Category Archives: Henry Kuttner

Henry Kuttner at 100

kuttnerOne of my all-time favorite writers was born 100 years ago on this date.  Henry Kuttner was a prolific author who wrote in multiple genres.  Kuttner started out writing Lovecraft pastiche for Weird Tales.

Kuttner mentored Ray Bradbury and wrote the ending to Bradbury’s “The Candle” when Bradbury got stuck.  In the introduction to the Ballatine/Del Rey edition of The Best of Henry Kuttner (there was a 2 volume British edition by the same name with more and different stories), Bradbury says in reference to “The Graveyard Rats” that Kuttner didn’t want to be remembered as a minor league Lovecraft.  That’s a paraphrase, as I don’t have the book here with me.  I looked at “The Graveyard Rats” on Kuttner’s birthday last year. Continue reading

Blogging Jirel of Joiry: Black God’s Kiss

Black God's KissBlack God’s Kiss
C. L. Moore
Paizo
trade paperback $12.99

Shortly after she began chronicling the adventures of Northwest Smith, C. L. Moore created a second series character, one that would have an even greater impact on the genre. I’m talking, of course, about Jirel of Joiry.

Instead of setting these stories in space like she did with Northwest Smith, or in some age before the dawn of recorded history, like Howard did with Conan, Moore chose to place Jirel in the fictional French kingdom of Joiry, square in the Middle Ages.

There were only five Jirel stories, plus the Jirel and Northwest Smith team-up “Quest of the Starstone” that she wrote with her husband Henry Kuttner.  But for the first time in the history of the field, here was a female character who was worthy of her own series.  Note: the rest of this post will contain spoilers. Continue reading

Catherine Lucille Moore: Fantasy and Science Fiction Pioneer

C. L. MooreNot to mention one of the most important writers of the past century.

Catherine Lucille Moore, better known as C. L. Moore, was born on this day in 1911.  She sold her first story, “Shambleau”, in 1933.  (review here)

In certain circles among science fiction and fantasy authors and fans, one can find a popular belief that women authors have been suppressed and had their voices silenced by The Patriarchy.  And That Has to Change.  While it is true that until recently more authors have been men than women, one has to wonder what parallel universe some of these people have fallen out of.  Either that or if what they’ve been smoking is home grown or Columbian imported.  Many of them act like they’ve never heard of Ursula K. Le Guin, Leigh Brackett, Kate Wilhelm, or Andre Norton, among others. Continue reading

Moore Than Just a Kuttner Kornucopia

Detour to OthernessDetour to Otherness
Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore
Cover art by Richard Powers
Introduction by Robert Silverberg
Afterward by Frederik Pohl
Haffner Press
Hardcover $40, limited edition hardcover $150

In the history of the science fiction and fantasy fields, there have been few authors as versatile as the husband and wife team of Henry Kuttner and Catherine L. Moore. This is especially true at short lengths. (Since Kuttner was an early mentor of Ray Bradbury, this is hardly surprising.)

In the early 1960s, Ballantine Books published two collections of their work, Bypass to Otherness and Return to Otherness. Stephen Haffner states on the page for Detour to Otherness that a third volume was planned but never published. I’ve never heard this before, but I’m more than willing to take his word for it.

The first two Otherness titles contain selections from several of Kuttner’s most popular and well-remembered series. The Hogbens are represented, as is Galloway Gallegher, a scientific genius but only when he’s drunk. Also included is the first of the Baldy stories that comprised the mosaic novel Mutant. They don’t have some of his best known stories, which may not have been available at the time because they were in another book from a different publisher (Line to Tomorrow, Bantam), but this is one of the best samplings of Kuttner and Moore’s work.

Haffner has assembled enough stories for a third collection and combined them in the present volume. That section of the book is called Detour to Otherness, which is also the title of the omnibus.

Haffner had nothing to do with the selections in Bypass and Return, he was responsible to the stories in Detour. Thus, while critiquing the choices in the original volumes is a waste of time, it is very much on the strength of the stories in Detour that the volume will rise or fall. None of these stories has appeared in a Kuttner collection before, although most of them have been reprinted somewhere. I’d read almost all of them before. Let’s look at them more closely. Continue reading

Graveyard Rats for Kuttner’s Birthday

kuttnerHenry Kuttner was born on this date in 1915.  His first published story was “The Graveyard Rats”, which appeared in the March 1936 issue of Weird Tales.  It has been reprinted at least 35 times, the latest being in Zombies from the Pulps, edited by Jeffrey Shanks, which where I recently reread it.Zombies from the Pulps Front cover

Kuttner started out as part of the Lovecraft circle, and “The Graveyard Rats” is very much in the vein of Lovecraft.  The story concerns Masson, a gravedigger in an old cemetery in Salem.  The man has a profitable little sideline going, digging up the bodies and removing any valuables buried with them.  The problem is the rats which infest the graveyard.  They’ve dug a series of tunnels and steal the bodies themselves.

