Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Belated Birthday Review: Ward Moore

Belated Birthday Review: Ward Moore

Ward Moore (1903-1978) published five novels in the field, beginning with Greener Than You Think (1947). (He also wrote significant non-SF work, including Breathe the Air Again and Cloud by Day.) His most famous novel by far is Bring the Jubilee (1953), a very well-regarded alternate history in which the South wins the Civil War. He is also remembered for his last novel, Joyleg (1962), a collaboration with Avram Davidson, about a Revolutionary War veteran discovered to be still alive in the present time; and for a stunning post-Apolacyptic (or "during the Apocalypse") story, "Lot", along with its sequel, "Lot's Daughter". As a writer he started late and finished early, with the great bulk of his fiction appearing between 1947 and 1962 (though a few more stories appeared in the '70s). His second wife was Raylyn Moore, whom I remember for a fair amount of enjoyable SF stories from the '70s.

Here's a collection -- too short, I dare say -- of things I've written about some of Ward Moore's work. Moore's birthday was August 10, so this is a bit late. But I do want to keep emphasizing the work of these minor but interesting writers.

F&SF, May 1953

"Lot", by Ward Moore, is a quite remarkable post-Apocalyptic story. Arthur Jimmon has planned for nuclear war, and when it comes he and his family are ready to escape. But as they travel, with supplies, to Jimmon's planned refuge, his family complain and complain. Jimmon seems the true competent man, well-prepared -- and ready to coldly dispense with any interference. I won't spoil the ending, but it's truly shocking. The story is actually a bitter, horrified look at a certain kind of man -- it's something like satire, something like savage condemnation. It's a powerful story. There was a sequel, "Lot's Daughter", almost as strong. The two were the source material for the move Panic in Year Zero!, which apparently leached all the vicious power of the story from it.

F&SF, September 1955

Ward Moore's "Old Story" (6700 words) is quite good. An aging popular painter, also a philanderer, reflects on his unsatisfying life -- his failure to establish an enduring relationship with any of his three wives, and his lack of critical appreciation. If only he had chosen the right woman back then, he'd have stuck with "real" art ... Then he finds himself back in his younger self, at the critical point. And he chooses a different woman, and indeed life is very different -- he becomes a lionized artist, and a successful businessman as well. (Sort of a Wallace Stevens of the art world.) But he's the same person, which means that despite his tolerant wife, he can't stop fooling around. Still, he comes to the end of a happy life -- but then ... The twist is a good one, and quite forthrightly feminist.

Amazing, February 1960

(Cover by Ed Valigursky)
"Transient" is a short novel complete in this issue. It didn't appear in book form until a small-press "Double" edition in 2013. And I think it's fairly easy to see why. It's a really odd story, ambitious to an extent, but mostly a mess and a failure, at least in my view. It's about Almon Lampley, currently the Governor of his state, by appointment after his predecessor's death. Lampley is beginning his campaign for re-election, when he sneaks out to a small town, and enters a hotel. Then things get strange ... and the rest of the novel is a phantasmagoria of weird, often horrific, events. Lampley encounters strange guests, wanders into what seem other worlds, a weird department store, caves. He encounters a race of tiny people, kidnaps one such woman, who grows larger, whereupon he rapes her. He rapes another (normal) woman along the way. There are hints that all this is in pursuit of some personal issues Lampley has to do with his relationship with his wife, and particular to the tragic history of their son -- though none of this is ever made clear. It ends up being boring and unpleasant, even as paragraph by paragraph a pretty impressive imagination is displayed. Worst of all -- the story basically just stops. It may be that I have totally missed the point.
(Cover by Ed Emshwiller)

Fantastic, March and April 1962

Joyleg, by Avram Davidson and Ward Moore, is an enjoyable novel about a man, Isachar Joyleg, who is discovered to be collecting a Civil War pension. As the war has been over for nearly a century, surely he's a fraud. Two congresspeople, a man and a woman, go to investigate (because which district his old village is in is unclear). They learn (not much of a spoiler) that Joyleg is as old as he claims, due to a concoction of his. We get to see life in this old town, and all this is amusing, and fairly on point. The congresspeople are decent characters too. That said, the story loses momentum along the way, and while it's well worth reading through, parts of the last half are a bit tired.


