Northwest of Earth
When C.L. Moore's first story "Shambleau" appeared in 1933 writers and readers alike knew that an important new talent had just staked her claim. Among her admirers was H.P. Lovecraft who praised the horrorific aspects of her strange and lurid tale of outer space.
For me "Shambleau" remains one of the finest horror stories I've ever read even though it comes wrapped inside a pulp science fiction story.
It opens with our hero Northwest Smith, a hardboiled spacer presently trapped on seedy Venus, rescuing a beautiful woman from the clutches of a mob that means her harm.
If Smith had known what he was rescuing he might well have been part of the mob. For what follows is exotic, erotic and toxic.
There are thirteen Northwest Smith stories in Northwest of Earth each depicting the vile, treacherous worlds that the protagonist finds himself on. The silliness of so much space opera is balanced here by a grimness that owse a good deal to the Black Mask school of writing. Moore created worlds that were truly alien but she never forgot that the man she was dealing with was Terran. Smith is a real person, subject to melancholy, fear, malice, lust, vengeance. No Star Wars nobillity here.
I read a story a night and when I finished I wished she'd written more.
She went on to marry Henry Kuttner and before his untimely death they may have collaborated on as many as one hundred stories, principally science fiction and fantasy but also mystery. She wrote everything from action pulp to the most subtle of fantasies. And her best work was rendered in prose far superior to what was being published at the time.
This book is part of the Paizo's Planet Stories series of pulp reprints, handsome books at reasonable prices.