Note regarding this Retro Hugo sub-series of Scide Splitters: The November, December and January Scide Splitters blogs will be devoted to examining humorous stories eligible for the 1941 Retro Hugo Awards being presented in Kansas City at MidAmeriCon II next August. November will cover three novellas, December will look at six novelettes, and January will include twenty-one short stories (and two novelettes). This will not be exhaustive coverage of all humorous SF/F fiction published in 1940 (the eligibility year for the 1941 Retro Hugos). It is limited to those works I have readily available to me without having to dip into the funds that I am saving to attend the convention. I estimate that these stories represent about fifty percent of the eligible humorous works and, of course, only a small fraction of all eligible stories, humorous or otherwise. Reader input pointing out stories I have missed will be most appreciated. Click here for more Amazing Stories coverage of the 1941 Retro Hugos.
Welcome back for the third and final installment of Scide Splitters’ look at humorous stories eligible for the 1941 Retro Hugos. Once again, the numbers have changed. Two of the stories listed as short stories at isfdb.org turned out to be novelettes. I will review them first, but keep in mind that “The Elixir of Invisibility” and “All Is Illusion” are novelettes for nomination purposes (presuming official category lengths are as expected). An additional three short stories have been added thanks to the work of von Dimpleheimer and his series of free anthologies composed of eligible works in the public domain. He has posted seven volumes so far with one more planned. Digital copies can be downloaded via links at File 770. A total of eleven of the thirty-two stories reviewed in this series can be found in von Dimpleheimer’s anthologies.
As noted in previous installments, these review/summaries do contain spoilers. You can skip to the end to get my recommendations. I am also including a full list of stories in each category that I consider essential reading for Retro Hugo nominations (humorous and otherwise).
“The Elixir of Invisibility” by Henry Kuttner – Originally published in Fantastic Adventures, October 1940.
Although this story is listed as a short story at isfdb.org, it turns out to be a novelette for nominating purposes.
Raleigh works as an assistant to Doctor Meek, a scientist who has just completed an elixir of invisibility. Reporters are called in to witness a demonstration by the invisible scientist. But the elixir hasn’t been tested on humans, so Meek forces Raleigh to be the guinea pig. Raleigh would quit the job if not for the fact that he is in love with the doctor’s daughter and she will only marry him with her father’s permission. So the young man relents. After the demonstration, police arrest Meek for robbing a bank while invisible. Meek tries to lay the blame on Raleigh, but since the reporters thought that the invisible man was the doctor, the police take him away. Raleigh promises the daughter that he will clear her father’s name if she promises to marry him with or without permission. What follows is a series of madcap scenes involving an invisible thief, invisible dog and at times invisible Raleigh. Eventually the young man succeeds in capturing the thief and clearing the old man’s name.
The story contains plenty of hilarity, including astute observations regarding the difficulties of being invisible. For instance, when the dog eats the thief’s steak, he responds, “Oh, well. I was having a hell of a time. Kept putting the fork in my eye. This invisibility isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” Skillfully told, but not quite as good as the story “All Is Illusion” reviewed next.
“All Is Illusion” by Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore – Originally published in Unknown Fantasy Fiction, April 1940.
Another novelette listed at isfdb.org as a short story.
Bertram Moore arrives one hour early to pick up his visiting sister at the train station. He decides to spend the intervening time at a tavern across the street. Inside are quite a few oddly dressed characters, but he ignores that and orders a drink. A “belligerent midget with fuzzy whiskers” sits next to him and states that, “All Is Illusion.” Due to the potency of the drink, Bertram is argumentative and disputes this claim. The two get into a tussle with Bertram pulling on the small man’s beard. In retaliation, the man casts a spell of illusion on Mr. Moore. When he leaves the tavern, he looks back and sees an empty lot.
His sister complains that he smells strongly of violet and has a whistling noise coming from his stomach. He is pulled over by a police officer who also complains of the noise. At home, he starts to smell like rotten fish, emits a loud siren noise, and spoils a small dinner party with his wife, sister and a family friend named Steve. Bertram notices none of the sounds and smells.
