Vintage Season: C.L. Moore and the “Golden Age” of Science Fiction [Eric Rosenfield/Literate Machine]

C.L. Moore was a talented science fiction and fantasy writer whose career spanned the Golden Age of pulp magazines, from the 1930s, and briefly into television. She wrote both under her own byline and in collaboration with her husband, Henry Kuttner. She retired from writing in 1963, and died a quarter-century later. The ferocious demands of making a living writing at cheap pulp rates had burned out her talent and used her up.

Her most famous story is probably “Vintage Season.” Set in the present day, it’s about a man who rents out a house to a group of strange but congenial people who, the man learns, are from the future. The mystery of the story is what these people are doing there, at that time: the man thinks there is absolutely nothing remarkable about himself, his house, his city or that moment. He soon learns differently.

Moore’s husband, Kuttner, died of a stroke in his sleep at age 44 in 1958. A month earlier, a talented writer named Cyril Kornbluth died of a heart attack at age 34 “and there was a palpable feeling among their fellows in the trenches that these men had died from the constant need to produce in the pay-per-word mills, especially through the long crunch of the mid-to-late 50s.

Rosenfield writes:

“I was only twenty-three, then,” writer Robert Silverberg would say later, “but I somehow realized right away that these two men had literally died from writing science fiction and I was afraid that I was going to die too. I had some bad months.”

More writers would fall away over the next few years; Mark Clifton dead of a heart attack in 1963 at 57, H. Beam Piper a suicide in 1960 at 60. Still others quit prose fiction altogether. Isaac Asimov, for example, turned to cranking out nonfiction books at his customary breakneck pace and wouldn’t come back to fiction until the ’70s. Leigh Brackett took up a noted film career, including scripts for Rio Bravo (1958), The Long Goodbye (1973), and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), among many others.

Moore for her part completed the transition to television, writing for Maverick, Sugarfoot, 77 Sunset Strip, and other shows under the name Catherine Kuttner. But in 1963 she remarried a physician and quit writing altogether.

It’d be easy to speculate that her new husband didn’t want his wife writing, but she herself said in a later interview, “Since I don’t have to write for a living anymore, I just don’t have the motivation to resume writing, although I wish I did.” There’s a sense in this sentence that the pressures of commercial fiction had sucked out whatever passion Moore had once had for writing–all that giddy glee in which she’d typed out that first story for fun back in 1933–transforming it into just another job. And when the need for that job evaporated so did the desire to do it.