Thursday, November 13, 2008

C L Moore's "Shambleau" (novelette, free): Science fictionalization of vampires

An illustration of Shambleau from a French graphic version. Click link for full sized illustration.This is the first published story of C L Moore, & among her better solo stories.

Two of its plot elements will get reused in some later Moore stories too:
  1. Aliens modeled after vampires - in that they sort of eat some vital part of humans (among other sentient species). But they don't drink the human blood. They're after something more abstract. In at least one later story, it gets way too abstract for me.
  2. Northwest Smith - A rugged adventurer & smuggler. Basically good hearted but he has a knack of getting in serious trouble because of some girl or other...
Note: If you aren't familiar with early Moore stories, be prepared for some poetic language (actually it also appears in more manageable form in many of her later works - in fact, that's one way to separate her work from Kuttner's in a joint story). In some of her stories, it gets very irritating as too many adjectives get thrown about; this story is one of the easy examples.

Story summary.

"Shambleau" of title is the name of an alien species. They've been in Sol for a long time; in fact, the Medusa legend in Homer's "Odyssey" comes from them. They apparently visited earth in ancient days - have long strands of live "hairs" that inspired the Medusa visualizations. Now-a-days, they're confined to unknown corners of Mars & hunted by both martians & human settlers there (as also by sundry other Sol immigrants on Mars). Because they "draw nourishment from the ... life-forces of men". They use "a mental reach to get mental food."

Northwest Smith will save an obviously alien girl from a lynch mob in the Martian town of Lakkdarol, but won't make any effort to learn why the mob was after her in the first place. And the adventure begins, for the "girl" is a Shambleau...


  1. Story makes a reference to the song titled "The Green Hills of Earth". But Heinlein's story of this name came over a decade later. Did Heinlein take a cue from here, or are they both referring to some older work?
  2. Eric Frank Russell's novel "Sinister Barrier" also features species to whom the human life-force or some such abstraction is food.
  3. A quote: "I asked it where it came from and it said - 'from far away and long ago'".

    Sounds a lot like the title of Murray Leinster's "Long Ago, Far Away" (1959)! I'm not sure if there is a relation - stories are completely different.
  4. Another quote: "they're like the Wandering Jew, just bobbing up here and there at long intervals". There it is - the Wandering Jew of Bible that puzzled me when I read Walter Miller's "A Canticle of Leibowitz". Rachel clarifies the reference.

Collected in.

  1. "The Best of C L Moore".
  2. David Drake, Jim Baen, & Eric Flint (Ed)'s "The World Turned Upside Down".

Fact sheet.

First published: Weird Tales, November 1933.
Rating: A
Download full text from Webscription.
Download richly illustrated French text from Cool French Comics. [via QuasarDragon]
Related: All stories of C L Moore; Northwest Smith series, of which this story is first.