Illustration by Crystal Frasier

Sci-Fried: It's a Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark World

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cave Raptors are sated; It's time to blog!

Time for a little back history on everyone's favorite literate goblin (and by that, I mean Golarion's only literate goblin): I love science fiction, but I am woefully ignorant of the subject. I sat on my mother's knee and watched Star Wars and Star Trek, I read through my father's dog-eared old copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and a few of my Saturday morning cartoons were set in space. That's about it. I remember reading some John Carter of Mars in junior high, but it didn't leave enough of an impression on me at the time that I even remember it that well. As embarrassing as it is for any goblin to admit, I just don't know much about this subject I enjoy, least of all its mysterious origins.

I supposed that's why Erik Mona, Pierce Watters, Christopher Carey, and James Sutter, the quartet behind Paizo's Planet Stories, line, asked me to start reading and reviewing this classic science fiction. Without any fond childhood memories (literally; my childhood involved being locked in a rabbit hutch with my 27 siblings), I wouldn't be viewing any of our Planet Stories fiction through the lens of nostalgia. Instead, I can dole out honest thoughts and observations on twentieth-century classics from a twenty-first century perspective.

Illustration by Emrah Elmasli

From my perspective, this is both thrilling and terrifying, like riding one of those blood-thirsty horses humans are so fond of. Now I get to read the classic origins of science fiction from almost a century ago for work, but at the same time, these are books that my boss loves. If I don't like them, will he feed me to the dreaded bandersnatch? Plus the library of Planet Stories is huge, and getting bigger every other month! Growing like a well-fed literary octopus (and you thought those metaphors were dead and gone). For my very first Sci-Fried, I decided to look at Henry Kuttner's The Dark World.

Time for another confession that will get me laughed at in the forums: I selected Mr. Kuttner because I really enjoyed the movie The Last Mimzy, which is based on Kuttner's short story Mimsy Were the Borogroves. I imagined that Dark World would be somewhat similar, familiar, and comforting in this strange new land of fiction.

But no. There was nary a stuffed rabbit to be found.

Instead, the story follows Edward Bond, who is not a little girl but rather a World War II veteran who feels strangely out of place in his own skin. It turns out that Edward Bond is not Edward Bond at all, but rather the wizard Ganelon from a parallel world, trussed up with Edward Bond's memories and life as a prison. I don't want to share too much of the story, but obviously the majority of the book takes place in the bizarre titular "Dark World," and many of the descriptions of this setting are both psychedelic and believable.

Kuttner's writing style is distinctively "chunky;" very intricate descriptions and bulgy sentences that can be a little difficult to handle at first if you're used to the "say it all now" style of modern authors. But The Dark World drew me in after the first chapter, and I had trouble putting the book down once that happened. What at first seemed like a fantasy story instead took a sharp turn into sci-fi as Kuttner tried to explain everything from vampires and werewolves to Cthulhian gods with the science of the 1940s. Some of the theories stretched my suspension of disbelief, but never quite broke it. Having finished the book now, I almost wish it were longer, with more time to examine the uncanny science and history of the Dark World itself.

The narrator is probably the best part of the book. We see everything through the protagonist's eyes, but until the very end we're never told for certain whether it's Ganelon with Edward's memories, or Edward with Ganelon's memories. Control switches between the two personalities, and bits of memory bleed through to the other, which makes what could've been an obnoxiously perfect hero into an underdog I could root for. I really want to spoil the ending, because it made me cackle with delight, but instead I will demand that you order your own copy and read it for yourself.

My final impressions of The Dark World are that it can be a difficult book to start, but once you get into the pace and get used to Kuttner's narrative flavor, it's an impossible book to stop. Once all the pieces are in play, the action flows fast and furious, with only occasional chapter breaks to let you catch your breath. The Dark World is relatively short, making it a great first step into the genre of pulp that you can read in one sitting. If you love science and history as much as I do, then some of the genre explanations will make you positively giddy. A fun book, even 63 years after it was originally published, and definitely one I'd recommend.

Dark World may have lacked hyper-advanced stuffed bunnies, but that's only because this book is for grownups.

Crystal Frasier
Production Specialist

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Tags: Crystal Frasier The Dark World Emrah Elmasli Goblins Henry Kuttner Monsters Planet Stories Sci-Fried
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