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.
“Open Secret” concerns a secret group of robots that occupy an entire floor of an office building. This one originally appeared in the April 1943 issue of Astounding and was reprinted in Great Stories of Science Fiction, edited by Murray Leinster.
“All is Illusion” is reprinted for the first time here. It originally appeared in Unknown in April 1940. I’ve got a copy of that issue and have read it. The hero of the tale (named Moore of all things) steps into a bar that wasn’t there yesterday and isn’t there when he leaves. He gets into an argument with a dwarf while he’s there about whether magic is possible. This one showed Kuttner’s sardonic sense of humor.
When I first read “Rite of Passage” some years ago in Asimov and Greenberg’s The Great SF Stories 18 (1956), I wasn’t overly impressed. It’s the story of a man who has had a curse put on him in a society in which these things are taken very seriously. Upon rereading it, I was struck by what a powerful piece of work it was. Robert Silverberg has always been very open about Kuttner and Moore’s influence on him. I’m pretty sure this story influenced Silverberg’s “To See the Invisible Man”. There are too many similarities for it not to have been an influence. This is not a bad thing. “Rite of Passage” was first published in the May 1956 issue F&SF.
“Baby Face” reads like a Cary Grant screwball comedy. A soldier agrees to babysit his CO’s infant son as a favor to the man’s wife. He takes the kid to a doctor because he can’t figure out why the baby won’t stop crying and is in the doctor’s office when thugs break in. Unfortunately they do so while the doctor is demonstrating a mind transference machine, using the soldier and the baby as subjects. This one was published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Spring 1945. I read the reprint in the March 1953 issue of Fantastic Story Magazine.
“Happy Ending” (Thrilling Wonder, August 1948) is a story that is literally told backwards. It’s in three sections, each one taking place prior to the one that precedes it. This approach changes the meaning of everything that came before. In my opinion, it’s one of Kuttner’s best. I read it in David Drake’s anthology Things Hunting Men.
“The Children’s Hour” first appeared in March 1944 Astounding and has been reprinted in numerous places. I read it in high school in Anthony Boucher’s A Treasury of Great Science Fiction vol. 1. I’ve not looked at it since and only had vague memories of it. I can see now why that is. It’s a story that requires a bit more exposure to some older types of fantasy to truly appreciate, although the story is actually science fiction. A soldier discovers that a period of his life in which he thinks he remembers he has no memory of when under hypnosis. As a psychiatrist helps him to recover those memories, he pieces together a love affair with a beautiful but slightly odd young woman.
I first read “Dream’s End” (Startling Stories, July 1947) in Damon Knight’s anthology Perchance to Dream. This one isn’t one of my favorites, although it’s well done. The director of a mental hospital tries to cure a patient of his condition through an experimental surgical procedure. Things don’t turn out quite the way he hoped. I find this type of story to ultimately be dissatisfying because you can never know that the pattern has been broken. That’s all I can say without spoilers. Kuttner did a fine job with it, though, capturing the horror of the situation in which the doctor finds himself due to his own hubris.
The final story is the only one I’m not sure I’ve read. I now I’ve got it, because I have a copy of Judith Merrill’s The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy for 1958. It’s a short tale about a businessman who comes out on the short end of the deal when he makes an agreement with the local brujo to allow him to cut into a local market.
So, how does Detour to Otherness stack up? Quite well. While I liked some of these stories more than others, Haffner did a superb job of bringing some neglected or obscure stories by Kuttner and Moore to a wider audience. If I were going to quibble about anything, it’s that the book doesn’t contain “We Kill People”. This is one of Kuttner’s best stories, and so far as I know, it has only been reprinted once in an obscure anthology. It deserves to be more widely known.
However, that’s a minor point. Haffner has done is usual superb job, both in selecting the additional stories and in the production values. If you’re not familiar with Haffner Press, where have you been? Haffner Press collections should form a cornerstone of the library of anyone interested in the early days of the field.