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Literature / No Woman Born

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First published in Astounding Science Fiction (December 1944 issue), by C. L. Moore. A Science Fiction Novella about a woman who has been transformed into a Cyborg.

John Harris was Deirdre's manager when she had been an interplanetary starlet, but she was nearly killed by a fire. Maltzer is an advanced roboticist who was able to construct a Cyborg body for her in less than a year. Deirdre is determined to go back to her old career, but she needs John's help because the roboticist is skeptical. Despite Harris's protests that her real self is truly there, Maltzer cannot shake off the feeling that she will soon lose her humanity, if she hasn't already.


"No Woman Born" has been reprinted several times; A Treasury Of Science Fiction (1948), Great Stories Of Science Fiction (1951), Best SF (1955), Tomorrow X 4 (1964), The Best Of CL Moore (1975), Human Machines An Anthology Of Stories About Cyborgs (1975), Isaac Asimov Presents: The Great Science Fiction Stories, Volume 6 (1944) (1981), Science-Fiction 101 (1987), Science Fiction Classic Stories From The Golden Age Of Science Fiction (1989), Women Of Wonder The Classic Years (1995), and Two Handed Engine (2005).


Tropes found in "No Woman Born":

  • Ambiguously Brown: Maltzer is described as having dark skin, but his race isn't specified further.
  • Artistic License – History: In-Universe. Deirdre's performance is preceded by a staging of Mary of Scotland's execution, featuring clearly anachronistic haircuts and footwear, and a young, curvy actress playing the supposedly 44 year old queen. Likewise, the follow up performance — an In Name Only production of Les Sylphides — is described as featuring "gorgeous pseudo-period costumes." The narration lampshades that "every era tends to translate costume into terms of the current fashions" and that no one seems to be as ignorant of history as a playwright.
  • Audience Surrogate: Harris. He is a Naïve Newcomer in regards to Deidre's treatment, giving her and Maltzer somebody to explain everything to. Being an outsider, he also provides a more neutral perspective on the disagreements between the latter two.
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  • Badass Boast: Deirdre declares that even with her artificial body, eventually she'll be able to play Juliet and everyone in the audience would believe her.
  • Brain in a Jar: Before seeing her new body, Harris imagines Deirdre in several shapes, including a brain suspended in a glass case with appendages to perform her needed actions. Instead, she turns out to actually be a proper Cyborg.
  • Break the Haughty: Maltzer's attempted suicide is what breaks through Deirdre's show of confidence.
  • Broken Aesop:
    • Noted in-universe. Maltzer brings up the example of the story of Frankenstein as proof that creating life is doomed to go wrong. Deirdre responds back that Maltzer didn't create her, he only gave her a new body.
    • While not pointed out, also of note is that Dr. Frankenstein's creation went wrong because he mistreated it. Had he been kinder to it, it would have not rebelled.
    • You could easily argue that the story is actually a Spiritual Antithesis of Frankenstein. Deirdre is — Despite what Maltzer may fearnot ostracized by society, (if anything, she becomes even more popular post-transformation,) and rather than killing her "creator", she ends up saving his life.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Deirdre points out that she no longer has to worry about lack of vocal range or breath when singing. It also lets her scream loud enough to break windows and put others in pain.
  • Companion Cube: Discussed. Deirdre argues that it won't be hard for people to see her as human, as many already humanize everything from vehicles to weapons.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Maltzer is convinced this will happen to Deirdre, once she eventually forgets about what her human life was like and from the lack of three of her senses. She finally admits toward the end that she sometimes does worry about this, but not because she feels like her new body is inferior, but rather superior, since it's so much stronger than her old one.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Deirdre makes it clear that she would hate to be seen as Inspirationally Disadvantaged just as much as being a victim of full blown Fantastic Racism. This is why she makes her comeback performance unannounced and anonymously, she wants to be judged based on her talent alone.
  • Driven to Suicide: Maltzer tries to kill himself rather than witness Deirdre fall from glory. It also has the double affect of threatening her to be honest. However, when he jumps out the window Deirdre runs so fast she catches him before he lands.
  • Fembot: Subverted with Deirdre. Not only isn't she a proper robot, but she is clearly stated to have No Biological Sex, her only Tertiary Sexual Characteristics being her voice, petite figure and the dress she wears. However, these factors are still coupled with her body language, giving the impression of a feminine robot.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Deirdre is the most important character, but instead we see from Harris's perspective so we can both be left in mystery about whether she is still truly human and to understand why people are in such awe of her.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Maltzer has become so convinced that Deirdre is doomed to become soulless that he can no longer recognize human nature himself. Throughout the story, he straddles the line between cynically worrying about Fantastic Racism and actually expressing such beliefs himself.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Maltzer and Harris watch an In-Universe theater dramatization of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, noting that the garb being worn by the women is far too tight for the period and the actress playing Mary is too attractive for the real deal.
  • Implied Love Interest: There are some hints that Harris and Deridre used to be in a relationship (or at least that they had a thing for each other) but nothing is stated for certain.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Deridre is repeatedly described as looking like this. She actually fits the archetype quite well, being a strong, idealistic, highly empathic Determinator who wants to make the world a better place.
