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The Last Mimzy Stories
Henry Kuttner
Del Rey, 338 pages

The Last Mimzy Stories
Henry Kuttner
Henry Kuttner was born in 1915 in Los Angeles, California. He moved to New York in 1940 after his marriage to C.L. Moore to be nearer the writing markets. Joint works included collections like Line to Tomorrow, Ahead of Time, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and well-know short fiction like "The Twonky," "Don't Look Now," "A Gnome There Was," and "Mimsy Were the Borogoves." After burning out as writer, he used the GI Bill for a college education at the University of California. A few years thereafter, they worked doing in radio scripts and screen-writing when Henry Kuttner died in 1958.

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'LEFT!
LEFT!
LEFT a wife and SEVenteen children in
STARVing condition with NOTHing but gingerbread LEFT'
In contradiction to the slightly misleading title, "Mimsy Were The Borogroves," is the only story here that has any connection to The Last Mimzy movie. Happily this is no handicap, as the book collects seventeen mostly unconnected works, all of which are rich in entertainment value. Ray Bradbury, who writes the introduction, describes Henry Kuttner as "a man who shaped science-fiction and fantasy in its most important years." Kuttner, who died in 1958, was a writer's writer, whose prolific imagination anticipated the future that is our present. This uncanny and prophetic vision even stretched to his own untimely death, which he wrote about a decade prior to the event.

The lead story, "Mimsy Were The Borogroves," is about a small boy who finds a box containing many curious objects, which he at first thinks are toys. These include a crystal cube that brings thoughts to life, like a play inside it, and a doll with removable organs, which do not quite correspond to those of the human body. As the boy and his younger sister play with the treasure trove, the way they think and perceive the world around them is subtly altered, into something both more and less than human.

"The Two-Handed Engine," is set in a future where the machines have taken over. In scenes reminiscent of the Terminator and The Minority Report, murderers are automatically sentenced to death by Furies. These ultimate arbiters of final justice are steel humanoids, who shadow their prey for an unspecified period, in full view of their future victim and all those who witness his day-to-day life. Walking warnings that crime will be punished. Until, that is, someone works out a way to buck the supposedly infallible system.

"Housing Problem," features Mr Henchard, a crotchety old man who rents a room from two younger women. Henchard values his privacy, and request only that nobody touches the covered cage, in which the women believe he keeps pet birds. Except, the strange sounds that come from the cage are often nothing like bird calls. One day, Henchard has to take a trip, and is unable to take his precious cage with him. So he leaves it in his room, paying the rent in advance, and giving specific instructions that the cage not be disturbed. Inevitably, human curiosity wins out and the women look under the cover.

"Cold War," is the second of two comedic stories about the Hogbens, a family of mutants currently living on the outskirts of a hick town in the United States. Hogbens, are virtually immortal and have almost unlimited superpowers. But their mentality and way of life makes them into highly reclusive hillbillies, wily enough to know that their abilities mean they must keep to themselves as a matter of survival. How they react to folk that try to pry, or in this case blackmail, is both amusing and ingenious.

"Nothing But Gingerbread Left," written in 1943, is arguably the most brilliant story in this collection. Set in WWII, it concerns the work of an academic named Rutherford, who has the tantalising idea of breaking German concentration, and subsequently morale, by nothing more than the power of words. Rutherford's method hinges on the contention that life is based on rhythm, and certain strings of phrases, not necessarily musical, possess rhythm, rhyme or alliteration that once heard cannot be forgotten. Such a phrase is devised in German, and soon has the majority of the German military tied up in mental knots, unable to stop repeating its catchy nonsense. Then the rhyme reaches the man with the big voice and little moustache.

Henry Kuttner, while not exactly forgotten, was far from being a household name and seemed likely to remain that way. Until Hollywood used "Mimzy Were The Borogroves." The good news is that there are more glittering gems here, several of which could easily be the inspiration behind future movies. I have no hesitation in recommending The Last Mimzy Stories as seminal examples of how short SF should be written, and more importantly, a terrific read.

Copyright © 2007 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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