Archive for Henry Kuttner

Review: Mutant

Posted in 1953, 3:Lunar, Review with tags , , , , on December 29, 2009 by Aaron

Lewis Padgett
1953

This is the third of three books by the Kuttner/Moore team that Gnome Press have in their stable, and like the one other copy I have – Robots Have No Tails… – this is a collection though presented (albeit rather thinly) in novel form.

Each chapter is a short story in the ‘Baldy’ series. There is a brief intro to each that provides a linking device by which these tales are tied together. A Baldy crashes his ‘copter in some remote mountains and accesses shared memories recollecting important events in Baldy history while he waits against hope for rescue. I found this glue rather unnecessary and again, for me, it was a distraction and detraction from tales that were on the whole pretty good as stand-alone pieces – I could have quite readily inferred the progression satisfactorily myself.

Baldies are a post-apocalyptic (or post ‘Big Mistake’ as it’s called) human mutation that have telepathic powers. In actual fact, ‘mutant’ is a bit of a misnomer. The term is traditionally used to describe a one-off genetic aberration such as those sported by the various X-Men, by Johnny Alpha and his Strontium Dog colleagues or to a lesser extent the abilities of the Children of he Atom. Baldies are really a different species arising from a mutation – not ‘mutants’ per se, but a brand new species of the homo genus. This Big Mistake caused an identical genetic modification in some people so a small percentage of post-Mistake offspring exhibit dominant Baldy traits – Baldies become a permanent and growing percentage of the population.

So, I hear you ask, why were they called ‘Baldies’? Well, they are bald as you can see from Ric Binkley’s cover art, but further, have a complete lack of bodily hair. Because of this, they were able to be readily identified and most resorted to the habit of wearing hairpieces to camouflage themselves from society at large. A prudent move as Baldies often engender a certain amount of fear in most normal people due to their mind-reading abilities and as a result suffer from some discrimination. But outside of the extremist ‘Paranoid’ Baldy faction, they are generally understanding of many humans’ attitude towards them in their obviously dominant position, and seek to bring a reconciliation that will be satisfactory in the long term.

Just on the note of conflict, I just want to mention a cultural idiosyncrasy of the times – the duel. All men carry a dagger so they can engage in duels if challenged. What is it about this form of conflict resolution that so appealed to SF writers back then? It seems a bit odd and rather antiquated from the viewpoint of today, The great RAH used this device in his early work Beyond This Horizon (with firearms though, not blades). But as I so often encourage, you have to read these books with a certain amount of tolerance and with one mental foot in the 1940s or 50s. These things (the duels) go to the death, so they aren’t taken lightly and to engage with a Baldy is tantamount to suicide as they can read your mind as to what moves you’re about to pull.

As I mentioned earlier, the stories depict several key scenarios in Baldy history – they are snapshots of events leading to the inevitable confrontation between them and regular humans. This culminates in a solitary Baldy having to make the final decision as to whether to extinguish the threat to Baldy existence or let fate determine how the relationship between the two species develops.

Aside from those unnecessary linking intrusions I really enjoyed the tales. In contrast to mutant fare we have been getting in the modern sci-fi era – isolated and/or disparate mutations affecting individuals in radically different and bizarre ways – I liked the treatment here. A single mutation consistent and breeding human mutation evolution that has the potential to subsume the inferior (or at least non-telepathic) regular human version. In some ways this brings to mind John Wyndham’s story The Midwich Cuckoos, but the Baldies aren’t evil as the children in that story apparently are.

What Henry Kuttner (all subsequent editions are credited to him, see the book’s ISFDB page – I suspected as much from the style of the prose) does well here is conveying the sense of community that Baldies experience. They have a telepathic link that’s kind of analagous to the Internet – each individual is kind of server. They can all choose to partake of the resource, or ‘log out’ and resist intruding on, or intrusion from others. It’s quite skillfully handled given that it’s a tough thing to try to impart what is actually happening in the mind. Let me give you an example:

They looked at each other in silence. Their minds touched and sprang apart and then touched again, tentatively, with light thoughts that leaped from point to point as gingerly as if the ideas were ice-floes that might sink beneath the full weight of conscious focus.
I thought I loved you . . . perhaps I did . . . yes, I too . . . but now there can’t be . . . (sudden, rebellious denial) . . . no, it’s not true, there can’t ever be rightness between us . . . not as if we were ordinary people . . . we’d always remember that picture, how I looked (abrupt sheering off from the memory) . . . (agonized repudiation of it) . . . no couldn’t help that . . . always between us . . . rooted too deeply . . . and anyhow, Cas – (sudden closing off of both minds at once, before even the thought-image had time to form.)
Alexa stood up. “I’m going to town,” she said.

page 105/106

That’s a bit lengthy, but it gives you a great example of how he’s handled it. Pretty slick if you ask me. Short passages of mind communication are scattered throughout the book and really help us become part of the Baldy experience – not just a third-party to it.

