Monday, January 19, 2009

The Dark World

If you were a science fiction reader in the Forties or Fifties you were likely a faithful reader of Henry Kuttner under his own or numerous pen-names. On my Kuttner shelf I have fine novels written in the sf, fantasy, mystery and adventure genres. He did it all and did it well.

He died in 1958 of a heart attack. He was forty-two years old. His wife Catherine (C.L.) Moore said that he'd had a premonition of his death the night before. He left behind enough wordage to do three writers proud. Yes, a lot of it was hackwork but the good stuff was great stuff.

He influenced many writers of future generations. Philip K. Dick was his most notable disciple. Roger Zelanzy credited Kuttner as the inspiration for his Amber series. If you doubt Zelanzy's shout out all you have to do is pick up the fine new trade paperback reprint from Planet Stories, The Dark World. You will soon see the seeds for Amber in it.

Richard Matheson dedicated I Am Legend to him. Kuttner wrote the last six hundred words of Ray Bradbury's first professionally published story. Bill Gault always talked about what a gentle, funny man he was--an exemplary writer to all the others.

The Dark World is a vital, mysterious adventure that takes place after a man of earth is transported to a world where he trusts nobody, a world Kuttner filled with a variety of creatures as colorful as any in H. Rider Haggard or early Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In all his best work there is an overriding psychological element in Kuttner's protagonists. Circumstances have given them a noirish desperation and that is evident here where Edward Bond spends much of the book confused and doubting everyone--and everything--around him. If this sounds familiar, read your Phillip K. Dick.

This is one of Kuttner's finest novels and one published as by Keith Hammond. When you look back on his career you see that a good share of his best work was published under pen-names, usually because he had two or three other stories in the same issue. I still remember Anthony's Boucher's moving tribute to him in an issue of Venture SF. I'd read so much of his work that I literally felt as if a good friend of mine had died.


Anonymous said...

Henry Kuttner's novel Fury was an influence on William S. Burroughs -- see particularly his Nova Trilogy.

One more thing: your blog is GREAT!


George said...

Planet Stories is reprinting Kuttner's ROBOTS HAVE NO TAILS. Kuttner is a great, underrated writer.

Todd Mason said...

Pity if they're sticking with that kutesy Gnome Press title for the Gallegher stories, though.