“Bright Illusion,” C L Moore, 1934 – Dixon, a man on the verge of death in the desert, encounters what he thinks is a mirage, only to find that the golden “egg-like” dome is really an alien consciousness. The alien (she?) immerses the man in warmth and glow (as if within a womb), extracts knowledge of his culture, then begins to communicate. It is a god in conflict with another god, the ruler of IL (French for “he”). The egg-god needs a champion to travel to IL’s realm and speak a word which will allow it to penetrate IL’s realm. But, in order to comprehend IL’s world without being driven to madness, the god must slip a “veil of illusion” over Dixon’s eyes, such that the visual riot of IL’s world will be translated into familiar analogs. When Dixon first arrives in IL’s world, he spies one of IL’s servants, a snake-like, one-eyed being that is terrible to behold; whether the beings lack sex or possess multiple sexes is not known. But the veil falls and the aliens are quickly translated into normal forms, into what the narrator calls the “arbitrary” two sexes of the human race. He encounters IL’s priestess, who appears to him to be beautiful and coquettish, and, even though he knows her female form is an illusion, claims to fall in love with her soul. Yet, he lets loose the egg-god; it enters IL’s world and is defeated. They stand in judgment by IL, who does not understand love; in fact, IL seems to mock the genuineness of their “love.” At the conclusion, Dixon and his “love” defiantly maintain that because they certainly can’t be together in life in their true forms, they should choose death, because the conditions of existence after death are unknown. IL seems either disinterested or amused and allows them to die.
Comments: A fascinating short in which the veil of concepts which makes reality comprehensible and language possible is made literal. Moore has commented that this is one of her favorite stories and selected it for an author’s choice volume. She alludes ironically to “Bright Illusion,” which was her first sf story, in her last sf novel, Doomsday Morning. In Doomsday Morning, an actor who has been betrayed by his wife and co-star has given up stage to become a migrant worker. However, since his wife (Miranda) passed away, he’s been unable to reconcile her betrayal and instead sees her through the veil of memory, hopelessly idealized. As he travels to a job, he sees that the hit movie, Bright Illusion, in which he and his late wife played the romantic leads, is playing on the screen. Read in The 18 Greatest SF Stories; Women of Wonder; and The Best of C. L. Moore.
Author: Wikipedia: “Catherine Lucille Moore (January 24, 1911 – April 4, 1987) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer, as C. L. Moore. She was one of the first women to write in the genre, and paved the way for many other female writers in speculative fiction.”