Thursday, March 18, 2010

Monstrous Theologies The Theme of Anti-Sacrifice in the Sci-Fi Pulps - Thomas F. Bertonneau

An academic article that also talks about C. L. Moore and Northwest Smith along the same lines.

"Leigh Brackett belonged to the same story-telling generation as Moore and Kuttner; she was married, in fact, to another science fiction writer, Edmond Hamilton, just as Moore was married to Kuttner.(14) The four lived in and around Santa Monica in the 1930s through the 1950s and knew each other well. Responding, as Moore did, to Lovecraft's opening of antique vistas and to Stanley G. Weinbaum's opening of the solar system, Brackett wrote a series of tales involving the antiquated cultures of Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the Asteroids under the ecumenical dominion of a Terran Empire in its brash ascendancy. Brackett's Martian stories parallel Bradbury's, but are more brutal than his, granting a greater degree of robustness to the colonized Martians. Brackett nevertheless, like Moore and Kuttner, ever apologizes for the normative, and this means that she defines the difference between the ethically acceptable and the ethically unacceptable according to the absence or presence of sacrifice. It is significant that, in one of the few explanations that she offered of her interest in the popular forms, she said the following: "The so-called space opera is the folk-tale, the hero-tale, of our particular niche in history" (Preface to The Best of Planet Stories 2-3). "The Beast-Jewel of Mars" (1948) is explicitly devoted to an examination of sacrifice and provocatively links sacrifice to the politics of resentment.

"The Beast-Jewel of Mars" revolves around Shanga, translatable as "the return" or "the going-back" (The Coming of the Terrans 8), a cult "forbidden centuries ago by the city-states of Mars" (9), which has reappeared with the arrival of the earthmen. The cult thus corresponds to a Lucretian lapsus in antiquas religiones. The sacred objects of the cult, the Jewels of Shanga, date back reputedly to "a half a million years ago" (14) when the priests of Caer Dhu carved them by a science now lost. The scheme resembles that in "The Dust of the Gods" by Moore, where a fragment of demonic Pharol's vanished world turns up in the deep rubble of the polar mountains of Mars. Certain plotters, as we have seen, want artifacts from the anomaly, the ones that Smith and Yarol refuse to export but, rather, destroy in situ. In Brackett's story, a Martian named Kor Hal tells protagonist Burk Winters that, despite having inaugurated Shanga as an escape from war and violence, the people of Caer Dhu quickly "perished" and "in one generation . . . vanished from the face of Mars." Brackett gives us a sketch of the Lucretian notion of how the ennui of long-standing security makes the beneficiaries of earlier demonic banishments vulnerable to cultic revival. Only a continuously upheld psychic vigilance can keep such atavistic deformations at bay."

4 out of 5

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