Friday, April 20, 2018

Forgotten Books: Lands of the Earthquake - Henry Kuttner



I’ve read quite a bit of Henry Kuttner’s work and always enjoyed it. He’s one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors from the pulp era and can always be counted on for well-written, fast-moving yarns. That’s certainly true of LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE, a short novel originally published in the May 1947 issue of STARTLING STORIES (under the editorship of my old mentor Sam Merwin Jr., I might add).

LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE finds an apparently normal New Yorker, William Boyce, having a black-out that loses a whole year for him. He doesn’t have amnesia, he knows who he is, but that missing year is just gone except for the occasional memory, the most haunting of which is of a beautiful young woman. He also remembers a man’s face, and when he spots the guy on the street, Boyce follows him to an old brownstone and winds up going through some sort of mystical gateway to another dimension where time stands still but space moves in rippling waves that cause entire cities to shift around like ships on an ocean. Two such places seem to be anchored to each other, though: a massive castle called Kerak that’s inhabited by a group of Crusading knights who wandered in there from our world six hundred years ago, and the City, which is ruled by a king who’s made an unholy alliance with a group of evil, otherworldly sorcerers.

Got all that? Because that’s mostly back-story. Kuttner knew how to pack a plot with a lot of good stuff.

Boyce falls in with the Crusaders and helps them in their war with the City. He meets a wizard and sees a living marble statue of a beautiful young woman called the Oracle. He clashes with the mysterious Huntsman, who manipulates events in this strange land according to his own enigmatic agenda. He becomes acquainted with one of his own ancestors, the arrogant Crusader Guillaime du Bois. Eventually he assumes Guillaime’s identity and penetrates the City as a spy, where he finally encounters the young woman he remembers from his black-out and discovers the truth of everything that’s going on. Epic stuff ensues.

There’s a little semi-science here and there, but mostly this novel falls on the sword-and-sorcery side of things, and a mighty good one it is, too. Kuttner frequently collaborated with his wife C.L. Moore, and although the details are lost to the mists of pulp history, it seems very likely to me that she contributed some to LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE, mostly in the vivid descriptions that crop up from time to time. The straight-ahead action/adventure elements strike me more as Kuttner’s work, though, and those scenes race along very nicely. The theme of the duality of human nature, some good and some bad in everybody, is also worked into the story subtly and effectively, giving the tale some added depth.

Overall, I think this is one of my favorite Kuttner novels so far. It’s available in an e-book version and also as half of a double novel print volume with UNDER A DIM BLUE SUN by Howie K. Bentley. I enjoyed it and give it a high recommendation.

3 comments:

Walker Martin said...

When I read this short novel in STARTLING STORIES I gave it my highest rating and noted:

"Three terrible illustrations. Lost race novel that is excellent! The Oracle is a great image and this is a stunning Merritt type novel. Some parts really impressive and brilliant."

Kuttner and C.L. Moore did several novels during this period for STARTLING and THRILLING WONDER and Merwin encouraged them. They were doing a different type story for ASTOUNDING at the same time.

Keith West said...

Kuttner is one of my favorites, too. I have this issue but have not read it. Since the ebook version won't crumble in my hands, I'm going to get it.

George said...

Like you, I'm a fan of Henry Kuttner's work. I haven't read LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE, but I'll download a copy pronto! Great review!