Mar 12, 2017

Moore Kuttner Time

1949 cover art by Earle Bergey
At the ISFDB there are 314 entries for "Moore"! I suppose I should not be impressed by that; there are over 1000 entries for "Smith". I've previously blogged about C. L. Moore, but until today I had not read any of the stories that are usually attributed to her husband, Henry Kuttner. I'm intrigued by time travel stories, so I read 'The Time Axis'.

I never read "Earth's Last Citadel", but from the plot descriptions I've read, that 1943 story written in collaboration with C. L. Moore seems to have covered similar ground as does 'The Time Axis'.

I've long been saddened by the silly hand-waving that so many authors have seen fit to place inside their time travel stories.

Book cover. Click image to enlarge.
I blame H. G. Wells for starting this tradition, and Kuttner seemed to run with it... in the direction of suggesting that in the 20th century Earth was ripe for contact with the future. I guess after the Manhattan Project, readers were ready to accept the idea that a secret government project might hold the key to time travel. That was just one of the many ideas tossed into the plotomatic mixer by Kuttner and never really explained in satisfactory detail. If you want a time travel novel that makes sense, I suggest Asimov's The End of Eternity.

I was horrified to discover that 'The Time Axis' uses the same "reasoning" as Arrival for why we primitive Earthlings would suddenly be contacted by super sophisticated folks from the far future.... they need our help! This sort of plot element was dismaying for me when I first saw it E. E. Smith's Lensman Saga. There, I was asked to believe that the hyper-advanced Arisians had brought humans into existence in order to defeat the evil Eddorians.

nekronic lifeform
In the 'The Time Axis', while humans are busily exploring new star systems in the far future, they stumble into the bad end of the galaxy and come upon "nekron", the last word in death and destruction.

For me, the best part of reading old stories such as 'The Time Axis' is when I suddenly find myself imagining that unexplained plot elements back in the Golden Age could now be explained in terms of new concepts like virtual reality and nanotechnology. The "nekron" that is haunting Humanity of the future in 'The Time Axis' is described as a "new form of matter", but it sounds like a form of gray goo. According to Kuttner, "nekron" is also some evil lifeform.

Similarly, the strange future world with "mechandroids", where the enchanting girl "Topaz" (that's her on the Earle Bergey cover, above) must go to the "Swan Garden" for a tune-up in order to once more have the stars put into her hair, is easy for me to imagine as a kind of virtual reality environment, a place where the last city of Mankind is a kind of museum where people no longer live.

More Time Travel
"Vintage Season" - 1946. This was the first story 'by Kuttner' that I ever read (back in the 1970s). I read it in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Time travelers from the future arrive, trying to get good seats for seeing a  meteor strike that will destroy a large city. Apparently this story was largely written by Moore.

"Time Locker" - 1943 - This is a silly fantasy in which a drunk invents a magic "time travel locker" that shrinks objects. A crook buys the locker for 6 credit$ and uses the locker to hide stolen money. He manages to kill himself before he learns that objects placed in the locker first disappear then re-appear in the future.

The Time Trap
"Mimsy Were the Borogoves" - 1943 - I have not read this story. Some children receive a box of toys from the future.

"The Time Trap" - 1938 - I have not read this story, but apparently it was "sexed up" before publication and it has managed to offend many readers ever since.

In the Ekcolir Reality.
Original cover art by Norman Saunders
and see this
Another Reality
Several times in the middle of 'The Time Axis' I thought Kuttner might tell us that we had slipped into an alternate Reality. If I read the story correctly, there was only one Reality Change, one that created the new universe at the end of the story. What if Kuttner, in our Reality, was just a remnant echo of an actual time traveler in an earlier Reality?

Special thanks to Miranda Hedman for the DeviantArt stock photograph "Black Cat 9 - stock" that I used to create the green "sedronite" who is in the image to the right.

Next : future science fiction.
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