Birthday Reviews: Henry Kuttner’s “Ghost”

Birthday Reviews: Henry Kuttner’s “Ghost”

Cover by William Timmins
Cover by William Timmins

Henry Kuttner was born on April 7, 1914 and died on February 4, 1958. From 1940 until his death in 1958, he was married to science fiction author C.L. Moore. The two had their own careers and also collaborated, although they claimed that they each worked on all of the other one’s stories, sitting down and continuing whatever was in the typewriter at the time. Kuttner (or Moore/Kuttner) also used the pseudonyms Lawrence O’Donnell, C.H. Liddell, and Lewis Padgett.

In 1956, their collaboration “Home There’s No Returning” was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novelette and Kuttner was nominated for two Retro Hugos in 2014 for his novelette “Hollywood on the Moon” and the novella “The Time Trap.”  In 2004, he and Moore were named the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award recipients.

“Ghost” was first published in Astounding Science Fiction in May 1943, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. and credited only to Kuttner. Kuttner reprinted it a decade later in his collection Ahead of Time. In 2005, it appeared in the Centipede Press collection Two-Handed Engine. The story has been translated into French, where it was credited to Kuttner and Moore, as well as Italian, where it was only credited to Kuttner.

In “Ghost,” Kuttner attempts to do quite a bit, which means that he only succeeds at some of it. The story is about a modern ghost, perhaps the first real ghost in history, haunting a research facility in Antarctica. Elton Ford has been sent down to investigate what is causing the men assigned to the base to go insane. Ford arrives to find the base’s sole caretaker Larry Crockett. The main lesson of the story, given the set up, is that perhaps having a single man in an isolated research base might not be the best idea, although we see it even in the present day in films such as Moon. That, however, is not where Kuttner takes his story.

Ford discusses the idea of modern manifestations of ghosts with Crockett, something different than the traditional idea of the spirit of the dead. Ford’s description sounds suspiciously like the concept of advanced computers developing their own artificial intelligences. Kuttner would have been well ahead of his time proposing this concept, but he again takes it in a different direction, notably having the computer ghost amplify the emotions of those around it, which helps send the station managers around the bend depending on their own psychological make up.

The story is a bit haphazard with its strongest features when Kuttner returns to his horror roots and practically uses Lovecraftian language to describe the bleakness of Antarctica, although he manages to rein himself in and do so without resorting to overwrought and purple prose.

Reprint reviewed in the collection Two-Handed Engine, by Henry Kuttner, Centipede Press, 2005.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Busines at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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[…] Black Gate » Birthday Reviews: Henry Kuttner’s “Ghost”. We celebrated the birthday of his better half in January. Now for the man himself. […]

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