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MoPOP at dusk, Seattle

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Herman Kuttner and C.L. Moore

I am a pretty finicky reader. Hard to find an author I like and I tend to be about eighty years behind the times when I do. I read O'Henry's annotated collection last year and it still seemed right on point.

O Henry was born one William Sidney Porter in 1862, died in New York in 1910. Not very old at 47. But the guy could write the quill off a pen. Hardbitten tales of the city. We cast off old writers at our peril. Twain, Forester, Dumas, Stevenson.

These guys appeal are timeless, they touch a common humanity that against all odds, is still hiding out there somewhere.

I have a real hard time reading contemporary mysteries and science fiction these days. I find somebody and devour them and then wait another five years to pick up on anybody else decent. I won't name names but the contemporary sci fi writers are by and large a bunch of bores. Overly technical, little lyricism or imagination.

So I turn to the past. I have been reading some old sci fi collections from the 40's and 50's I bought at the bottom shelf for fifty cents a piece. Boucher's two volume set. It is great reading, early Philip Dick, one of my faves, Kornbluth, Bester and Kuttner.


I also occasionally reread some early science fiction that I used to love and I now find pretty much terrible, Aasimov really didn't wear well with me. Neither did Hesse, come to think of it. What was I thinking when I was a kid? I do like Card, Mormon evangelical politics be damned, thought the Alvin Prophet series was remarkable. Spider Robinson was okay too, until we had to read about all the strange bisexual astronaut sex. Lost me there.

I read everything as a kid, Moorcock to Cabell, Dunsany, Tolkein, Niven, Pohl, Spinrad, Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke, Chayefsky, soup to nuts, everything in between. Enjoyed straight sci fi and fantasy but later was profoundly affected by the speculative fiction bunch, specifically Sturgeon, Dick and my literary hero, mentor and guiding light, Roger Zelazny, a man I was privileged to meet several times. These guys seemed to get inside the human condition in a deeper and more meaningful way, resonated with me anyway.

I also enjoyed William Gibson early on, Stephenson and Sterling too, but the whole cyberpunk genre seems a little clichéd and played out these days and it is getting hard to plod through the work.

Anyway the point of this is Kuttner. He was a freaking genius. I had heard that he had influenced Roger but after reading The Children's Hour I really get it now. Do you know him? Don't feel bad, except for nerds like me, practically no one does...

I first encountered Henry Kuttner (1915-1958) when I was reading the pulp compilations, specifically Penzler's The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. He wrote with his wife C.L. Moore and their stories were always out of the park good and far ahead of their time.

So I haven't known about him for very long. He came from Los Angeles. His parents were immigrants of jewish extraction, Prussian and from Great Britain. Here, you read it.

Moore and Kuttner were said to be so sympatico that it was impossible to tell who wrote what in their many collaborations.

They had a string of pseudonyms; Lawrence O'Donnell, Kelvin Kent, C. H. Liddell, Lewis Padgett, Hudson Hastings, Keith Hammond, Peter Horn, Scott Morgan, Will Garth, Woodrow Wilson Smith, Paul Edmonds, Edward J. Bellin, James Hall,  Robert O. Kenyon, Noel Gardner, H. Kuttner, Charles Stoddard, Henry Kuttner, Jr., etc. These people were writers' writers and incredibly prolific.
"The Kuttners learned a few thing writing for the pulp magazines, however, that one doesn't learn reading Henry James." James Blish
Citing several reasons, including nervous exhaustion, the Kuttner's ceased writing in the early fifties, or curtailed it anyway, they went back to school, both obtaining undergraduate degrees in clinical psychology from the University of Southern California. Kuttner died of a sudden heart attack in 1958, C.L. married a doctor and stopped writing.

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Zelazny cites Kuttner as a major influence. I read Piggy Bank and the The Children's Hour this week and have ordered a Kuttner collection. I definitely see where Roger got some of his better ideas. Rather than flying to other planets these characters were battling/becoming gods, awakening ancient powers, turning inward. Right down my wheelhouse.

Kuttner's character in The Children's Hour is involved in a triangle with a greek god. Zelazny took this form and ran with it repeatedly, insert protagonist into ancient Egypt, a vedic planet, a native american reservation, pick the cosmology of your choice and let them work in the native theological construct. He further explored the route in one of my favorite novellas, Mana from Heaven.

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I am enjoying reading this forgotten master. You could do worse than scrounge a copy.


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