Tue
Apr 30 2013 12:30pm

Neil Gaiman and F. Paul Wilson Discuss Why They’re Reviving Henry Kuttner’s Stories

Hogben Chronicles Henry Kuttner kickstarter Neil Gaiman F. Paul Wilson

Some years ago, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, F. Paul Wilson, and many more had a very special dream.

You see, there was this science fiction/fantasy writer named Henry Kuttner—he was a secret superstar. He wrote so many popular and successful stories . . . every reader of fantasy and science fiction knew who Henry Kuttner was. In this dream, five of Henry Kuttner’s most admired stories will be yours, collected, together, all in one place for the first time. This collection is called The Hogben Chronicles and it is being funded right now via Kickstarter.

Below, Wilson and Gaiman talk about Kuttner's influence on their work and why a new generation of science fiction/fantasy writers should experience the strange worlds of Henry Kuttner.

GAIMAN: When did you read your first Hogbens story? And which one was it?

WILSON: Never forget it: “Pile of Trouble” in Henry Kuttner’s AHEAD OF TIME collection. My first reaction was, What the hell? It wasn’t like anything else in the collection. I mean, it was told in hillbilly dialect and the first line was something like, We called him “Gimpy” on account of he had three legs, and it was funny. As a kid I was something of a purist about SF—never called it sci-fi—and SF wasn’t supposed to be funny. But this was hilarious. And I loved it. How about you?

GAIMAN: Same story—“Pile of Trouble,” and same collection. I was about 8 years old, and someone left it on a shelf in the bathroom. I read everything I could lay my hands on, so I read that. I don’t think I knew it was meant to be funny—all I know is that I loved it completely and utterly, that it became part of my personal mythology, and that the book vanished shortly after. It wasn’t until I was reading THE BEST OF HENRY KUTTNER as a teenager that I came across two more stories—“See You Later” and “Cold War” and realised with excitement that there were more of these things.

I had no idea how many more there were, of course. Nor how delightfully inconsistent the stories actually were when you read them all together.

WILSON: So...“Pile of Trouble” for both of us. Synchronicity or... fate?

GAIMAN: Not sure. But it is a quintessential Hogben story, and I understand why it hooked us both.

WILSON: I’m glad you brought up the inconsistencies. A hazard of the times. No Xerox machines back in the 1940s, and a lot of the pulp writers didn’t bother with carbons. They dashed off the story and sent it out with return postage. If the editor wanted a sequel the writer often had to go from memory. The inventor in Kuttner’s first robot story was named Gallegher, but became Galloway in the second. He resolved the error in number three by calling him Galloway Gallegher.

GAIMAN: It’s one of the thing I like best about the computer age. No carbons. No risk that losing the manuscript means you’ve lost the story forever. No risk of someone’s housekeeper using your book to light a fire. No risk that you won’t be able to remember Gallegher’s name. (For those who haven’t read him, Galloway Gallegher is an inventor who can only invent while drunk, and when sober cannot remember what the inventions were meant to do.)

WILSON: You ever think about how the writing mindset has changed since Kuttner’s day? I don’t think it was conscious, but guys like Kuttner must have viewed their work as ephemera. They had no secondary market. No one was gathering pulp authors’ stories into collections and recycling them as books. It simply didn’t happen—at least not until Ian and Betty Ballantine came along in the 1950s. “Pile of Trouble” was destined to appear in Thrilling Wonder Stories and that was it. Unsold copies would be returned and pulped into clean paper for subsequent issues. Sic transit gloria and all that. A writer’s got to take a completely different approach these days, what with digital publishing and all.

GAIMAN: Weirdly, that’s absolutely familiar to me. When I started writing comics the only place you found the old stories was in the back issue bins. These days everything’s collected in graphic novels. A whole ’nother world. I loved the freeing nature of feeling like you were writing ephemera. It was really liberating.

WILSON: That day is gone. Nothing published in the digital age is ephemeral. I remember my early stories being rejected by every single magazine with Pavlovian regularity. I couldn’t understand why because they were obviously brilliant. (Revisiting them later I realized they were—surprise!—crap.) If that wannabe writer were operating today, he’d probably self-publish those stories, and their fecal odor would follow him the rest of his career. Because ebooks are forever.

