Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Henry Kuttner

Henry Kuttner wrote every kind of pulp fiction there was. He excelled at science fiction and fantasy. He also wrote three mysteries that I've always enjoyed as well as an original paperback series about a psychiatrist.

He was friend and mentor to both Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. With his wife C.L. Moore he produced a large volume of stories, a long list of which are considered classics today. He died way too young at age forty-four. I still remember reading about his death one eighth grade afternoon when I picked up the new Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I was shocked and saddened. I'd read so many of his novels and stories I felt as if he'd been a personal friend.

Since we are in an era where vampires and werewolves and warlocks are fashionable I thought I'd introduce many of you to Kuttner (and probably C.L. Moore's) legendary short novel The Dark World currently available from Paizo in a handsome new edition.

Edward Bond returns from World War Two to be confronted by his identical twin with whom he shares a body--a twin from another dimension into which Bond is cast. There can't be many more strange and colorful worlds than the one he finds here. From the trade paperback: "Sucked through a portal to the Dark World, Bond finds himself trapped between two warring factions. On one side is the Coven: a werewolf, an immortal, and a beautiful witch eager to acknowledge Ganelon as their sinister ruler. On the other is the white sorceress Freydis and her band of forest rebels that want nothing more than to see the warlock’s head on a spike. Will Edward/Ganelon join with the rebels to release the oppressed world from the grip of a tyrannical, sacrifice-hungry god—or embrace the Coven to become the world’s greatest villain?"

If you're into fantasy, this book offers mystery, a real sense of dread, myriad wonders and some of the niftiest plotting you'll find this side of--well, Henry Kuttner.

To say that "The Dark World" has been "homaged" to death over the years would be to understate the case. It shows up in a number of famous novels. Here's an irritable quote from the excellent site Science Fiction and Fantasy reading Experience.

"MZB (or, Marion Zimmer Bradley, for those unfamilliar with this "fiction factory" brand) said: "I consider the works of Henry Kuttner the finest fantasy ever written"; Roger Zelazny cited "The Dark World" as a seminal influence on his Amber series; now - both these writers have contributed to many 300-pages-plus reworkings of the same ideas that Kuttner put in 100 pages here. When reading the novella (for that is what it is, really) today you will be struck how often you may have read same stuff in modern "door-stopper" trilogies - diluted and laundered for a publisher's fun and profit. However, here is the genuine article, the novel that started it all. It has color, adventure and the sense of wonder needed (required!) for publication in "Startling Stories" and the accompanying brevity. God bless Henry Kuttner. Wish he was more often reprinted nowadays."

If you're a fantasy pulp fan, this is a book you'll enjoy reading again and again.


Randy Johnson said...

I remember well some of those old Ace editions(and probably others) from my youth. As I write this, I have that Paizo edition lying here right beside the keyboard.

Evan Lewis said...

I have that old Ace somewhere. It's like seeing an old friend again. Time to dig it out, I reckon.