The Hogben Chronicles
edited by Pierce Watters and F. Paul Wilson
introduction by Neil Gaiman
Signed and numbered limited edition, $50
Leatherbound lettered and traycased edition (signed) $100
Poster of the dust jacket $10 (shown left)
If you’re a fan of Henry Kuttner and you missed out on the Kickstarter for this one, all I can say is
sucks to be you, ahem, excuse me, read ’em and weep I mean, that’s too bad. You could have had this volume (minus the signatures) for a song.
The stories in The Hogben Chronicles were in all probability written in collaboration with Kuttner’s wife C. L. Moore. Two of them (“Exit the Professor” and “See You Later”) were published as by Lewis Padgett, the best-known of their pen names. The only thing I can find wrong with them is that there are only five.
The Hogbens are a family of mutants, originally haling from Atlantis. Kuttner and Moore never really give a lot of backstory, just comments made in passing by Saunk Hogben. Saunk has only been around for a few hundred years and hasn’t reached his full growth yet.
The first Hogben story isn’t really a fantasy. “The Old Army Game” was first published in Thrilling Adventures in 1941. Up until now, AFAIK it was only available in old copies of that pulp and in a chapbook Haffner Press included in the limited edition of Detour to Otherness (review forthcoming). It’s the story of what happened when Saunk joined the Army.
The remaining stories were published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, starting with “Exit the Professor” in 1947. “Pile of Trouble” followed in 1948, with “See You Later” and “Cold War” coming in 1949.
The stories are broad slapstick. Humor is extremely subjective, and in my case at least, its effectiveness depends a great deal on how tired/stressed/etc I am. Kuttner (alone or in collaboration) is one of the few writers who can elicit an audible response from me. Several times while rereading them (with the exception of “The Old Army Game” I’ve read them all multiple times) I chuckled or laughed out loud.
In addition to Saunk, there’s his mother, his father (who is usually likkered up), Grandpaw (who tends to speak in Elizabethan English), and the Baby (who is never really described but lives in some sort of tank). In a couple of the stories, there’s an uncle who inevitably causes some sort of problem. The uncle isn’t the same in all the stories.
The Hogben stories shouldn’t be taken as straight science fiction, or even straight science-fantasy. The science, such as it is, is of the hand-waving variety. Instead, they’re a lot of fun, full of clever ideas, slapstick humor, and written one of the most unique voices in all of sff. These stories are a little like a cross between The Three Stooges and The Big Bang Theory, but only a little. They involve, among other things, a professor who wants to study the Hogbens, an evil old man who schemes to hit everyone in the world, a mutant who ends up becoming – no, I can’t tell you. That would give away the ending.
There’s never really been any stories like Kuttner and Moore’s tales of the Hogbens. At least not that I’m aware of. I wish Kuttner and Moore had written more stories about them. Their output, which had been prodigious even by pulp era standards dropped off after the late 1940s/early 1950s to a trickle in the mid 50s. After Kuttner’s death in February 1958, Moore stopped writing sff.
The price on this volume will be a bit high for many, but if you haven’t read the Hogben stories and your budget can handle the expense, this will be a good use of that cash you got for Christmas.