To wrap this up, Mutant is an enjoyable read that presents some interesting dilemmas and makes us think about how we might handle being in such a position as they. However, you don’t need to be a telepath to work out what’s happening over the course of the stories, so if you read this collection, keep in mind they are tales separated in time and just skip the linking interludes. You will enjoy it a bit more.

Close Up: Mutant

Posted in 1953, Close Up with tags , , , , on December 3, 2009 by Aaron

closeupLewis Padgett
1953

It arrived almost one year ago – the longest any book in my collection has been before before making it onto the blog.  This was listed as a Near Fine when I purchased it, but I think it’s not really up to that standard.  More like a VG or VG+.  Interesting if somewhat disturbing cover by my fave Ric Binkley, not one of his better efforts in my opinion though.  Let’s have a look see.
Very bright cover.  The jacket is in pretty good condition except for the spine.  The boards aren’t too bad either.
No staining or any other major problems except this:

It’s had a bump on the top front edge at some time.  You can see the corresponding knock on the jacket below.


The block shows no discoloration though is perhaps a little grubby around the edges.
The head of the spine is the major issue with this copy, it’s been bumped and the jacket is damaged.

The tails ok though, if a little soiled.

The back of the jacket looks nice but also a bit soiled.  Not too bad though.

Year: 1953
Paid: $75
Art: Ric Binkley
Quantity: 4000 copies
Binding: Turquoise blue boards with darker blue lettering on the spine.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated.
Comments: A little overpriced at $75 perhaps, but after all this is the Lewis Padgett team. Reasonable condition all-round except for the top of the jacket on the spine.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

condition

Review: Shambleau and Others

Posted in 1953, 4:Stellar!, Review with tags , , , on August 28, 2009 by Aaron

C.L. Moore
1953

Catherine Lucille Moore is probably the better known half of the Lewis Padgett team.  Her husband Henry Kuttner – the opposite half – being more prolific but writing under numerous pseudonyms.  I use the phrase ‘opposite half’ here for good reason.  I read Padgett’s ‘Robots Have No Tails’ several months ago (see the Close Up & Review) and since discovered that it was in fact as claimed by Moore herself, penned entirely by Kuttner.  These two books provide an interesting basis for comparison and I do indeed find Ms Moore’s and Mr Kuttner’s styles to be opposite.  ‘Robots’ is light, whimsical, funny and is a breeze to read.  ‘Shambleau’ is very, very different.  Dark, heavy and serious are words I’d use to describe Ms Moore’s work here.

While we are touching on the style of prose in this book, a couple of other authors sprang to mind while I was reading.  It didn’t take long for me to identify similarities with H.P. Lovecraft.  Quite often a turn of phrase here, or a word there would remind me of the great man.  Here is an example as Northwest Smith reflects upon “fearful symmetry” as he regards Thag – the Tree of Life – for the first time.

Truly a more than human agency must have arched these subtle curves so delicately into dreadfulness, into such an awful beauty that the very sight of it made those atavistic terrors he was so sternly holding down leap in a gibbering terror.

The Tree of Life, p153/154

I’m sure you’ll agree, this could be lifted straight out of any Lovecraft story.  I’m not suggesting C.L. Moore is an H.P.L. knock off, just illustrating how similar the prose is at times, and apparently Mr Lovecraft was a fan of Ms Moore’s according to a brief biography at Red Jacket Press.  I think I would place her in a stylistic space somewhere between Lovecraft for the darkness and depth, Clark Ashton Smith for slightly less archaic expression of the same and Mervyn Peake for her descriptive use and control of color.  Color features very heavily in every tale; she uses it very well to help us enter and visualize her stories.

Well, enough observation on the style front, what about the stories themselves??

This collection consists of four Northwest Smith stories and three Jirel of Joiry tales.  Each of the seven is an excellent entertaining (if dark) read.  But first, lets get the negative out of the way.  The structure of the stories are the same.  If we look at the four Northwest Smith tales, they all go something like this:

  • Smith is hanging out somewhere on some unnamed errand/mission.
  • Some unexpected person appears or random event happens.
  • Smith gets sidetracked into some sort of alternate dimension.
  • After a cool little adventure, Smith saves the day or otherwise escapes.
  • Smith’s nefarious life gets back on track.

You could more or less throw the same blanket over the Jirel tales as well.  This gave all the stories a kind of sameness that bugged me a little.  But, Ms Moore’s aforementioned wonderful style overrode this structural similarity and allowed me to just enjoy each.

