No Woman Born, C. L. Moore

Isolde

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By C. L. Moore

No Woman Born begins with an homage to a lovely actress named Deidre who died in a theater fire. One wonders whether firefighting techniques have not kept pace with the rest of the technology that the reader is bound to encounter. No sprinkler systems? No dormant robot firefighters awaiting their ‘call’? But perhaps the theater owner bribed city officials to circumvent building code regulations. The reader can only wonder. But on with the story.

The beautiful Deidre has been immortalized in gold metal. Her brain was rescued from the fire and encased in a robotic body. Think Dalek, but more sophisticated. Moore offers a stunning description of Deidre, and indeed, descriptive narrative seems to be Moore’s strength. “She had…a very beautifully shaped head—a bare, golden skull. She turned it a little, gracefully upon her neck of metal, and he saw that the artist who shaped it had given her the most delicate suggestion of cheekbones, narrowing in the blankness below the mask to the hint of a human face. Not too much. Just enough so that when the head turned you saw by its modeling that it had moved, lending perspective and foreshortening to the expressionless golden helmet.”

Harris, her former manager, and Maltzer, her roboticist, display levels of angst over her condition the likes of which haven’t been seen since an acne outbreak on prom night. Harris arranges a performance for Deidre, which will be her first public appearance since her transformation. Moore “To and fro over the velvet carpet, against the velvet background, she wove the intricacies of her serpentine dance, leisurely and yet with such hypnotic effect that the air seemed full of looping rhythms, as if her long, tapering limbs had left their own replicas hanging upon the air and fading only slowly as she moved away.” Beautiful. Moore describes the performance in vivid detail.

The performance is a roaring success, which would hopefully allay the fears of Maltzer. But no. He senses unhappiness in her. He still fears that her fans will turn against her once the novelty wears off, and that her loss of perception that kept her in touch with humanity (smell, taste, and touch) would turn her into a mere mind animating a metal body. He fears her humanness will fade.

Deidre answers. “‘I’m human. Do you think I’m not?’…And then suddenly, almost overwhelmingly, the warmth and the old ardent charm were radiant all around her. She was robot no longer, enigmatic no loner. Harris could see as clearly as in their first meeting the remembered flesh still gracious and beautiful as her voice evoked his memory.”

Are Harris and Maltzer convinced? Not quite. Maltzer presses his point. “‘but Deirdre, if we did succeed—what’s wrong? I can feel it now—I’ve felt it all along. You’re so unhappy—you still are. Why, Deidre?’”

And she finally admits why. “‘I’m afraid. It isn’t unhappiness, Maltzer—it’s fear. I don’t want to draw so far away from the human race. I wish I needn’t. That’s why I’m going back on the stage—to keep in touch with them while I can. But I wish there could be others like me. I’m…I’m lonely, Maltzer.”

And in the end, we read of a taint of metal tingeing her voice. Maltzer was right. But we also read of Deidre’s willingness to carry on in her present form. There’s so much to learn, so many ‘possibilities untested.’ And therein lies the hope. The pioneering human spirit, even encased in a mass of metal, will out.

Has anyone else read this?
 

Leto

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Nope, this one of the many stories of C.L.Moore I've missed. And one more line in my to-read list. Anyway, thanks for talking about this author, she's one of the founder of SFF IMO and strangely hardly ever mentionned here.
 

Isolde

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I'm reading Science Fiction 101 by Robert Silverburg that offers up the best (in his opinion) of classic scifi. I am admittedly poorly read in the realm of scifi, having only read a few authors, so this book offers a good grounding in scifi origins, IMO.
 

Leto

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Yes, you can trust Robert Silverberg on this. He's got 56 years of experience in this field as a writer and certainly much more as a reader.
Try to dig some of his own novels too. You should like them. Who else are in this anthology ?
 

