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Doomsday Morning by C.L. Moore

Doomsday MorningThis 1957 novel was published under C.L. Moore's own byline, and everything I've read about it says it was written by her alone, not in collaboration with her husband, Henry Kuttner. She had published other stuff under her own byline during the period of their collaboration (including Judgment Night -- and no, Doomsday Morning is not a sequel), but I confess it seems a little strange to me, for a couple of reasons. First of all, stylistically it's very different from her other solo work, including Judgment Night. It's terser, less florid, and less sensual. I'm not going to go down Silverberg's road of ineluctable masculinity, but it does feel more masculine to me, which may only reveal my own biases. Secondly, returning to her comment in the introduction to Fury -- 'Hank's basic statement was something like, "Authority is dangerous and I will never submit to it." Mine was, "The most treacherous thing in life is love."' -- the theme of Doomsday Morning is much more about dangerous authority than treacherous love, although it's true that there's an undercurrent of the latter.

This is the story of a near future America that has been taken over by a dictatorship called the Comus. Our protagonist, Rohan, is a former actor who hit the skids after his wife died. He works as a kind of migrant farm-worker called a Cropper, but at the start of the novel he's recruited by an old friend who is now Secretary of State to go on a secret mission in California, where a rebellion against Comus has taken root. Rohan believes that Comus is benevolent, but the fact that his undercover role will be as the director of a theater troupe leaves him ambivalent. Furthermore, in order to pull off his mission he has to collaborate with the rebels to gain their trust. Which side is he really on?

Despite the fact that this reads nothing like the previous Moore work I've read, I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of the novel and was wondering why it has such a mediocre reputation. Then I read the last third of the novel. Basically there's a point at which Rohan's ambivalence is resolved, and while it ties in an interesting way to his feelings about his dead wife (and thus seems more like Moore's older work), what happens afterward is a very standard action fiction trope that didn't have any interesting character or world-building aspects to lift it above the run-of-the-mill. Not that the writing isn't topnotch and almost excruciatingly professional, but if you compare it to, say, the destruction of the pleasure planetoid in Judgment Night, it lacks any sense of poetry or weirdness. It's just a by-the-numbers ticking-time-bomb scenario. The one nice thing it does is reveal a betrayal in an almost completely oblique way that requires you to think for a minute about what just happened and connects to a romantic subplot involving Rohan's complicated feelings toward his dead wife and two different women he meets on his mission. That small, oblique moment gives an emotional charge to the denouement. It's not enough.

That said, the first two-thirds of the novel is really good. Doomsday Morning gets compared to Leigh Brackett's 1955 novel, The Long Tomorrow, and with good reason. Brackett's novel is also written in a more stripped-down, quasi-naturalistic fashion than her usual pulp extravagance, and it's also about a future American dictatorship and an uprising against it. Moore isn't as interested as Brackett in the way the dictatorship or the rebellion are organized, but she shares a willingness to look at how American values and complacency can lead to authoritarianism that is quite bracing. Both writers are very good at the portrayal of a conflicted soul, and that's what makes the first two-thirds of Doomsday Morning so good. Rohan is an arrogant asshole who has been beaten down in part due to his delusions of grandeur. On the other hand, he really is -- or was -- a great artist. Or maybe he lacked true greatness because of his blindness to larger issues of civics and justice. These are questions that hover over his attempts to play both sides of the political conflict against each other while he figures out what he really wants to do. Moore is at her best as she explores his internal contradictions, but she drops the ball when she resolves the contradictions. That's where the comparison with The Long Tomorrow finally fails, because Brackett maintains the contradictions and sense of ambivalence to the very end.

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