Previously Balladeer’s Blog has done a story-by- story examination of the neglected pulp heroes Silver John and the Moon Man. Now begins a look at the pulp adventures of that often neglected 1930’s science fiction hero Northwest Smith.
THE HERO: Space traveling anti-hero Smith was created by the female writer C.L. Moore in the 1930′s. Four decades before Han Solo, Northwest Smith was a ruthless swashbuckling smuggler, thief and all-around mercenary. Smith’s less than sterling character made him a refreshing change from the usually wholesome pulp heroes of the time.
THE STORIES: Northwest Smith’s adventures take place in the far future, when regular trade exists between Earth and the native inhabitants of Mars and Venus. The other planets in the solar system have been colonized by those Big Three worlds, providing a backdrop that combines elements of westerns, seagoing adventures and colonial-era war stories.
Wielding a blaster like a six-gun and piloting his deceptively fast and maneuverable spaceship The Maid Smith and his Venusian partner Yarol roam the solar system making a living by plying various illegal trades. Though Northwest and Yarol are career criminals they often find themselves forced by circumstances into taking actions similar to those of traditional heroes. Their motive is usually their own survival rather than altruism.
Martian women called Shambleaus lure Smith into perverse erotic addiction, Venusian pimps run a flesh trade featuring genetically altered women and tomb raiders throughout the solar system involve Smith and Yarol in activities that threaten to unleash cosmos-destroying forces from the distant past. One adventure even finds Northwest stranded in a different dimension that features red grass that sucks blood, winged abominations and carnivorous trees. West’s sultry female acquaintances in the tales often go the way of James Bond’s women unfortunately.
CL Moore’s style was sort of a science fiction version of Anne Rice and provided the Northwest Smith stories with a lurid sensuousness that made them stand out from other science fiction tales. Next time out I’ll begin examining the Northwest Smith stories one by one.
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