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Shambleau: Emergence of Afrofuturism


Although there are different races that grace Science Fiction though stories and early films, the characters of color are either portrayed in a negative way or they simply don’t have speaking roles. C.L. Moore is one author that sought to change that portrayal through her short story “Shambleau”, written in 1933 and debuted in the Science fiction magazine, Weird Tales. As one of the first women in Science Fiction, Moore pushed the envelope even further by having a character in her first story be a human Caucasian male. This Caucasian male (Northwest Smith) would usually represent someone in a position of power within a Science Fiction text, yet Moore illustrates how this character will later become helpless and eventually dominated by a brown alien beauty, therefore providing the reader a different view of sex and gender roles within Science Fiction. The depiction of the alien Shambleau, that just so happens to be a, “berry-brown girl in a single tattered garment”, provides evidence that when people other than Caucasians are present, they will often represent the savages or villains within Science Fiction (532). Of course, Shambleau inadvertently becomes the protagonist in the story due to her Medusa-like “hair”, brown skin, cat-like eyes and the use of mind control that she employs in regards to her victim. The Shambleau alien is used as a lure for the white character Smith, so that Moore can illustrate its true form to unsettle a reader’s idea about race, as well as species. By showing the Shambleau as a trickster and as a representation as a person of color, Moore is further validating the fear of how white America had come to the beliefs of how African Americans were stereotypically viewed. This scene is a play on a type of reversal enslavement that is occurring to the character Smith by being at the mercy of a brown alien. In the scene where the Shambleau has taken her true form decided to rape the character Smith in his sleep the audience is now aware of the dangers of the brown skinned alien. Moore evokes this danger by providing the reader the mental image of “thick pulsating worms clasping every inch” of Smith’s body (544). In this scene Smith is now trapped in a tentacle love embrace that is both terrifying and tantalizing. The white character Smith is no longer in charge and has been reduced to being feminized and perhaps sodomized by the Shambleau. This clearly phallic illustration shows that even though the alien is depicted to be female, it can penetrate like male genitalia.

For Moore, having the character Smith have his will power taken away and become submissive to a supposed female alien species, illustrated the gender and power shift of the characters. By evoking a race that happens to be of brown color, Moore is adhering to the negative stereo-typecasting by vilifying the Shambleau character, even though it, “offers a black feminist Afrofuturist epistemology that transgressively revises the contemporary” within the story (Morris, 146). Historically, African Americans as well as many people of color were seen in the 1930s as inferior to Caucasians, but the Shambleau alien is a lure that Moore uses and the true form unsettles ideas about race as well as species. Moore has illustrated a clear Dystopia that included the introduction of a brown species to an otherwise safe mainly white colonial frontier. The dystopic nature of the frontier was due to the colony being inhabited by different races that would cause turmoil. These races were illustrated to coexist through the shared hatred and fear of the Shambleau alien. Although these future frontier societies were written about by African American authors, Science Fiction was often only written by white society to illustrate and establish what white Science Fiction futures were to be represented.

Shambleau”: Weird Tales

C. L. Moore

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