The next day, Bertram goes to his law office. Steve comes to visit but finds a duck (Bertram) in the office. Frustrated at being ignored, Mr. Moore heads out for a drink and encounters his wife who steps on him, then picks him up. Surprised at her sudden strength, he demands to be put down and bites her. He is then picked up by Steve who thinks the duck is her pet. Suddenly, Bertram reverts to his normal form and Steve collapses under the weight. Annoyed at the odd treatment he receives, Moore attacks Steve and a police officer arrests all of them. They appear before a judge who is baffled by the confusing story. Bertram turns into a goat causing the judge to retire to his chambers. Outside, Mr. Moore encounters the little bearded man and admits that all is illusion. The man gives him a bottle that will remove the curse, but warns that he must drink it only when he is in his normal form. Back at home, he asks his servant if he appears normal, and upon hearing that he does, drinks the bottle. His wife enters and then flees claiming that there is a horse in the kitchen.
Delightfully wacky, add this to the list of nomination worthy novelettes.
“Derm Fool” by Theodore Sturgeon – Originally published in Unknown Fantasy Fiction, March 1940.
The story opens with a man rushing around his apartment trying to hide body parts, his own body parts, before a woman (a love interest) comes to visit. It turns out that he has contracted a disease that causes him to shed his skin every twenty-four hours (like a snake, only faster) and he does not want to alarm her. But we soon find out that she had the disease first and was the cause of giving it to him when she shipped an unusual snake to him for his taxidermy business. The disease is not a complete loss since he is able to use the dead skin in making custom jewelry (another of his occupations). The dead skin, however, brings on a police investigation, so the couple torments the poor police officer with related pranks. By the end of the story, they have discovered both cause and cure so that they can use the process in a controlled fashion, particularly as a high-end beauty parlor skin treatment.
Well written and entertaining. The personalities remind me of zany screwball comedy characters common to movies of the era. It is worth reading, but it doesn’t quite rate a nomination.
“The Gods Gil Made” by Ross Rocklynne – Originally published in Unknown Fantasy Fiction, November 1940.
Gil, proprietor of The Rebuilt Dictating Machines & Servicing Co, creates a man-shaped paperweight out of shavings from used dictating machine cylinder wax. The figure comes to life and announces that he is the God of Talkalek machines. He orders Gil to make a second god that will serve him and the two will put spells on the machines serviced by his competitors. Gil runs an honest business, so he refuses and tries to smash the animated figure with a hammer. The God escapes and tells Gil he will rue this decision. He runs on a machine cylander and vanishes into the machine. Shortly after, Gil gets frantic calls from his customers stating that all their cylindars, including the blank ones, are playing back dirty jokes that sounds as if they are recorded by company executives. Unable to do anything about it, Gil returns to the office to find a smug god. Gil gives in and agrees to create another paperweight.
This second god, however, is made from cylinders from the Vocaphones company. The two gods hate each other and are in a race to disable all the machines in the other god’s domain. Now all of Gil’s customers are calling and he is losing his service contracts because he can’t repair the machines. But he gets an idea and creates a third god mixed from both types of cylinders. This Merger god brings the other two to heel, then starts making plans for the rise of Gil’s company by sabotage of competitors. Gil complains that he runs and honest company, and the Merger god comments, “That is a hell of a way to run a business.”
Good fun. I particularly enjoyed how the dialog of the gods sounded like dictation. Although I have not decided on my five short story nominees, this one is in the running.
“The Flight of the Good Ship Clarissa” by Ray Bradbury – Originally published in Futuria Fantasia, Spring 1940.
This flash piece was published in Bradbury’s own short-lived fan magazine. Although Bradbury would develop into a Grand Master, this one is an incoherent jumble of word play and fan references. Not much of a plot – a ship returns to Venus and twenty thousand earthmen are wiped out by two Venusians.
“Lancelot Biggs Cooks a Pirate” by Nelson S. Bond – Originally published in Fantastic Adventures, February 1940.
This, and the three reviews that follow, are all part of Bond’s Lancelot Biggs series. The first three were incorporated into the fixup novel, Lancelot Biggs: Spaceman. Modifications made for the novel are minor and consist mostly of short bridging material. This story runs from pages 25 to 40 in the novel.
Biggs, a gangly young officer on the space freighter Saturn, gets temporarily drafted as the ship’s cook and turns out to have a knack for it. When the ship is boarded by the most ruthless pirate in the spaceways, one who has yet to leave a living witness, all seems lost. But the pirate has a habit of always eating a meal on the conquered ship before he has the crew killed and Biggs has a plan. Biggs puts heavy doses of prolactin in the food (the chemical that enhances mother-child bonding) and the pirates are all lovey-dovey when the authorities arrive.
