and the utter waste of war. Juille is a wonderful character — brave, humorless, willful, spoiled — who changes for the better as the book progresses, and it is a shame that Moore never chose to revisit her again. I have read this terrific, well-nigh forgotten piece of Golden Age sci-fi twice now (in the 1965 Paperback Library edition) in a 25-year period, and found that I liked it even more the second time around. Fans of fast-moving space adventure told with colorful prose and emotional depth should by all means pounce!


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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