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Fury by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore

Fury ASF_0198The first time I read this 1947 novel I came away with the impression that it swerved drunkenly from one premise to another as if the authors were making it all up on the fly. When I read C.L. Moore's introduction in which she described how one of them would write for a while and then the other would take over in the middle of a sentence, I thought this explained the chaotic sensibility. However, on a second reading I didn't get that swerving sensation at all. The novel is terse and elliptical, but it's pretty consistent in its treatment of its subject. Reading Moore's introduction more carefully I see that she mentions how they worked out the story's premises before they started writing, and they were careful to make the transitions between each other's sections seamless. She also says she didn't contribute much to this novel and didn't feel much affinity for it, which may explain why it has almost always been published under Kuttner's byline alone after a first appearance under their joint Lawrence O'Donnell pseudonym.

Coming to Fury from Judgment Night, which Moore *did* claim as her own, it's easy to spot the difference in tone. Again in her introduction to Fury Moore writes, 'Hank's basic statement was something like, "Authority is dangerous and I will never submit to it." Mine was, "The most treacherous thing in life is love."' She says both ideas are present in Fury, but I'd say Kuttner's dominates, even though it interrogates itself. This is a story about a man who challenges the established authority by becoming a kind of benevolent dictator and thus another form of dangerous authority.

The set-up is that Earth has been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust several hundred years ago, after which the remnants of humanity migrated to Venus. The surface of the planet is covered by a voracious jungle inimical to humans, so they live in undersea safe havens called Keeps. There are long-lived people called Immortals who rule the political roost in the Keeps, and the novel begins with the birth of an Immortal whose father has him physically modified and hidden from the clan. Thus the baby, Sam Harker, is renamed Sam Reed and raised by criminals, growing up to be a thug himself. Eventually he's unknowingly hired by his Immortal relatives to murder another Immmortal who has plans to colonize the surface of the planet -- a plan they consider rash and dangerous -- and Sam decides he'd rather strike out against the oppressive political order by supporting the colonization idea instead.

This is a very libertarian novel, with a hagiography of the pioneering spirit in its genes. Civilization is seen as decadent, and farming and physical labor and life under an open sky are valorized. That's one thing that feels different from Moore's own work. For her decadence has a sensual appeal, even if she doesn't trust it. Compare the long section in Judgment Night in which she describes the sensuous attractions of the pleasure planet. One place where her sensibility might be felt here is in the description of the Happy Cloak, which is a Venusian organism that traps its prey by attaching to their central nervous system and causing orgasmic pleasure. This feels a bit like the sexually vampiric creature in Moore's "Shambleau". The way that human addiction to the Happy Cloak is extrapolated was also an impressive enough idea that William S. Burroughs apparently quoted the passages about it from this novel into his 1962 cut-up novel, The Ticket That Exploded.

destinationinfinityI was struck by how the monstrous jungle of Venus, which perhaps descends from the Venusian jungle of Stanley Weinbaum's stories of the '30s, is portrayed as an enemy to be exterminated. The process of colonizing the surface of the planet consists of killing all life down to the microbial level and replacing it with the biota of Earth. "This was the proper occupation of mankind -- bringing order out of chaos in the sweat of their brows." Nature is conceived as a ravening maw of death that must be conquered by humans, which perhaps resonates in the idea of longevity presented here too. Mortality is the enemy, but it's interesting how the too fecund life of Venus is presented as another form of that same enemy. Fecundity is the flipside of mortality?

This dual and dueling concept/contradiction is fundamental to the novel. Sam Harker/Reed is a Good Bad Man. He is violent, aggressive, disobedient, selfish, and anti-social, but his disruption of the social norms is beneficial to the human race. (See also: creative destruction.) He's a descendant of the ruling elite who is also a product of the criminal underworld. The fury of the title is in part Sam's rage against the world, which is a blind will to power, but fury is also a dual concept that's applied to the Venusian jungle: "The screens showed jungle, seen from high above -- green, luxuriant, writhing with life. No more than that. Then the bombardment began, acid, flame, rays, and the fury of man's own weapons crashed against the fury of Venus." Another interesting doubling comes in the form of impervium, which is an indestructible material used amongst other things to protect the Keeps from the deep sea pressure. In the end impervium is made radioactive in a move that shows protection to be a vulnerability, underlining the novel's theme of a safe life as a trap for humanity in the great Darwinian struggle to survive.

Probably the biggest weakness of Fury is the depiction of Sam's political machinations in pursuit of his will to power. As Moore describes him, he is "utterly ruthless, terribly intelligent, terribly vulnerable, fighting every hour of his life by every savage form of trickery, betrayal, murder, to reach a goal he was never truly aware of." His ruthlessness is compelling, much as gangsters are always compelling figures in fiction, but the political trickery described is dime store stuff. Thus the third and final section of novel is a bit of a dud. The sense that Sam is a dangerous character who brings about his own downfall is the right move, but the details of the final confrontation aren't up to the task of tragedy.

So I wouldn't rate this as one of the great novels of the Golden Age, although I obviously like it enough to have read it twice. There's a lot of good stuff in it, particularly in the first two sections, and Kuttner, with what Moore describes as her own eighth of a contribution, has thought seriously about a lot of different elements in the story, from the effect of longevity on psychology, to the intricate ecology of predators and prey, the street's use for the Happy Cloak, and neat bits of what are now retrofuturism, as where Sam rearranges fragments of video and audio recordings to composite a fake statement from an enemy. It's also very literate, with an epigraph from Shakespeare and further epigraphs from the Bible scattered throughout. Many of the concepts at play in Fury are quite potent, even if in the end it falls short of greatness as a whole. It clearly left its mark on many later books, from The Ticket That Exploded to Harry Harrison's Deathworld series and Brian Aldiss' Hothouse stories.

Fury

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