I doubt prolactin works as effectively as suggested in the story. All-in-all the story is amusing, though not up to nomination standards.
“The Madness of Lancelot Biggs” by Nelson S. Bond – Originally published in Fantastic Adventures, April 1940.
The third Biggs story in the series (the first one was published in 1939). It can be found from pages 41 to 60 in the fixup novel, Lancelot Biggs: Spaceman.
Sparks, the communications officer and narrator in all the stories, is trying to repair the space radio when the captain comes in declaring that he will kill Biggs for making eyes at his daughter. It turns out Biggs and Diane, the captain’s daughter, go back several years and are in love. Biggs has an invention that will repair the radio but does not get a chance to implement it. Instead the Captain busts him in rank and confines him to his quarters.
A big football game is coming up between two space academies (think Army-Navy game), and Sparks is going to be in hot water because he can’t get the radio working. He informs the captain that the only way they will get to hear the game is if Biggs is allowed to implement his idea. Biggs demands his rank back in return and the captain relents. All the ship’s officers, grads of the two academies, gather for the game. Bets are made. With seven minutes left in the game, it appears that Biggs’ alma mater is losing to the captain’s 20-0. Biggs ups his existing wager with the captain by betting the right to court Diane. The captain takes up the challenge unaware that Biggs’ invention uses material that delays the passage of electric impulses and what they have been listening to is last year’s game. Biggs wins.
Probably the best of the eligible Biggs stories, but I don’t think that any of them rise to the level necessary for a Retro Hugo.
“Lancelot Biggs: Master Navigator” by Nelson S. Bond – Originally published in Fantastic Adventures, May 1940.
Fourth in the series, occupying pages 61 to 78 in the fixup novel, Lancelot Biggs: Spaceman.
Sparks learns that the government will be secretly timing the freighter’s run from Venus to Earth, with the fastest ship earning the government shipping contract for the company. It is a corrupt setup since the Saturn is the slowest in the fleet and it will be compared to the fastest in the other company. There does not seem any chance of winning the race until the competing ship gets tangled up in a space anomaly and is forced to reverse course. Biggs, as navigator for the run, plays a hunch and orders the Saturn full speed into the anomaly, using it to win the competition.
Here and in other places in the series, one has to wonder if the chief engineer, complete with the Scottish accent, was not in some ways an inspiration for Scotty’s character on Star Trek.
“The Genius of Lancelot Biggs” by Nelson S. Bond – Originally published in Fantastic Adventures, June 1940.
Fifth in series, this one does not appear in the fixup novel.
Sparks is forced to bunk with Biggs to make room for a guest on a run to Venus. Sparks quarters are chosen in part because they are far from the cargo bins hiding contraband weapons bound for Venusian rebels. Biggs figures out that the passenger is an esper spy for the Venusian government. The spy’s psychic powers allow him to discover the existence of the contraband, and he takes over the ship at gunpoint. The crew seems bound for jail on Venus, but Biggs outsmarts the man. Knowing that talented espers are open to suggestion when they are using some of their abilities, he tricks the spy and hypnotizes him into thinking the ship is all clear.
Not one of the better ones in the series, which may be why it was left out of the book.
“The Fertility of Dalrymple Todd” by Nelson S. Bond – Originally published in Fantastic Adventures, August 1940.
Mr. Todd somehow comes into the ability to make fruits, vegetables and flowers grow out of his hair simply by thinking about them. A cartoonist becomes his agent and he moves from the small stage, to Broadway, to Hollywood. All is going well until he falls in love with an actress while playing Merlin in a movie. When prompted for fruit to give her on screen, he can only make flowers. The director replaces the girl so the movie can go on, but Todd is distraught and his fruits become sour, vegies rotten and so forth. Meanwhile he is sending truckloads of flowers to the girl on the side and his hairline is receding. The florist union tries to sue and the government wants him to reduce production under the program that pays farmers not to grow food. The trouble comes to a head when he is asked for a watermelon in the climactic scene, but he can’t finish it. His love interest comes to his side and all turns to flowers before he goes completely bald.
A strange and creative story, though I can’t imagine wanting to eat anything that grew out of another man’s hair. Interesting enough, but not Retro Hugo worthy.