GAIMAN: I’m enormously relieved that my first novel is in the attic, in a box, and not out there on the web as well. Be really embarrassing. There are a few short stories and many articles that are well lost. But should the wishes of the author be paramount?

I suspect that Kuttner might have thought it was a good thing that no-one was ever going to read “The Old Army Game”. Not ever again...

WILSON: Well, that’s been the case for decades. Forgotten. Reminds me of a signing where a reader asked me what was in the pipeline. I mentioned writing the intro to a collection of Kuttner’s robot stories. This guy could probably name all the species in the Mos Eisley cantina, but I could see by his expression he had no idea who or what I was talking about. Hardly anybody out there has read a Hogben story. Do you fear a lot of the good old stuff being forgotten except by scholars and fan-boys like us?

GAIMAN: I don’t. I think digital is bringing things back into print or into the world, and that good stuff will find an audience, always. It just has to have its champions—I found James Branch Cabell when I was 11 or 12 because James Blish championed him, and I liked Blish. I would be quite happy if people found Kuttner (and explored the rest of his work, and the Lewis Padgett stuff he wrote with C.L. Moore) because you, or I, or Alan Moore, or someone said it was good, and they listened.

When we grew up, it was hard to find the stuff. Soon it will be easy to find it, but harder and harder to know what you want to find.

WILSON: But first someone’s got to decide to the job’s worth doing. After the Gallegher collection, I told Pierce Waters (who edited it) that the Hogbens had to be next. He agreed but no one had a copy of the first story—not even Kuttner’s estate. “The Old Army Game” appeared in an obscure 1941 pulp called Thrilling Adventures that no collector I contacted had ever seen. Took me two years to track it down. Along the way I was delighted to learn you were a fan as well.

GAIMAN: I loved “The Old Army Game”—loved it as much as anything for what it showed us about the roots of the Hogbens. Our glorious mutant hillbilly family here is reduced to one moonshining joke, and Saunk, our narrator, seems to be some kind of a bigfoot. When, postwar, Kuttner goes back to the Hogbens they’ve transmuted, like something in one of their piles, from laughing at the hillbillies to allowing the hillbillies to laugh at us: they are the Slans, they are the evolved futuristic posthuman dream, and they really like keeping to themselves up in the hills...

WILSON: Well, we’re doing our damnedest to bring them out of those hills, aren’t we? “The Hogben Chronicles” will gather all five Hogben stories for the first time. No hunting around like we had to do. The Kickstarter was initiated to pre-sell the collection and see if it was a viable project.

15 comments
Colin Bell
1. SchuylerH
Also worth a look (and introduced by Wilson) is the reprint of the five Galloway Gallagher stories, Robots Have No Tails. Kuttner (and C. L. Moore) are long overdue rediscovery.
Russell H
2. Russell H
There are some good reprints out there now: Two big hardcover collections of Kuttner's stories from Haffner Press, and one oversize volume from Centipede Press (part of their "Masters of the Weird Tale" series). They're expensive, but worth it--very well produced and edited, printed on good paper with solid bindings.
Russell H
3. Juhan
Not to mention that Roger Zelazny himself was influenced by Kuttner's short novel THE DARK WORLD when creating his Amber universe.
Michael Walsh
4. MichaelWalsh
Let me echo the comment by Russell H - Haffner and Centipede produce well made books that will probably last longer than their owners.
Russell H
5. seth e.
I loved Henry Kuttner when I was younger, and I have multiple collections, scrounged over years, because they all had different tables of contents. Still, I have questions about this project.

They have more to do with Kickstarter as a venue than with Kuttner. (Though I will say, you want to introduce Kuttner to a new generation, and your choice is the most easily dated section of his output?) The interview keeps on mentioning "the digital age" and "the computer age" as ways to keep fiction alive, but the Kickstarter is for a limited-edition physical book that relatively few people will see. There's an ebook attached, but most of the money, and all the "risks" detailed in the Kickstarter, are to do with the physical version. Speaking of risks, those mentioned are the standard ones that go with doing this kind of project (they have to work with an illustrator! In a remote location! My God!) and in the same paragraph the people asking for money emphasize that they're totally capable of dealing with this kind of thing, so actually, not so much risk.

It's a vanity project; a couple of influential people liked the Hogben stories, so they're bringing them out in a fancy edition. It's not exactly grassroots arts funding for crazy dreams. Gaiman could just as well have thrown his Internet weight behind an ebook if he wanted to introduce Kuttner to a new generation, or even just pointed to the Haffner editions. Kickstarters like these amount to people asking other people to pay for their hobbies.

