Saturday, January 24, 2009

Henry Kuttner "debased and perverted hack"

As many of you know, Mike Resnick is a highly acclaimed writer of both science fiction and fantasy. His books and stories are held in great esteem around the world. Mike is also an editor and a sometime historian of the science fiction field. In a long fine piece on the history of science fiction magazines there's a reference to Henry Kuttner. Since we've been discussing HK lately I asked Mike if I could quote that section here.

MIke Resnick:

Back in the Good Old Days of the pulps, more often than not the cover art showed a partially-clad (or, if you prefer, a mostly-unclad) girl, usually at the mercy of aliens who seemed more interested in ripping off the rest of her clothes than doing anything practical, like killing or communicating with her.

The thing is (and I refer you to the two introductory articles in my anthology, Girls For the Slime God), only one magazine actually delivered the salacious stories that went hand- in-glove with those cover illos, and that magazine was Marvel Science Stories. The first issue, back in August of 1938, featured Henry Kuttner's "The Avengers of Space," a rather pedestrian novella to which I suspect he added all the sex scenes to after it had been turned down by the major markets. Then out came issue number two, and there was Kuttner with another novella of the same ilk: "The Time Trap."

What was the result?

Well, there were two results. The first was that Kuttner was labeled a debased and perverted hack, and had to create Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O'Donnell, his two most famous pseudonyms (but far from his only ones) in order to make a living, since it would be a few years before the top editors wanted to buy from Henry Kuttner again.

The second was that the United States government, through its postal branch, gave science fiction its very first official recognition. They explained to the publisher that if the third issue of Marvel was as sexy as the first two, they were shutting him down and sending him to jail.

And with that, Marvel Science Stories became the most sedate and—let's be honest—dull science fiction magazine on the market. It died not too long thereafter, the first prozine to be slain by the government.

Ed here: As pulp readers know Leo Margulies rescued his stable of magazines by adding "Spicy" to the titles. Spicy Western! Spicy Romance! Spicy Detective! I'd never heard of anybody trying that with sf. HK was one enterprising guy.

5 comments:

Todd Mason said...

Um...Kuttner and his pseuds also contributed to the "shudder pulps" and they were not alone among fantastic-fiction pulp writers...I don't know for sure, but suspect that two stories in MARVEL TALES would get the Kuttner name blacklisted.

Todd Mason said...

Looking at the very incomplete bibliographies online, in fact, shows that Kuttner was contributing pretty steadily to the Thrilling groups, particularly THRILLING WONDER STORIES, not a minor market of the day, even if Street & Smith paid more quickly and probably better. Also, his contributions to the likes of WEIRD TALES and Thrilling's STRANGE STORIES seemed to go forward w/o a hitch, while he eased into ASTOUNDING, in the early '40s.

Todd Mason said...

Something I'd forgotten...Martin Goodman was the publisher of at least one iteration of MARVEL, long before he started calling his comics line Marvel.

Ed Gorman said...

Thanks for all the great information, Todd. Best Ed

Todd Mason said...

And I seem to be having problems with contractions these days...I meant to type in comment 1, "wouldn't get the Kuttner name blacklisted."

Thanks for digging this out, Ed...I note the kind of adventure fantasy/s&s that got you and Bill to rec his new re-release was what he was seeming to concentrate on between WEIRD TALES and Gallagher and his other ASF stuff...along with the Hollywood on the Moon stories.