When the rats literally pull a fresh corpse out of the coffin and into the tunnels as Masson is opening the coffin lid, he decides to follow them in and retrieve his prize.  This isn’t the smartest move he could have made…

Terror in the HouseKuttner became a prolific author, writing some of his best work for Weird Tales, Astounding, and Thrilling Wonder.  He wasn’t afraid to take chances and stretch himself as a writer and wrote horror, fantasy, sword and sorcery, science fiction, and mystery.  After his marriage to C. L. Moore, the two collaborated on almost everything they wrote.

Haffner Press has been bringing Kuttner back into print, but even so, there are a number of his stories that are still in crumbling pulp magazines that deserve to be reprinted.  I’ll be looking at some of those tales later this year.

I Hear From Henry Kuttner’s Great Niece

Kuttner close up

Henry Kuttner

I’m going to do a “state of the blog” post sometime in the next couple of days, but I wanted to pass on something that I thought was really cool in its own separate post.

I’m still getting the occasional comment over on Blogger, and one of them was from Bridgette, Henry Kuttner’s great niece, commenting on the Kuttner birthday post.  Here’s what she said.

Henry was my great uncle and sadly I have never read any of his work. Love reading things like this. Fall will be the time to do it.

And my reply:

Bridgett, thank you so much for your comment. Did you know him or did he pass before you were born? If you knew him, I would love to hear any memories you would care to share. You can reach me at keith@adventuresfantastic.com

I’ve moved the blog to a new site and carried all the content over. You can find it at www.adventuresfantastic.com. I’ll be writing more posts about Kuttner and Moore there over the fall and winter.

I replied on the original site in case she checked back.  So far I haven’t heard anything from her.  I’m hoping I will.  I’ve not seen much biographical information about Kuttner, and I would love to know more about his life.  While the thought of writing a biography is a daunting one, if I could get enough material for a book, I’d be willing to give it a try.

Happy Birthday, Henry Kuttner

Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore

Henry Kuttner was born this day, April 7, in 1915.  He passed away far too young in 1958.

Kuttner got his start in Weird Tales, his first story being “The Graveyard Rats”, a grisly little piece.  Other stories for WT followed, and soon he was branching out into science fiction and the shudder pulps.  Legend has it that he started using pseudonyms after writing stories that appeared in the first two issues of Marvel Science Stories, stories that almost got the magazine shut down for pornography.  Supposedly no editor would buy stories with Kuttner’s byline for a while.  Mike Resnick reports in his introduction to Girls for the Slime God (in which the above mentioned stories are reprinted) that in a late 1940s poll of sf readers, two of Kuttner’s pen names came in higher than his real name.  Those pen names were Lawrence O’Donnell and Lewis Padgett.  Not surprising since his best regarded stories are under those names.

Kuttner’s best work was done in collaboration with his wife C. L. Moore.  The story is that Kuttner wrote her a fan letter, not realizing that “C. L.” stood for “Catherine Lucille.”

Kuttner wrote in a wide variety of genres, including sword and sorcery.  His tales of Elak of Atlantis (reviewed here, here, here, and here) as well as his two stories of Prince Raynor (reviewed here and here) helped fill the gap left by Robert E. Howard’s death.

It was in science fiction that he made his reputation.  Stories such “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”, “The Proud Robot”,  “The Twonky”, “When the Bough Breaks”, the Baldly stories (collected in Mutant), the Hogben stories, and countless others have remained popular and readable to this day, showing only a few signs of not aging well.  His story “What You Need” was filmed as an original series Twilight Zone episode.  Kuttner wrote a lot of what at the time was considered novel length work in the pulps, much of it still unreprinted.  A few years ago I managed to get most of the pulps containing these stories, and over the next year or two I hope to make time to read and report on them.  It’s also been long enough since I read some of them, that I need to refresh my memory.

There’s a lot of great Kuttner material that either hasn’t been reprinted or has been reprinted in such obscure places that it doesn’t matter.  For example, “We Kill People” from Astounding‘s March 1946 issue is every bit as good as the stories that are the most well-known.

Kuttner’s work was marked by a dry, cynical sense of humor and a pessimistic outlook on life, and the stories often ended on a note of horror.  As the 1940s turned to the 1950s, the Kuttner quit writing so much for the pulps.  Part of this was burn-out, part of this was Kuttner was finally getting his college degree and then a master’s.  He authored several mystery novels during this period.  He passed away from a heart attack.

I first encountered Kuttner on a hot, humid afternoon the summer before I entered high school.  I was taking a break and pulled out the SFBC edition of The Best of Henry Kuttner, which had arrived in the mail a few days earlier.  Although I don’t recall why I purchased it, I suspect it was because Ray Bradbury, who was something of a protege of Kuttner’s for a while, wrote the introduction.  The first story was “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”.  My mind was blown.  My life would never be the same.