  1. Rich:

    I am sure that there is a way to just send you the web address for these, but I don't know how.

    I am sending copies of my Goodreads reviews of Transient, Lot, and Cloud by Day. I am starting with Transient.

    (Okay, I am being told that it is too long to send. So I am sending half a review of Transient)


    I didn't actually read this as an ebook but as it originally appeared in the February, 1960 issue of Amazing Stories. I will add that my copy of the story is not in a copy of the magazine. I purchased the story from what I was told (and believe) was the collection of the late science fiction fan and editor, Sam Moskowitz. This is one of two stories by Ward Moore that I bought from that source. The stories had been removed from the magazines in which they had been published, then bound with stiff paper covers. This story appears to be sewn together. The other story, "Rx Jupiter Save Us" (originally published in the January, 1954 issue of Future Science Fiction) is stapled.

    The story is labeled in the magazine as a "complete book-length novel." My copy has written on it "34,000 words." My estimate would be slightly higher, but not more than 36,000 words. The science fiction and fantasy website ISFDb calls this story a novella.

    Governor Almon Lampley, a widower in his early fifties, is driving and stops in a small town that he (sort of) remembers. He goes into the one hotel. There is no clerk at the desk, so the Governor goes upstairs and chooses a room. And then things get increasingly more peculiar.

    This is a very odd story, particularly for a 1960 science fiction magazine. This appears to be pure - or maybe that should be impure - surrealism. Finding a dead donkey in the piano would be close to a normal occurrence. This entire tale seems to be set on a kind of "Anything-can-happen-day," where no logic connecting events can be discerned.

  2. Part 2:

    Much of this is deliberately disgusting. Moore dwells on decay, awful scents and sights, a tour of the more down-market neighborhoods of Hell. There is occasional humor, such as Lampley's examination by medically-minded apes.

    And there are lists, lists of places, lists of people, lists of items, lists of animals, some alive, others dead and decaying, lists of horrors. Lists to port and starboard. Lots of lists.

    A brief example, chosen because it is not nauseating:

    The balcony was cluttered with anchor-chains, spools of telephone conduit, cotton bales, spare parts for mechanical chess-players. Lampley trod carefully between them and opened a door marked NO ADMITTANCE, SERVICE ONLY, DO NOT ENTER, THIS MEANS YOU. The room had no proper floor, only closely woven flat steel strips which sagged at every step. Enlarged X-ray photographs lined the walls; light shone through them to show up the deformed bones like parachutes, like plows, like cutlasses. The clerk, wearing an admiral's gold-laced cocked hat and the black robes of a judge over his blue jeans, sat in a porch swing that swayed gently to and fro behind a pulpit.

    One problem that I have with the story is that the section of it that I think is the best comes quite early on. The Governor travels to an island on which he captures a tiny woman. She begins to grow at a remarkable rate. Lampley and the woman repeatedly have sex and she becomes pregnant. The woman takes extremely drastic action.

    Many of the developments in the course of the story do keep the reader's interest, even when they are repugnant, but for most of the story it feels that details are being piled on but no progress is being made, either for the Governor or the reader.

    I don't know what reaction this tale received when it was originally published, but it must have been shocking to readers at the time.

    There is a fine, horrific illustration by Virgil Finlay in my copy; I don't know if it also appears in the ebook. The picture by artist Ed Valigursky that is shown above at the top of this entry illustrating the ebook is from the cover of the November, 1960 Amazing Stories, in which the story was first published. It shows a man in a kind of spacesuit with a unicorn. There is a unicorn that appears in the story briefly; there is no man in a spacesuit, though. I suppose that it was thought that that was the kind of thing that readers of a science fiction magazine would expect and like.

    A final note: Cele Goldsmith (later Cele Goldsmith Lalli), then editor of Amazing Stories, was always willing to take risks. I don't think that "Transient" is a great story, but it is an unusual and at times fascinating one.

  3. Here is a (much shorter) review of "Lot," excerpted from my review of the F&SF issue in which it originally appeared:

    The remaining story, "Lot" by Ward Moore, has appeared in a slew of anthologies. Moore published a sequel "Lot's Daughter" in the October, 1954 issue of F&SF. "Lot" was also the source for a film that I have not seen, Panic in Year Zero from 1962.