On the positive side, I keep mentioning the style as a big plus, but also we get to know these characters very well.  They are very similar in many ways despite being of opposite genders.  Hard, uncompromising, strong, practical, and at the end of each tale it isn’t Jirel’s prowess with the sword, or Smith’s speed and skill with his blaster that come through as the determining factors, it’s their mental strength that enable them to overcome the sticky situations they find themselves in.  Indeed, there is very little physical action at all throughout this collection.  This is part of the reason why for me these individuals are elevated beyond the archetypal hero of typical pulp fare, and into the realms of true literary characters.  They have so much, well… character.

Thank you C.L. Moore, you have introduced me to two people that will stay with me forever:  Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith.  Now I can’t wait to read the GP collection ‘Northwest of Earth’ for more dark adventures with these true heroes from the golden age of science fiction.

Review: Robots Have No Tails…

Posted in 1952, 5:COSMIC!, Review with tags , , , on March 4, 2009 by Aaron

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’.

Close Up: Robots Have No Tails…

Posted in 1952, Close Up with tags , , , , on March 2, 2009 by Aaron

closeupLewis Padgett
1952

I ask all the people whom I purchase books off to try and give me a bit of provenance on the book – anecdotes, history… that kind of thing.  I’m very interested in where these books have been.  I’ve had some interesting stories and been able to glean one or two surprising  snippets on some of these books myself.  Faye, the very nice lady whom I got this book from sent me this interesting tale.

This book came from the collection of an elderly neighbor on Pleasant Valley Rd in Woodstock, Illinois. He was a single gentleman who had lived in the family house all his life. He had all sorts of collections in there, and after his death his sister sold his things.  Towards the end of the sale she got tired I guess, and when Lyle showed up a couple of times she offered to sell him whatever books were left.  She also persuaded him to take the fellow’s pet squirrel, which he had raised after it was blown out of a tree during a storm when it was a baby.  He must have been an interesting man because he had a quite a variety of books – astronomy, geography, various branches of science and science fiction, and other fiction and we were sorry we had not gotten to know him.

Great stuff…  I love stories like this.  As I have mentioned elsewhere on this site, they make these books come alive.  Thank you very much Faye.

In my previous post I gave Dave from Lipson Robotics a plug.  He asked me a question about this book over on The Great Gnome Press Sci Fi Odyssey Flickr site, and I then discovered his fine examples of robot manufacture.  The point I’m trying to make is that Daves ‘bots are a perfect match for this book.  Lets begin by having a look at the cover.

What a superb cover it is.  Inked by the incomparable Ric Binkley, it’s deserving of a closer look so we can fully appreciate this fine example of ’50s Sci Fi art.

Absolutely stunning.  Now, you go and check out what Lipson Robotics are turning out and come back here and tell me that any one of their creations wouldn’t be perfectly at home on this cover.

Didn’t think so.  Congrats Dave, you’ve nailed that retro look you are after.

So, while the dust jacket looks great at first glance, if we check it out a bit closer we can see some wear and a sizeable chunk out of the top front edge.

We can see the wear quite plainly now.  That chunk is a bit nasty…

Right in the center of the jacket too.  Damn.  Looking at the ends we notice that it sits nice and square.

And we also can see that the pages are refreshingly white – albeit a little discolored due to dust on the top.  Illustrating the nice white pages below:

Beautiful.  You know, it’s so refreshing to read nice white pages, as opposed to the nasty yellow and sick looking fare that we now get in GP ‘s later books as a result of the cheap acidic paper they used.

A close up of the extremities reveals a couple more little issues, chiefly the erosion of the boards, though the jacket isn’t too bad at these points.  The top of the spine also has a bruise.

I’ve highlighted the erosion there.

The boards are quite clean, although you can see a little staining in the odd place.  The pic below also better illustrated that bruise to the top of the spine.

Actually, the staining looks a lot worse here due to the light.  In real life it isn’t as prominent.  Indeed, you probably wouldn’t notice them unless I pointed them out.  The top rear corner also has a bit of a ding.

Well, to wrap it up lets check out the back.

You can see the general scuffing is quite evident here, especially on the creases.  There are also a couple of closed tears that you can’t see in these locations also.

Year: 1952
Paid: $73
Art: Ric Binkley
Quantity:4000 copies
Binding: Orange boards with black lettering on spine.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition stated on copyright page.
Comments: This is a very sought-after title and I’m very happy to have it, especially at that price. I just love the cover. The flaws I’ve highlighted here don’t seem as bad in real life. A fantastic addition to my library. What do you think??
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

condition

New Books

Posted in New Arrivals with tags , , , , , , on December 29, 2008 by Aaron

When I arrived at work today I had two books sitting on my desk. In a postage box, of course. Mutant by Lewis Padgett (Lewis Padgett was a pseudonym used by the husband and wife writing team of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore) and The Philosophical Corps by Everett B. Cole. They look great!! The Philosophical Corps is in excellent condition, a solid Fine. Mutant was listed as NF but I think it’s slightly inferior to that, perhaps VG to VG+. I have a lot of reading to do… but I like it like that.