Of all the science fiction and fantasy authors I’ve ever read, Kuttner is still my favorite.  I thank God frequently that Stephen Haffner has reprinted so much of his early work.  (I just wish he’d done it before I spent all that money tracking down those pulps.)

Kuttner (along with his wife C. L. Moore) is one of the few authors who has his/her own shelf in my library.  (The others are Ray Bradbury, Leigh Brackett and her husband Edmond Hamilton, and Robert E. Howard, who books take up two shelves.  Charles Beaumont would have his own shelf if he had written more books before he died.)

Much of Kuttner’s early work is clunky, but if you read his stories in chronological order, you can see him maturing.  He was a writer who wasn’t afraid to stretch himself, to take chances and do something different.  Just read “Happy Ending” as an example.  The story is told in reverse, Ending, Middle, Beginning, and it works.

If you’ve not read Kuttner, you should.  A large of number Big Names (Mariam Zimmer Bradley, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick) list him among their influences. Find out why.

Happy Birthday, Hank.

Blogging Northwest Smith: Black Thirst

“Black Thirst”
C. L. Moore

SPOILER ALERT – You’ve been warned.

“Black Thirst” is the second Northwest Smith story, published  in the April 1934 issue of Weird Tales shortly after “Shambleau”.  Upon rereading, I found this story lacked the power of its predecessor.  It may have been that I wasn’t able to get to the story until late at night, and therefore was fighting fatigue.

The story begins with Smith casing a warehouse along the waterfront of the Venusian city of Ednes one night when a woman walks by and asks him if he’d like to make a gold coin.  This isn’t any ordinary woman, but a Minga woman.

When the first settlers landed on the shore, they found a giant castle ruled by a being, apparently a man, called the Alendar.  He had a small entourage of the most beautiful women, which he began selling to the traders and settlers.

Over time, the Minga women, renowned for their exquisite beauty and chaste bodies, have been the prizes of kings, sultans, and chieftains throughout the solar system.  They are never allowed to walk the streets at night alone and unescorted.  But this one is.

She recognizes Smith, although they’ve never met, and raises her offer to one hundred gold coins.  To receive it, all he has to do is come to a particular gate at the Minga castle in one hour, give her name, and enter.

Other men have died for lesser offenses against the Alendar.

Smith decides to take her up on the offer.

This part of the story was as clear in my mind as the day I first read it.  What had faded were the events that followed.  I had a vague memory of what happened but could recall no details.

Upon entering the Minga castle, Smith enters a dark world where beauty is the most prized and carefully nurtured commodity.  And by nurtured, I mean bred.  Although the woman Vaudir, who entices him into the castle, is one of the most beautiful women Smith has ever seen, she pales in comparison to the others he sees.  Next to them she is plain and homely.

Smith also meets the Alendar, who isn’t a man even though he wears a man’s form.  The Alendar can control people with his thoughts, and he takes Smith captive.  He shows Smith women of such great beauty that it nearly drives Smith insane.

The Alendar is a type of psychic vampire that feeds on beauty, and he’s centuries old.  The women in his stable have been bred for one purpose, and one purpose only.  Food.  The Alendar drains them of their beauty and their life essence.  Only the least beautiful are sold as concubines and queens.

For most of those centuries, especially the most recent, the Alendar had fed on female beauty.  But now he wants a taste of something a little different, male beauty.  And Smith is intended to be the main course.  It’s only with the assistance of Vaudir, and the sacrifice of her life, that Smith manages to escape.

While to my mind not as powerful as “Shambleau”, there are still some dark and disturbing implications in “Black Thirst”.  First there’s the there’s the whole aspect of selling women.  While Moore downplays it and makes it seem like an accepted practice, it’s really nothing more than slavery, and sexual slavery at that.  At least that’s what’s implied when powerful men buy the most beautiful women in the solar system.  Now I’m not saying Moore condones the practice.  She never goes that far.  Instead she states it for what it is, the selling of women by men for their beauty.  Such things have been done for centuries, and in an exotic setting such as this, it’s really more of window dressing than anything else.

Where Moore appears be placing her emphasis is on the destruction of beauty.  The Alendar, and by extension the men who buy women from him, are using women for the purpose of consuming and destroying their beauty.  The women are used to feed, the Alendar’s life force and the men’s egos.

Is Moore saying that men destroy women for their beauty, that beauty is another commodity bought, sold, and consumed in a man’s world?  I don’t know for sure, and like I said in the previous installment of this series, I don’t want to read too much amateur psycho-babble into the fiction.  It’s an interesting thought, though.  She certainly seems to be.