“Cartwright’s Camera” by Nelson S. Bond – Originally published in Unknown Fantasy Fiction, November 1940.
Two reporters are sent to cover the arrival of a curvy British entertainer at the docks, but before they can take her picture, an assistant they call Dopey drops the camera. When the pictures are developed, there is no entertainer, only a burning ship that the editor thinks is fake. The reporters are fired. Dopey offers to fix Cartwright’s Camera, but he tells him to forget it. The next day, the picture of the burning ship is on the front of the afternoon edition. The editor rehires the two, thinking that they had faked the picture based on an inside tip that the ship would be sabotaged. Cartwright tells Dopey to develop the other pictures in the camera, but declines Dopey’s offer to fix the misalignment of the shutter and lens. Then those pictures come back with a photo of a bank robbery that hasn’t happened yet. When the reporters and the editor realize what they have, they begin to think about all the ways that this camera will make them rich. Dopey comes in and tells Cartwright not to be mad at him any more for breaking the camera because he has fixed it.
The story is a bit too predictable and does not generate many laughs.
“The Unusual Romance of Ferdinand Pratt” by Nelson S. Bond – Originally published in Weird Tales, September 1940.
A romance writer, too timid to tell his secretary that he is in love with her, goes for a walk to clear his head. He notices something on the ground beneath a man shaped patch of fog, and asks the fog if it has dropped something. The fog is a djinn in training with a heavy Bronx accent and a lecherous eye for the ladies. The djinn is disappointed that he still can’t get invisibility quite right, but thanks Mr. Pratt for his help and offers him a wish. The writer asks that his secretary fall in love with him, but the djinn mistakenly casts the spell on his typewriter. For the next few weeks, Pratt is frustrated by a machine that will type nothing but love letters to him. The writer searches the city for a patch of fog, but finds none. Finally he comes up with a scheme to lure the djinn by advertising a show with one hundred girls in bathing suits. His secretary is appalled, but the djinn does show up, now invisible, and corrects the mistake.
Sexual attitudes are clearly dated, but the story is reasonably entertaining, if somewhat predictable. Not a Retro Hugo contender.
“The Itching Hour” by Damon Knight – Originally published in Futuria Fantasia, Spring 1940.
A fan recalls how one evening an aged man burst through his window and proceeded to tell how he came to lose his face. The old man had been a young fan once too, obsessed with publishing his own fan mag called PUKE. Then he accidentally got double-strength purple hectograph ink on his face and tried to remove it. “…something had to give way. The washrag, by an unhappy coincidence, was a brand-new one, and my face was some years old.” Mildly amusing flash, but ultimately of no real consequence.
“Revolt of the Ants” by Milton Kaletsky – Originally published in Amazing Stories, April 1940.
The President’s office and statehouses across the country are invaded by ants demanding the right to vote. Humans argue against, particularly since it would make them an insignificant minority. The case goes to the Supreme Court and the court rules in favor of the ants. Bees and Termites join the ants in demanding voting rights. Riots break out, politicians vow to disobey the court, but the President is calm. He asks the ants if they will be good citizens and obey the law. They respond with “Yes.” So the President says he will order enforcement of the right to vote for all ants, bees and termites who reach the legal voting age of twenty-one. The bugs declare war.
What follows is a comical sequence of escalating and evolving tactics as one might expect in a war. Eventually humans are united against the common foe. They vow to continue cooperating long after the conflict is over. Democrats and Republicans are united in brotherhood. After months of attrition, the ants request an armistice and declare that humans are so low on the evolutionary scale that they are not worth saving. The war is over and humans go back to fighting each other. “Brotherhood broke up in a riot. The United States was back to normal.”
An excellent satire, very funny and highly recommended. This one gets one of my nomination slots. You can find this in Volume Seven of von Dimpleheimer’s anthologies.
“The Ray of Hypnosis” by Milton Kaletsky – Originally published in Amazing Stories, July 1940.
A well-intended elderly inventor always bugs police with his latest invention supposed to help the police, but his gadgets never work. This time he presents them with a device designed to hypnotize criminals. The crooks can then be taken to the station before using the machine to reverse the condition. Like all his inventions, it fails to work when he tests it out on a less-than-willing sergeant. On the train ride home, he finds the problem and fixes it. When he enters his house, he sees a dark figure in his hallway and thinks it is a burglar. The hypno ray works, but unfortunately what he saw was his own reflection in the mirror. He topples over, breaking his machine, making it impossible to reverse the process. His wife laments that he finally invented something that works but will never know.
