Review: Robots Have No Tails…

Lewis Padgett
1952

I have never read anything like this in scifi before.  But before I talk about the book, a little background on the author. Lewis Padgett was a pseudonym for the husband and wife collaboration of Henry Kuttner and Catherine Lucille (C.L.) Moore, taken from their mothers’ maiden names according to Wikipedia.    As a team they wrote three books for GP (I have two of them so far – this and Mutant), and C.L. Moore wrote an additional three.  ‘Wrote for Gnome Press’ is really the wrong turn of phrase, GP collected the stories from the earlier pulps (as they did for so many of their books) and published them as collections or, as in this case, a coherent set.  These stories, there are five in this book, were all penned in the 1940s.

All stories revolve around one character – Galloway Gallegher.  This man is an inventor.  A very good inventor.  A genius, in fact.  Well… his subconcious is.  But only when Gallegher is drunk.  Very drunk.  So drunk in fact, that Gallegher can never remember exactly what his subconcious (Gallegher Plus) invented, or why.  This device is the lynchpin around which all these stories are constructed.  However, though all five stories employ this situation, it doesn’t get tired.  As you have probably guessed by now, this is comedy.  A risky combination that – science fiction and comedy.  It works here though.  You could almost call it a sci fi sitcom.  In fact I would.  This is a science fiction sitcom series.

Gallegher recovers from being drunk and discovers a robot with narcissistic tendencies in his lounge that Gallegher Plus has invented – he must find out why.

Gallegher recovers from being drunk and finds an earth eating, monofilament manufacturing contraption that Gallegher Plus has invented – he must find out who for and why.

Gallegher recovers from being drunk and discovers a machine of unknown purpose, a deadly heat ray, three small furry aliens and his own dead body repeatedly showing up in the garden…

Gallegher recovers from being drunk…

You get the picture.

Other elements in these stories are the characters that are either a) wanting an invention that they paid an advance on that Gallegher can’t remember, b) trying to do away with or otherwise interfere with Gallegher but he has no idea why or c) his equally lush, crotchety Grandfather.

He also has this wonderful invention called a ‘liquor organ’ that dispenses all manner of alcohol while he reclines on the couch.  He employs this to great effect throughout the book.   He has no idea how he made this liquor organ. Indeed, he is always in search of a drink, being drunk helps him think and brings Gallegher Plus to the fore to solve his problems.  Must get me one of those…

The stories are well paced and the puzzles are well constructed, and genuinely funny.  Gallegher’s inventions are hard to fathom, they seem to be a mixture of Heath Robinson, Rube Goldberg, scientific genius and pure fantasy.  In fact, if I was to level a criticism at the book, it would be on these grounds.  The contraptions defy logic.  I know this is a little unfair – it is science fiction after all – but one doesn’t really expect to encounter extreme incredulity.  For example, after bombarding a locker with gamma rays it turns into a device within which the universe has stopped expanding, and leading to time travel.  Well, it was either the gamma rays or the paint, Gallegher explains.  But however, on the other side of the coin, this is part of the comedic charm of a book that doesn’t at any stage take itself seriously.  And it never stood in the way of my enjoyment.

As an aside, the 1973 Lancer edition is credited to Kuttner only.  Ms Moore writes the introduction in which she states ‘…not a word of any of them is mine’.

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4 Responses to “Review: Robots Have No Tails…”

  1. erikmona Says:

    My publishing company has JUST released a new edition of this great collection!

    http://www.paizo.com/planetstories

  2. derrick Says:

    I’ve read The Proud Robot and several other stories by Lewis Padgett in a variety of collections and have always enjoyed them. Recently I finally purchased first editions of Robots Have No Tails as well as Tomorrow and Tomorrow from Gnome Press. I noticed that during the Proud Robot story pages 33 through 36 the story changed to City by Clifford D Simak which was also published by Gnome Press in 1952. I did a few quick searches attempting to find anything about this and did not. Luckily, I was able to pull out a newer collection of stories to finish the story again, but it was a surprise to a different story by a different author in the middle of the book. Does your copy do this as well?

    • That’s a strange thing!! I’d like to see that, any chance of furnishing us with a pic or two that illustrates this?? I’d like to mention something about it on the Trivia page.

  3. derrick Says:

    Sure! Sorry to take so long. I expected to get a email from the site when there was a reply. Can you contact me through email directly? I didn’t find yours anywhere.

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