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The Dark World by Henry Kuttner

F-327Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore wrote a number of science fantasy novels that as far as I can tell aren't highly regarded except for this one. Roger Zelazny, for example, cited The Dark World as an influence on his Amber series. It was originally serialized in Startling Stories in 1946 under the Henry Kuttner byline, and it appears that it has always been published under his name alone, while others of these science fantasies have been published as by Kuttner and Moore. I have no idea what this means in terms of who actually wrote the damned thing, but for this review I'll just tag it with Kuttner's name.

The novel starts out on Earth, where a shell-shocked WWII veteran named Edward Bond is starting to have strange visions of shadowy figures. Eventually he finds himself transplanted to the Dark World, which is in an alternate universe where Edward Bond is a demi-god named Ganelon. Ganelorn gradually becomes the main identity of this cross-dimensional hybrid point of view, but he is a torn personality. We learn that Ganelrn was part of a group of super powered mutants, including a vampire named Medea (that name has certainly been popping up a lot lately) and a werewolf named Matholch, who have been ruling oppressively over the people of the forest. Ganelon is soon playing both sides against the other as he seeks his own advantage. He is not a very nice person.

This felt very derivative in the beginning but became more interesting as the conflicted nature of Ganelon/Bond was further explored. It reminded me at times of Brackett's The Sword of Rhiannon with the conflicted dual identity of the protagonist and his murky morality. Ganelon is basically a villain, and that probably makes the novel more interesting than the general run of heroic fantasy. His mixed feelings about various desirable women he encounters (and their mixed feelings about him) reminded me of Moore's Doomsday Morning. The resolution of the struggle between Ganelon and Bond is quite satisfying in a pulp fiction kind of way, and there's a stinger in the the final line involving feelings for one of the women that leaves us with a properly conflicted feeling to the end.

Science fantasy is basically a subgrenre of science fiction in which magic is rationalized as super science, and there's plenty of that in The Dark World, with all the requisite bafflegab about radiation and genetic mutation to explain the various fantastical powers on display. I think of this as the world that A. Merritt made, and perhaps that's who this novel feels derivative of. I've got a couple more of these novels by Kuttner and Moore in the small Ace paperback format, but I'm not sure whether to read further. One nice feature is that they're very short.

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