This story is almost short enough to be considered a flash piece. Kaletsky does well with the limited number of words, but it remains a minor piece.
“Are You There?” by Mona Farnsworth – Originally published in Unknown Fantasy Fiction, November 1940.
A cigarette smoking ghost appears in a woman’s apartment, but she refuses to believe in him and says so out loud to reassure herself. The ghost speaks and they debate the existence of ghosts, with the woman insisting that the ghost prove he exists. He responds that it is she that must prove otherwise and challenges her to get rid of him. She goes to a party and the ghost comes along, causing her to act peculiarly with her fiancé and others at the party. She spends the next day at the library researching ghosts, then attempts to use what she has learned to get rid of the ghost. But the ghost laughs off her attempts explaining that just because it is in print, does not make it so. He says he won’t leave her alone until she believes in ghosts. She says she does believe, but the ghost knows she is lying.
Her fiancé shows up again and the ghost decides to have fun with the situation. The ghost sits in a chair causing her to tell her boyfriend not to sit there. The ghost blows out her lighter when she tries to have a cigarette, so when her fiancé tries to light up, she tells him not to smoke. Eventually, her fiancé gets frustrated and tells her that no self-respecting man will stand for such nagging, and then he storms out. This gives her an idea. She nags the ghost until the ghost gets fed up and leaves.
Read this one if you can find it. The fact that both the story and author have been largely forgotten makes it unlikely this story will earn a nomination, but I am considering putting it on my ballot anyway.
“Mad Hatter” by Winston K. Marks – Originally published in Unknown Fantasy Fiction, May 1940.
An alcoholic designer of women’s hats starts seeing a green eyed pixie that no one else can see. The little man helps him design nice hats, but he can’t sell the designs because the milliner who buys his designs doesn’t want nice hats, he wants unique hats. He tries to stop drinking but that does not remove the pixie. He consults a doctor friend who tells him that he does not have a drinking problem, and recommends he get really drunk instead. He tries that. Instead of his usual two quarts of whiskey a day, he downs them in two hours. The pixie worries and explains that if he double hiccups, the pixie will vanish. So the designer tries to hiccup. Eventually he manages a triple hiccup that causes the pixie to be visible to everyone else, but invisible to him.
I’m not the kind of killjoy that thinks you can’t write humor about difficult subjects like alcoholism, death, cancer, whatever. I think you can, if you do it right. Funny is funny, but this story is not.
“Philtered Power” by Malcolm Jameson – Originally published in Unknown Fantasy Fiction, March 1940.
A shy chemist gets a cushy government job through his brother-in-law’s influence on a corrupt political boss. He and his assistant, a Senator’s nephew, have nothing to do on the job. So the chemist, Doc Tannent, starts to dabble in alchemy, looking for the scientific truths in the otherwise nonsensical myth. His assistant, Elmer, sees a love potion recipe in the alchemy books and cooks up something for his less than adoring girlfriend. It works and they plan to marry. The assistant wants a pay raise for his future family life and knows the only way to get it is through the political boss. He encourages Tannent to go to the political convention to request the raise and money to fix the leaky roof at the office.
After four days, Tannent reports no progress, so his assistant searches the alchemy books and finds a potion “For Courtiers and Supplicants Desirous of Winning the Favour of Monarchs and Potentates.” He goes to the convention but can’t gain admission, so he tries to sneak through the ventilation system but in the process break the vial of potion. It makes everyone in the convention gaga for Tannent who is quickly elevated to Governor. A week later, the assistant’s fiancé starts to quarrel, then a few days later she tries to knife him. She developed anti-bodies to whatever was in the potion and now hates him. A week later something similar happens to all the corrupt politicians who had become smitten with Tannent.
Fairly funny and worth reading, but not nomination worthy.
“The Thirteenth Mr. Tumps” by Richard O. Lewis – Originally published in Amazing Stories, February 1940.