Isolde

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Four in One, by Damon Knight
Fondly Fahrenheit by Alfred Bester
No Woman Born by C. L. Moore
Home is the Hunter by Henry Kuttner (who was married to Moore)
The Monsters by Robert Sheckley
Common Time by James Blish
Scanners Live in Vain by Cordwainer Smith
Hothouse by Brian Aldiss
The New Prime by Jack Vance
Colony by Philip K. Dick
The Little Black Bag by C.M. Kornbluth
Light of Other Days by Bob Shaw
Day Million by Frederik Pohl
 

Leto

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Ok, except the Vance, the Pohl and the Cordwainer Smith ones, I haven't read them. Another one on my to read list !
 

Extollager

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"Light of Other Days" belongs to my "personal anthology" of beloved sf, along with the Moore-Kuttner masterpiece "Vintage Season" (published as by O'Donnell, I think); Fritz Leiber's "A Pail of Air"; Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day"; Knight's "Stranger Station" (that could've been a great Outer Limits TV show back in 1963); Budrys's "Rogue Moon" novella... and a few others.
 

GOLLUM

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There's also the rather excellent anthology Two-handed Engine which features collaborative works between Moore and Kuttner that I can recommend. I don't mind Jirel of Jory either...:)
 

Elflock

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Check out Paizo's excellent recent anthologies of Moore's Jirel of Joiry stories,('Black God's Kiss') and Northwest Smith stories,('Northwest of Earth'). I personally think you can't go past this stuff for early science fantasy. The Kuttner/Moore team wrote many later sci-fi things,mainly (for me) corny 'clever' type of sci fi about hillbillys and silly robots for John Campbell's Astounding in the 40's etc. (my theory is that most of it was Kuttner's work...or at least Moore changed her style to be more like his or something) For me the best things she did with Kuttner were,'Earth's Last Citadel' and 'Fury'. Both classics. You can get most of this stuff free online if you like ebooks like me ;)
 
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Cal

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I have a very hard-nosed definition of science fiction: it is that part of imaginative fiction dealing with the effect of developments in science and technology on humans, a very narrow field. To me, No Woman Born epitomized that field, since it dealt very directly, over sixty years ago, with a problem now looming on our horizon. We have an increasing ability to replace both limbs and organs, and eventually are going to be uncomfortable about considering what we have created to be human. She considered this problem at a time when most SF was gee-whiz stories written for teen-agers (of which I was one). I was astonished to see this story passed over in the C. L. Moore thread in favor of Northwest Smith and Jirel tales, interesting but not in the same class.
 

raf

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I first read this in the 1960s and loved it. Considering how far ahead of it's time it was and the beautiful writing of C.L.Moore it has to be ranked as one of the greatest ever. At the time I read it, sometime before or after my Bar Mitzvah, I thought Doc Savage and the Lensmen were great. When I read the anthology containg Ms.Moore's story and the other amazing now classics of the field, I was a changed boy and the bar for good SF. was truly raised.
 

antiloquax

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This is in "The Best of C. L. Moore". I am keen to read it now, after reading this thread. Currently I am reading "Black God's Kiss."
 

BigBadBob141

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Remember reading "No Woman Born" a long time ago, in I think one of the Faber "Best SF..." series edited by Edmund Crispin.
REF: Isolde Some very good short stories mentioned here, really liked "Four In One" which starts with the hero being eaten.
"Little Black Bag" has great ending, "The Monsters" & "Day Million" both superb.
Would like to add some of my all time favorites "A Martian Odessy" by Stanley G Wienbaum , "The Game Of Rat & Dragon" by Cordwainer Smith & "It's A Good Life" by Jerome Bixby
 

A. Lynn

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I began to read this story, but I got dreadfully bored by the end of her performance. I felt it was dragging on. I just wanted it to get to the punch line already. I believe I'm spoiled by the curtness of Alfred Bester and Philip K. Dick.

I do agree that Moore is a master of prose, however.
 

Cal

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I began to read this story, but I got dreadfully bored by the end of her performance. I felt it was dragging on. I just wanted it to get to the punch line already. I believe I'm spoiled by the curtness of Alfred Bester and Philip K. Dick.

I do agree that Moore is a master of prose, however.
I also had problems with this story the first time I read it. I didn't get her writing style at all. For some reason i read it again years later and was mesmerized.
 
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