    "Lot" is a story on a theme that was understandably popular in the 1950s, the effect of nuclear war in the United States. "Lot" is not a post-apocalypse tale, but a story set just as the apocalypse begins. David Jimmon is an office worker with a wife and three children, two boys and a girl. He has anticipated and planned for a nuclear attack on the United States, and he and his family leave their home heading for a California wilderness area. He has planned for everything, except for the lack of enthusiastic cooperation from his family, which causes Jimmon to alter his plans. This is an extremely somber story.

  4. And the first half of my review of Cloud by Day:

    Ward Moore (1903-1978) was an American author who is best known now for his science fiction. He published two fine science fiction novels that he wrote alone, Greener Than You Think (1947) and Bring the Jubilee (1953). He also wrote two novels in collaboration, another science fiction novel, Caduceus Wild (1981), written with Robert Bradford, and a science fantasy, Joyleg (1962), written with Avram Davidson. As I recall, Joyleg begins engagingly and becomes progressively sillier. I have read Caduceus Wild but I really don't remember it; I think that I found it disappointing. He also wrote some fine short science fiction.

    Moore also wrote two "straight," non-genre novels which appear to be largely forgotten. Neither one of them had been mentioned on Goodreads until I recently added them. One was Moore's first published novel, Breathe the Air Again (1942), which I have not read yet. The other is Cloud By Day (1956).

    The title Cloud By Day comes from Exodus 13:21. The New American Standard Bible gives that passage as:

    The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way and in a pillar of fire at night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.

    The cloud in this book is made of smoke, smoke from a rapidly spreading brush fire in the California community of Lugar Pass. In a helpful map at the front of the book, the town is shown to be six miles from Camp Pendleton, on what was then California Highway 76. Lugar Pass has one African American family, one Jew, a smattering of Mexicans, and a number of other folks, most of whom dislike African Americans, Jews, and Mexicans.

    Text on the book jacket says that "Ward Moore handles a huge cast, all vitally alive, and mixes the moving and the comic in a way which any novelist or dramatist might envy." There are actually so many characters, most having parts of the book told from their viewpoints, that the book cries out for one of the lists of characters and brief, salient facts about them that used to appear at the front of 1940s mystery novels, in this manner:

    Myra Throckmorton ........................
    Harold's beautiful red-haired wife, she held a secret more dangerous than she knew

  5. And the final installment:

    Perhaps the best thing about the book is watching Moore juggling increasingly more balls, trying to keep now fifteen, now twenty, now twenty-five in the air at once. He does not succeed, I think, but it is a noble effort.

    It is also fascinating to see Moore try and characterize that many people in a not very long novel. And some of the characterizations mix and meld in strange ways. There are, for example, two people in the book who work in the arts, the brave, neighborly sculptor Ulysses Bork and the uncaring (and ironically named) novelist Eliot Tender. Likewise there are two women who feel a connection to God, the saintly, generous Anna Bistroke, foster mother to a horde of developmentally challenged children, and the sour postmistress Julia Nick.

    Some of these folks pass through the challenge of the fire seemingly unchanged. Others, and the community itself, are transmuted by it.

    There are oddities of spelling and punctuation that constantly gave me pause. Some of these are just that this book by an American writer and set in California was printed in England, so English spellings are used for occasional words, such as "tyre" or "endeavour"; these are perfectly correct, just uncommon in the United States.

    Other spellings are just odd. See, for example, this one sentence:

    Leg struck out through the truckdoor, the darkgrey pants rucked up over a hairy, purpleveined calf, sock sneaking shamefacedly into decrepit paletoed shoe, he was sleeping soddenly on the seat.

    Moore also has his own idiosyncratic ideas about the use of apostrophes. "Ive," "doesnt," "neednt," "mustve," "whatll" and the like are used throughout the book. But so are "who'd," "don't," "I'll," and similar words. I can find no logic for this.

    I don't think that Cloud By Day is even close to Moore's best work but it is by no means negligible. It is a pity that it seems to be so thoroughly forgotten.

    1. Thanks for these! I think your take on "Transient" in particular is astute. Just slightly more positive than mine, and I think that's fair, as "Transient" has stuck in my head despite the fact that I disliked most of the reading experience.