Mr. Tumps’ wife goes to visit her mother for the weekend and he gets nostalgic for his college days. He goes to the old café, drinks, and starts to think that he wants to be a rowdy, rather than the mild mannered bookkeeper that he has become. He gets drunk, and as he prepares to leave, stumbles into the booth of a sad looking man. The man is an inventor drowning out the sorrow of his failures. They drink, Tumps sees two inventors and says so. The inventor says that is nothing. He claims to have proven that duplication is possible and will show him in his basement lab.
The inventor puts Tumps into a cabinet that duplicates him and then proceeds to pass out. The new Tumps is intended to take over the drudgery of life, but upon inspection the real Tumps finds his double is drunk. He says that won’t do and locks the double in the cabinet. Later, wandering the streets while still drunk, he runs into himself. On the way home, he encounters an exasperated policeman who thinks he has already put Tumps on the train home four times. In the morning, Tumps finds there are thirteen of himself, all thinking they are the original. All of them love his wife and want to spare her the trauma of finding duplicates, so they devise a plan to draw lots as to who keeps his life and the others will go far away. All the losers, including the original, want to see the wife one last time and take a cab to the train station. The original watches his double meet the wife and then she screams. He comes running. She says she thought he had vanished into thin air. It turns out that the inventor was sorrowful for his failure because all the duplicates he makes disintegrate after twenty-four hours.
Humorous, but also sentimental in a sweet way.
“The Man the World Forgot” by David Wright O’Brien – Originally published in Fantastic Adventures, April 1940.
Mr. Beem is a plain man, not particularly memorable. He regularly has to remind casual acquaintances what his name is. So when a passenger on the morning train does not remember him despite having talked many times before, it is not surprising. Beem comments to his fellow passenger about a news article detailing the trouble a scientist is having in recruiting a human guinea pig for his radium experiments.
Although Beem is used to being forgotten, today is worse than normal. The waitress at his daily breakfast spot does not remember him. And when he gets to the office where he has worked for fifteen years, they treat him as if he is applying for a job. Distressed, he decides to go home early, but even his wife does not remember him. He wonders if he is crazy and consults a psychiatrist who explains that he is a perfect case of negative personality, one that will be the talk of the mental health world. Excited, the doctor goes to retrieve his colleagues, but half way down the hallway, the psychiatrist forgets Beem and goes home.
Determined not to be forgotten, Beem decides to volunteer for the radium experiments. The scientist explains that there will be danger, but that he will be immortalized in the annals of science. Mr. Beem is sealed into a box and scheduled to be removed after the appropriate exposure time. The next morning, the scientist is tinkering with his apparatus and wonders how a layer of dust got into the box.
This story is more thoroughly dark than the O’Brien story reviewed with the novelettes, and I think it works a little better as a whole. But as a Retro candidate, it falls short of competing with the heavyweights.
“Science Is Golden” by Arthur K. Barnes & Henry Kuttner – Originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1940.
Third in the Kuttner/Barnes collaborative Pete Manx series begun in 1939.
Ex-carnival barker Pete Manx comes rushing into Doctor Mayhem’s laboratory asking for help in hiding from a racketeer named Moratti. The gangster is after him because Pete used loaded dice to clean him out in a craps game. He asks Mayhem to send him back in time again. Although the body remains in the present, it looks dead, and Pete hopes Moratti will be fooled. Before going back, Pete slips a wad of cash into Professor Aker’s pocket unseen. When the racketeer arrives he thinks Pete is dead, but searches the doctor and professor, finding the money he lost. He plans to teach Aker a lesson, but Aker jumps to the time apparatus and pulls the switch. Moratti, his hand touching the professor, is yanked into the past as well.
The trio find themselves in 14th century England in Sherwood Forest. Pete occupies the body of Little John and joins Robin Hood’s band. He tells Robin how they can get Sir Guy of Gisbourne to voluntarily pay out money every month. They approach the castle and try unsuccessfully to intimidate Guy into paying protection money. They are taken prisoner. While locked up, Pete recognizes Moratti and tells him that he will get him back to the present if Moratti can help spring them from prison. The gangster goes to Sherwood Forest and returns with Hood’s men flying to the rescue on gliders crafted with Moratti’s knowledge of model airplanes.
The Pete Manx stories are fun, but they don’t stand up to the quality of some of Kuttner’s other humorous series like Gallegher or the Hogbens.
“The Comedy of Eras” by Henry Kuttner – Originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, September 1940.
Fifth in the Kuttner/Barnes collaborative Pete Manx series.
