East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai



Translating Lavie Tidhar’s wonderful Central Station brought back memories of C.L. Moore’s Shambleau.
Easily one of the most influential short stories in the history of science fiction, Shambleau was published in 1933 in Weird Tales. It introduced the character of Northwest Smith and more importantly created the alien, parasitic Shambleau and its mythos.

bestmooreA story about sex and addiction, and about good deeds never going unpunished, I first read it in the mid ‘80s, in the Italian edition of the complete Northwest Smith stories.
To say it made an impression would be an understatement.
It was also a signal – one of many, actually – that the often dismissed “sci-fi” of the golden age was not just childish drivel and poor writing.
Shambleau is – together with a handful of other titles – certainly one of the stories that awakened my interest in the old pulps.
I later read it in English in The Best of C.L. Moore (lost somewhere in the 1990s), and finally I read it in French when I discovered the gorgeous edition illustrated by Forest – the artist behind Barbarella.


I still think that a director like John Carpenter should do a movie version of Shambleau. Or maybe Guillermo del Toro, considering his interest in monsters and layered narratives.

9781476781617-lgIn case you are interested, complete scans of the French edition can be found here.
And if you never read Shambleau, beg, steal or borrow a copy – it was often reprinted, most notably in Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams by Gollancz (part of their Fantasy Masterworks series), and more recently as part of the book Women of Future Past (that is highly recommended).
And now, back to translating.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Shambleau

  1. C.L. Moore was one of the greats. Out of her “Northwest Smith” stories, of which I think “Shambleau” was the best, I also like “Black Thirst” and “Werewoman”. And Smith, as a lawless interplanetary adventurer, smuggler and hijacker, came long before Han Solo, and for my money, could out-derring-do and outshoot him, and never would have ended up preserved in carbonite on Jabba’s wall until his friends rescued him, either. He’d have raygunned Jabba the Hut into rendered lard.
    In Yarol the Venusian he had a more interesting and likeable sidekick than Chewbacca, besides.


    • I have to agree on all counts.
      C.L. Moore was certainly a very gifted writer, and an inspired one when she created Northwast Smith and Jirel of Joiry.
      As for a Smith/Yarol vs Solo/Chewie showdown, yes, my money would be on Northwest Smith, especially because Moore created two morally ambiguous scoundrels and never reformed them – Han Solo was progressively sanitized and marginalized in the original trilogy, and that weakened the character.


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