Lawrence O'Donnell (C.L. Moore)
by-line on this story credits Lawrence O'Donnell ...but the person
behind that name was Catherine Lucille Moore (1).
gender balance in early science fiction was much more heavily skewed
towards men than it is today but even then there were some women and
C. L. Moore was one of them. She was prolific and well-regarded. If
not for the intervention of her second husband, she would have been
the second woman named Grandmaster by the Science Fiction Writers of
America. She did win two other career awards, both in 1981: a Gandalf
Grandmaster of Fantasy Award and a World Fantasy Award for Lifetime
Achievement. She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame
in 1988, the year after her death.
knew Moore would be featured in this series. I just was not sure
which Moore story to pick. One of her stories about
indomitable French swordswoman? Or perhaps
which introduced her magnificently useless (but handsome!) adventurer
Northwest Smith, who never encountered a deadly trap from which
someone else could not rescue him (to their detriment). In the end, I
went with Vintage
mainly because people often falsely attribute it (in part or whole)
to her husband. That made me suspect that the attributors consider it
the most significant of her stories. It has been adapted both to
the title Grand
Tour: Disaster in Time)
and was selected for inclusion in The
Best of C.L. Moore
I think, is
what did my readers think?
Attribution is often difficult, because the person behind the
O'Donnell pen-name was sometimes Moore's husband, Henry Kuttner.
Sometimes it was both authors, as they shared an unusually intimate
writing partnership. One would take up stories where the other left
off; the whole process was poorly documented. In this specific case,
reliable sources like the SF Encyclopedia credit Moore as the primary
and probably sole author.
1946, we get a story where women have speaking roles. Though I guess
women in this world have the choice of being a child or a shrew. This
story was probably more impactful when it was set in 'the present' or
the 'next week'-scale future. Reading it now, the climax loses
something because the set dressing is from an era 70 years ago. In
addition to being set in the 40s, the older vocabulary and idioms and
even some of the sentence construction all combine to make this story
feel all-around old.
main character owns a mansion with waitstaff but needs money to get
married? And speaking of getting married, that looks like some pretty
casual infidelity for the 40s, where I imagined they had stronger
moral taboos against that kind of thing.
indifference of the privileged time travelers to the suffering of
those stuck in one time sticks out as still making a strong point
today. They are indifferent not because they are immune to the
suffering, but because the suffering is necessary for their way of
life to emerge. Cenbe says as much. I'm getting strong allegory
story ends on a major down note, something I've found more common in
science fiction than in any other genre I've read.
O'Donnell used a technique that, while transparent, kept me
interested enough in this story to keep me reading. (Well, the
technique and the fact that I'm part of this project kept me
reading.) He tells the story from the perspective of a
partly-informed outsider who doesn't have enough information about
the other characters, but notices that something
up with them. (Though he, and the readers, have no idea what.) By
continuing to drop treats here and there for the readers, he manages
to keep them intrigued.
story also included a bit of a seduction/romantic element that showed
real emotional vulnerability in a character, which I felt strange
since it was written by a man named Lawrence O'Donnell in the 1940s.
It turns out that Lawrence O'Donnell is a pseudonym used by Henry
After finding out that half of Lawrence O'Donnell is female, some of
the scenes in the book made a lot more sense.
characters in the book have distinct personalities. Oliver is a
decent enough guy with a pushy girlfriend who is trying to make her
happy. The three visitors are stern, rule-abiding, and a bit of a
mess, respectively. Their mysterious rival is up to no good... or
maybe she's trying to save Oliver from his three visitors who are up
to no good. It's impossible to tell (arguably by design). To find out
which group of people were "bad", I had to keep reading. By
continuing to read, I learned who the "bad ones" were,and
the answer to that question certainly surprised me.
I really enjoyed the imagination behind the mysterious visitors:
their clothing, furniture, other asthetics, music, and motivations
for showing up. All of these things are revealed throughout the
story. Throughout most of it, I felt like I was reading while
blanketed in euphoria – the visitors' homeland sounds beautiful.
However at the end, my cup was taken away and it was up to me to
finish the story – unassisted and alone.
it aged well?
(for the most part). Unlike other stories, the setting was vague
enough with few enough details to allow the reader to fill in the
blanks. An old mansion is an old mansion. It helped that most of the
action took place in that old mansion.
female characters haven’t aged so well. They’re almost
cartoonish. Kleph plays the damsel-in-distress and also the siren
with not much else to her character. Oliver’s fiancé Sue plays the
nagging, materialistic wife with neither imagination nor curiosity.
Plus, Oliver’s attraction and flirtation with Kleph is only stopped
by the sharp reprimand of another male character – and we presume
Sue never hears about any of it.
to contemporary technology are few. Further descriptions of future
technology come later. Much of it is plausible. Pre-programmed
self-heating teacups? Sure. A crisp moving picture? Sounds like HD
TV. Hand waving motions to command technology? We have that. The only
odd thing could be the headphones, except retro headphones are back
in style right now.
reminds me of…
Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield – the beginning of Vintage
Season reminded me of it. I read The Garden Party in high school and
was distinctly underwhelmed by it. Except Vintage Season has a
distinctly creepy feeling to it. Oliver seems to be alone in the
house – the servants don’t appear as characters and are only
mentioned twice in passing.
through the story, I was strongly reminded of the theory that aliens
are actually just humans from the future. Tall. Thin. Huge eyes. I
was mildly surprised to learn that I was right.
this story made me go back to check the author’s name. After
looking up Lawrence
O’Donnell, I learned it was a pseudonym used by Henry Kuttner
and Catherine L. Moore. I’ll have to read more of their work.
10/10 (I would read this again
to burn all the goodwill you’ve built up by actually having women
in your story: spend the first 2+ pages having the male narrator
describe how they and their clothes are far too perfect to actually
exist, and then have one of these impossibly perfect women be
obviously interested in him.
have it seem not to matter to the narrator that he’s engaged.
are some ideas that could be interesting in another story. Time
tourism. The dangers of modifying the past, and what it could do in
the present. The idea of a culture that thrives on experiencing the
suffering of others.
we didn’t actually get to focus on any of that. Instead, we’re
stuck in the head of a guy who’s trying to have at least an
emotional affair with one of the time travellers, despite the
presence of his fiancee, and the disapproval of the other time
main mystery of the story turns out to be irrelevant. There seems to
be all this importance about possession of the house, but really it’s
just because it survives the initial apocalypse, and they want to
have a viewing party there. And are apparently bad at sharing.
then the whole city dies, and there’s plague, and we have to hope
that some time in the future another time traveller will decide to
fix things, regardless of the threat to history, because our narrator
wrote a note.
was actually quite relieved when the narrator died, since I didn’t
have to spend any more time in his head. Nothing in the way he
interacted with anyone in the story made me want to like him at all.
It started bad and continued that way. I didn’t care about his
observations about the people around him, since apparently he thinks
that his fiancee losing a staring contest makes her look
unfashionable, grotesque, and ridiculous. I’m going to assume all
his other observations are also this ridiculously wrong, and ignore
I giving the themes of this story a fair shot? Of course not. I just
wanted it to be over as quickly as possible, and nothing in it was
interesting enough to make me pause and examine. If I want to read a
story discussing if time travellers changing things would impact
their future, and art in different cultures, there are far more
enjoyable ones than this.