Doctor Mayhem and Professor Aker are arguing over who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, Bacon or Shakespeare himself. To solve the dispute, they decide to send Pete back in time to investigate. He arrives in nobleman’s clothes but does not know whose body he inhabits. He searches for Shakespeare and finds him along with Ben Jonson and Kit Marlowe at a tavern. Pete carouses with his new friends, eventually introducing them to jazz music. Noblemen arrive looking for Pete, though he still does not know who he is. They disapprove of his lowborn company and tell him the Queen demands his presence. He blows them off and spends the next few weeks drinking at the tavern, playing jazz music and feeding plot lines to Shakespeare. Jazz becomes popular.
Pete helps Will put on a production of Romeo and Juliet, but the Queen is getting impatient. She decides to attend the play in secret, stating that if she likes it, she will make him attorney general, and if she doesn’t, he will be beheaded. His rival, Edward Coke, has all the players arrested so they can’t perform and orders guards to arrest any who attempt to take the stage. Pete has a plan. He creates makeshift phonographs and records the play. The play without actors is not going well, but by good fortune, the records get mixed up and the jazz song Minnie the Moocher gets put on by mistake. The audience loves it, including the Queen.
When Pete arrives back in his time, he informs Mayhem and Aker that Shakespeare wrote the plays. But when his full story comes out, they realize that Pete was in the body of Sir Francis Bacon giving Shakespeare the story ideas.
Enjoyable play on the never ending Shakespeare/Bacon debate.
“Man About Time” by Henry Kuttner – Originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1940.
Sixth story in the Kuttner/Barnes collaborative Pete Manx series.
Pete would like to use the time machine to lay bets on a horse race that happened yesterday, but Doctor Mayhem tells him it would create a paradox since he already existed then. Professor Akers enters and says why not let him try. While Mayhem sets up apparatus, he asks why Akers did not show up to help yesterday. Akers can’t recall what he did yesterday.
Too much energy is used in the time machine and Pete ends up in prehistoric times. He is Ulg, a missing link between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon. Another caveman is out to kill him in order to take control of the tribe. Pete is knocked out and slated to be the evening meal. When he wakes, he devises a plan to scare the caveman but it fails. Fortunately he is whisked forward in time at the last second. He finds himself in Aker’s body yesterday and places his bet. When he returns, he is disappointed that it is Aker who gets the money.
As is not unusual for stories written seventy-five years ago, the science gets overturned. In this case, Neanderthals are no longer considered ancestral to Cro-Magnons.
Of the stories reviewed here, I would add Kuttner and Moore’s “All Is Illusion” to the viable novelette list. Among the short stories, I think three of them are worth considering for nomination; “Revolt of the Ants,” “The Gods Gil Made” and “Are You There?”. My favorite humor piece is “Revolt of the Ants,” but the class of the short story category is probably Heinlein’s “Requiem” and Asimov’s “Strange Playfellow” (aka “Robbie”).
The following lists contain all the stories (not including novels) that I consider to be top candidates for nomination (in alpha order by category). A star (*) means that the story will almost certainly make my nomination ballot.
“Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein
“Darker Than You Think” by Jack Williamson
*”If This Goes On…” by Robert A. Heinlein
*”The Indigestible Triton” by L. Ron Hubbard (humor)
“The Mathematics of Magic” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (humor)
*”The Roaring Trumpet” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (humor)
“All Is Illusion” by Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore (humor)
*”Blowups Happen” by Robert A. Heinlein
“Butyl and the Breather” by Theodore Sturgeon (humor)
“The Exhalted” by L. Sprague de Camp (humor)
*”Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates
*”The Hardwood Pile” by L. Sprague de Camp (humor)
“It” by Theodore Sturgeon
“The Roads Must Roll” by Robert A. Heinlein
“Vault of the Beast” by A. E. van Vogt
“The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years” by Don Wilcox
“Are You There?” by Mona Farnsworth (humor)
“The Bleak Shore” by Fritz Leiber
“The Chaser” by John Collier
“The Gods Gil Made” by Ross Rocklynne (humor)
“Quietus” by Ross Rocklynne
*”Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein
*”Revolt of the Ants” by Milton Kaletsky (humor)
*”Strange Playfellow” by Isaac Asimov
“When It Was Moonlight” by Manly Wade Wellman