Two-Handed Engine

by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore

“It reminds me of the old story about the guy who took a short cut through a haunted forest on Hallowe’en,” Cynthia said. “He was thinking that he’d always been on the level, and if devils could get him just because he was in the forest, there just wasn’t any justice.”
“And?”
“And then a voice behind him said, ‘there isn’t.’”

There’s pulp fiction, and there’s incredible fiction that was published in the pulps. This is the latter. It’s not escapist; it’s not a way to pass the time.

Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore were married in 1940, and according to them, none of the fiction produced by either since that date was a sole effort, regardless of the publication credit. They collaborated seamlessly, reportedly picking up for each other even mid-sentence on the page. Kuttner died at a young age, and Catherine Moore survived him by another 30 years. She wrote very little after his passing, television only, and stopped writing entirely within a few years of his death.

But we have this. Stories for the ages, examining humanity with a laugh and a scalpel. The laugh comes from the belly. The scalpel comes from the Lance of Longinus.

It’s impossible to review a book this size without swamping readers, so we’ll try to keep this short by calling out a few of them. For the hardcore, or those considering tracking this thing down, there’s the usual link to the full story synopsis below.

Mimsy Were the Borogoves – An alien studies time by sending a box through it, retrieving it and comparing the measurements of the contents before and after it’s sent. But two boxes he sent never returned… Meanwhile, on Earth, Paradine’s young boy finds a box full of strange toys which in time are affecting his and his sisters’ patterns of thought, educating them in a system of logic foreign to humans. Adults seem immune to the objects, and Paradine and his wife watch in growing horror as their children develop, eventually enlisting a psychologist who tries to explain what might be happening.

“Nothing But Gingerbread Left” – In the war effort vs. Germany, a few individuals work together to create a tune and verse that could preoccupy and distract the enemy. Nobody believes it could work, but once the tune is unleashed both soldier and command find their attentions waining and that they have little mental capacity LEFT, LEFT, NOTHING BUT GINGERBREAD LEFT

Call Him Demon – A small group of children has noticed an adult in the house who doesn’t belong but whom their parents insist is a known relative. The children know the truth, that the Wrong Uncle is only partially there, and is really an extension of another denizen of the house.

“Daemon” – Luiz, a simpleton without a soul, is shanghaied and wakes at sea. As usual, he sees the demons attached to everyone with souls. Some good, some bad, but the captain’s fiery red demon is the worst. When Luiz and another man are abandoned for dead on a small island, he begins to understand the separation between modern demons and ancient pagan spirits.

“A Wild Surmise” – Hooten, a patient convinced he’s living in a dream world, is explaining his situation to his psychiatrist, who tries to convince him of his delusions and that this is the real world. But when Hooten goes to sleep (or wakes up), he is an insectoid in an insectoid psychiatrist’s office, with the insect psychiatrist trying to convince him the human world he’s been talking about is just a delusion.

That’s five stories out of thirty-seven, and most of the others are about the equals of or right on the tail of these masterpieces.

full story synopsis

From ladies and gentlemen down to politicians and worms, you need Kuttner and Moore. A cheaper SF book club edition of Two-Handed Engine was produced, a few e-books are available, Haffner Press is reissuing some of their work and of course there are the original publications. But no matter how you manage, you need Kuttner and Moore.

The only thing he wanted, just now, was a chance to examine the book privately. There was a point at which skepticism stopped.

5 stars

 

 

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