In her introduction to the Lancer edition of Fury, a novel she wrote with her husband Henry Kuttner, she talks about the themes that appear in an author’s work that the author isn’t consciously aware of at the time of writing.  Hers, she writes, is “The most treacherous thing in life is love.”  That’s another interesting thought.

In the two stories we’ve examined so far, love (or something associated with the sexual and/or romantic aspect of it) is presented as destructive and dark, twisted rather nurturing, and incredibly trecherous.  Keep in mind, at this time Moore was unmarried.  I know nothing about her personal life during this period, but I have to wonder.  Had this attractive young woman been burned in a relationship?  Had she witnessed friends or family members have their beauty consumed by a relationship?  I don’t expect to ever find out. Such a thing would seem to be consistent with the Northwest Smith stories so far.  But whether this interpretation is a sound one is a question I’ll leave to the professional literary scholars.

C. L. Moore Turns 102

Catherine Lucille Moore was born on this day in 1911.  She was one of the greatest fantasy and science fiction authors to work in the field.  That’s the oldest picture of her I could find.  I saw a photo of her when I was in college that was (I think) taken shortly before her death.  She was sitting on the steps of a back porch, and the photo was shot from what I would consider an intermediate distance.  If anyone is familiar with the picture and knows where I can get a copy, I would appreciate your letting me know.

I wrote a tribute last year and a belated tribute the  year before, so I wanted to do something different this year.  So after giving some basic facts, I’ll tell you what I have in mind.

First, the facts.  Moore was working in an Indiana bank when she published her first story.  The legend is that she wrote on a company typewriter after hours while working late.  Legend also has it that Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright was so impressed by it that he closed the offices for the rest of the day.  I don’t  know for sure if either event actually happened that way, but if they didn’t, they should have.  Moore went on to write some quite successful science fiction on her own before marrying fellow science fiction writer Henry Kuttner, probably my all time favorite author for at least three days of every week.  After Kuttner died in 1958, Moore left the field.  She remarried, and again legend has it, her new husband didn’t want her writing science fiction.  Also again, I don’t know if that’s true.  By this time she was writing for television, which paid considerably better.

She left quite a legacy, both on her own and with her husband.  I’m going to take a closer look at that legacy this year.  Again both her individual legacy and the one she shares with Kuttner.  I’ve got a lot on my plate, and I can see I’ll need something to act as a sanity check.

For quite some time now I’ve been intending to take a closer look at her two signature series, Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith.  Jirel was one of the first, if not the very first, sword and sorcery heroine who could swing a blade as well as any man.  Northwest Smith was been called the prototype for Han Solo.  I’ll deal with that in an upcoming post.

I’ve decided to start with the Northwest Smith stories (although I will cover the Jirel tales as well).  They’re set in outer space, but they have strong fantasy elements, so I’m going to post the essays about them here rather than on Futures Past and Present.  I intend to post the first one in the next day or so.  Stick around.  It’s been nearly 30 years since I read most of them, but images from some of the stories are still clear in my mind.  They left quite a mark on a very impressionable young teenager.  We’ll see how well they hold up to middle aged scrutiny.

December’s Agenda

Finals start this week, so things will probably be hectic until around the 14th.  My only final is Friday morning, but I’ve got a new lab manual to edit and send to the publisher by then.  All of which means that posting here is going to be sporadic.  I may post for two or three days straight, then not have anything new for a week or more.  ‘Tis the season.

Here’s what I’ve got lined up as far as novels go.  The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones is first up, followed by The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins.  After that, it will be two science fiction novels, The Creative Fire by Brenda Cooper and Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele. I’ll post those reviews over at Futures Past and Present.  There are a couple of forthcoming novels I’ve committed to review, plus 3 from Angry Robot that I had intended to review in August before moving threw my schedule into chaos.  Those will probably wait until January since none of the forthcoming titles have release dates before then.

I want to spend the rest of December getting caught up on stuff I’ve had on the shelf for a while that I haven’t been able to get to:  some sword and sorcery, a few historical novels and collections, a lot of space opera, and some Henry Kuttner I’ve been wanting to either read or reread.  Plus some noir, and The Bones of the Old Ones, the sequel to The Desert of Souls.  I doubt I’ll be able to read all of that in the few weeks I’ll have, but I’m going to try.  Of course, I’ll review some short fiction, too.

I’m not going to accept requests for reviews, nor will I be asking for many review copies over the next couple of months.  I’ve mentioned a Sooper Seekrit Project a couple of times before.  There are actually two now.  I should be able to make one public by the end of the month; the other, I’m not sure when I can announce.  In both cases, these are things I’ve been invited to participate in, and I’m really excited about them.  There will be some changes here and at Futures Past and Present because of these projects, but I’ll wait until I can announce the projects before I discuss how my personal blogs will change.