C.L. Moore was unfamiliar to me as science fiction writer. But her 1944 short story “No Woman Born”, published in Astounding Science Fiction, is well worth finding.
This post is part of an ongoing series about science fiction and post-literacy. What can speculative fiction tell us about post-literacy? Spoiler Alert in effect.
The basic story is simple. Deirdre, a hugely successful dancer and actress, is all but killed in a tragic theatre fire. Only her brain survives. A new metallic body is made for her and she becomes a cyborg.
C.L. Moore, in a reflection on her work (“Footnote to Shambleau … and Others” p. 367), describes the motivation for the story: “How would being a quasi-robot, no matter how beautiful, affect her thinking and her feeling as a human being?”
As she prepares to re-enter the public realm as a performer, albeit it one in a clearly changed appearance (she has no face for example; it is described as a “smooth, delicately modeled ovoid for her head … a sort of crescent-shaped mask” (p. 243), there is much anxiety from her creator (Maltzer) and her manager (John Harris) about the reaction she will receive.
The essential questions are: Who is she? Is this new creation Deirdre or someone/something else? Harris, upon seeing her transformed soon declares “she was still Deirdre” (p. 245) and later Deirdre herself echoes this: “This is myself” she said. “Metal – but me.” (p. 250).
Her new body gives her increased flexibility and considerable advantages. She is physically superior in every dimension.
While those around her struggle with her desire to fully enter human life and society, Deirdre repeatedly says “I wonder” reflecting on her new cyborg identity and what that means for her.
Moore, perhaps, is less sure and describes the excited Deirdre as having “the distant taint of metal already in her voice” (p. 288). Can she co-exist within this society or will her “taint” forever alienate her? Like Frankenstein’s creature, she is lonely. But unlike the creature she is convinced of her capacity and its possibilities.
Of post-literate interest here is whether as a result of cyborg changes and prosthetics we remain who were are or become “someone/something else.” Deirdre is different …. and yet the same. But she continually remarks … “I wonder.”
C.L. Moore. “No Women Born” in The Best of C.L. Moore. Edited by Lester Del Ray. New York: Ballantine Books, 1975. 236-288.