  • Last-Name Basis: John Harris is usually just called "Harris" by the narration, but Deirdre always calls him "John".
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title is a reference to the poem "Deirdre" ("There has been again no woman born, who was so beautiful; not one so beautiful...") by early 20th century poet James Stephens. Said poem is partially quoted in-story as an Inspiration Nod.
  • No Ending: The story ends with Deirdre admitting her fear to the men about what will become of her. In her last line ("I wonder..."), spoken to herself, she forgets to make it sound human and it instead emerges robotically.
  • Not So Different: While it is clear that Deirdre is a bit lonely and needed a lot of therapy after her traumatic near-death, Maltzer also isolated himself from the world while treating her, and has grown far less confident and emotionally stable than his patient. Both of them also worry a lot about each other while downplaying or ignoring their own issues.
  • Pro-Human Transhuman: Deirdre went through with her conversion partially in the hope that it would be a step towards helping others with similar conditions. After becoming a cyborg, her goal is simply to continue her career in the entertainment industry and give her audience something to enjoy. She also stops Maltzer from committing suicide, feeling that life is too precious to just throw away.
  • Properly Paranoid:
    • Zig-zagged. It's unclear whether Maltzer is right to be afraid of what will happen to Deirdre, as sometimes she seems human and other times she doesn't. Deirdre eventually admits that he's partially right that she's at risk of losing her humanity, but for the wrong reasons.
    • Deidre herself admits that people in her shoes would have to deal with some of the issues Maltzer describes, she just thinks that it's better to keep fighting and work towards living the best life you can instead of just giving up.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Once Deirdre sings "The Yellow Rose of Eden" while onstage, the crowd recognizes her and goes wild.
  • Stepford Smiler: Played With in that Deirdre always appears confident that she can keep living as though her old body was never lost. However, she has a tendency to withdraw within herself and deny the issues she does have. She eventually reveals that the real reason why she hopes to continue performing in front of an audience because they remind her of the people she belongs to. The joy of dancing and acting has become laced with fear of what will happen if she stops.
  • Technobabble: During the scene where Deirdre runs fast enough to catch Maltzer from his suicidal jump off a balcony, the story has this lengthy "scientific explanation" about the fourth dimension and travel through time and space. In his commentary, Silverberg argues that this is an unnecessary flaw to the story, as it makes no sense, overcomplicates a simple action, brings an intense scene to a halt, and is unlikely to have all gone through Harris' head in that short span of seconds.
  • There Are No Therapists: Played With. Deirdre has gotten therapy from Maltzer, and improved because of it, but he doesn't entirely understand what her problems actually are, and he's been bad at taking care of his own physical and mental health.
  • Title Drop: Early on, Harris remembers a poem by James Stephen about a lost love also named Deirdre, of whom he wrote: There has been again no woman born, Who was so beautiful; not one so beautiful, Of all the women born-. Harris decides that Stephen was wrong; there is another beautiful Deirdre, and she's not lost at all, he hopes.
  • True Beauty Is on the Inside: Played With. Deirdre was never outright ugly, but Harris admits that objectively, she was pretty average-looking. It was her radiant personality and talent which made people love her. Deidre agrees, and believes she could still have a successful career in her new robot body.
  • Uncanny Valley: invoked
    • Defied In-Universe. Rather than trying to replicate Deirdre's original body — with the risk of ending up with an imperfect facsimile — Maltzer gave her a completely new, clearly metallic form with a head invoking a knight's helmet. To most people, it just registers as a masked face, and it's described as being far less creepy than the alternative.
    • Maltzer asserts that this is why he's certain Deirdre will eventually forget how to be human: because something about her actions always feels off. He may be right, but the tells are instead originated from fear, rather than forgetting.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: It's not clear if Harris is merely in awe of Deirdre or if they were lovers. Whatever the case, they're not shown attempting a relationship in her new form, though he still almost faints at the mere sight of her.
  • Unrobotic Reveal: When Deridre makes her entrance, much of the audience believe her to be some kind of mechanical puppet. Then she starts singing her In-Universe Signature Song, and everybody suddenly know who she is.
  • Video Phone: Has apparently become the standard method of long-distance communication. Described very casually.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Deirdre certainly doesn't, and is happy to hear that while her mechanical body is keeping her brain alive, it won't do so beyond that of a normal human lifespan.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Being burned alive understandably left Deirdre with a crippling fear of fire. However, this — and her trauma in general — was one of the first things Maltzer and his team attended to, and she's overcome her phobia by the time of this story.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: What the title refers to, as shown by the poem it references. Deirdre is believed to be this, and Harris feels she still is the most beautiful even in her artificial body.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Maltzer knows perfectly well about how messing with life in stories has always gone wrong, but whether he's wrong or not streaks back and forth.


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