Okay, rant over, yay Kuttner.
Russell H
6. MackTheFife
I've never funded a Kickstarter before, but I'm in for this one. I've read two Hogben stories, and really look forward to this.
Church Tucker
7. Church
Huh. It wasn't until I got to the comments that I realized that "Henry Kuttner" was a real person, and not some sort of collaborative alt-history writers' mythos these guys dreamed up.

I'm not sure if I'm disappointed or not.
Russell H
8. Xenophon
Kuttner's Hogben stories are included in the dead tree format 2007 collection "Mountain Magic" from Baen. They're not in the eBook because the Kuttner estate does not (or at least did not at the time) permit publication of electronic versions of his works. I believe that all 5 Hogben stories are there, but I'm away from home so I can't grab the book to check.

I'm all in favor of bringing Kuttner's work to the attention of new readers. But I'm pretty sure this won't be the first time the stories have all been collected together.

(That said, I'm off to the kickstarter page to sign up...)
Russell H
9. kitten trumpinski-roberts
"Mountain Magic" also has Ryk E. Spoor, Eric Flint and David Drake. They are all worth the read....
Russell H
10. Matthew D
@seth_e, I think there is a tendency to view Kickstarter as a sort of pre-order. In which case, you might well ask why you'd want to fund something that others will then be able to purchase later for much cheaper.

I think it's useful to consider the example of funding a film project. You might have any number of personal reasons for contributing to help get a particular film made. Or you can hope it gets made without your help, and then just buy a cheap ticket to see it. (Or wait even longer for it to show up on cable or Netflix.)

When I have an urge to back a project it's usually when I recognize kindred spirits in the people running the kickstarter campaign. They are performing some labor of love and need my help to continue, and I want to see them succeed. Occasionally it's more selfish: I simply want to see that particular book/game/movie and I'm afraid if I don't risk some money up front I might never get the chance. (In the end I've only backed a few projects though.)

So I don't think it's quite accurate to call this a vanity project. And it probably has the dual purpose of drawing attention to Kuttner and the already-published anthology. It's possible that the first book didn't sell well enough for the publisher to jump enthusiastically into printing this next book; Kickstarter offers a way to both gauge and drum up interest. If there isn't any interest, well, that's a lesson learned for cheap.
Hank Roberts
11. hankroberts
Heck, I read everything I could get hold of by Kuttner, Moore, and Padgett growing up, all from the public library. I owe them. Pledged
(even though seeing the money going to "Atlas Shrugged LP dba Borderlands Press, Kickstarter, Inc. via Kickstarter, Inc." made me pause).

Are these guys Randies?? Oh, well, Kuttner is Kuttner.
Colin Bell
12. SchuylerH
@11: I haven't got Gaiman down as a Randroid but I do know that Wilson identifies as a libertarian. Still, as you said, Kuttner is Kuttner.
John Armstrong
13. JohnArmstrong
I found Kuttner in perfect movie script fashion: my father died when I was about 12 and I found a box of old books in the attic, all SFBC editions of novels and collections. Kuttner (and Padgett and Brackett and Tenn and a score of others) others were all in there and literally changed my life.
I should have guessed you two would also love him.

The Two-Handed Engine and Detour to Otherness collections are lovely, and but they don't cover *everything*. (And I don't even know that I want everything - much of HK's early Weird tales stuff and random-genre pulp work doesn't do it for me.)
Still, a complete SF/fantasy Kuttner would be a worthy project.
Still hoping someone will write a bio of he and Moore.
Russell H
14. JMAC17
Now that this has gone to print I took a look at it on the Borderland Press Website and was very disappointed that they don't seem to list the titles of the stories in this collection anywhere. Most of all the cover looks like someone's nephew did it. I realize they are trying to cut costs but since they went to all the trouble of actually printing hard-copies they should have got a professional graphic designer to do the cover in my opinion. Alas.
Colin Bell
15. SchuylerH
@14: An odd decision: ISFDB says the contents are "The Old Army Game", "Exit the Professor", "Pile of Trouble", "See You Later" and "Cold War". The cover is by Cortney Skinner; ISFDB indicates that he has been active since 1979. Not my thing though.

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