Friday, January 18, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Time Trap - Henry Kuttner



Archeologist Kent Mason is lost in the Arabian desert when he finds the ruins of the legendary lost city of Al Bekr, which is what he was looking for in the first place. However, all that’s left of Al Bekr are two tall, strange towers, and when Mason investigates them, he discovers that they’re made of metal, not stone, which shouldn’t be possible considering how old they are. But before he can figure out anything else, one of the towers is struck by lightning from an uncommon desert thunderstorm, and all kinds of special-effectsy stuff happens, and Mason finds himself cast back in time (because those two towers are really a time machine, of course) to ancient Al Bekr, which is ruled by an evil genius from the far future, Greddar Klon, also known as The Master. Also on hand are the beautiful Nirvor, the Silver Priestess, the beautiful young Queen Alasa, and Erech, the brawny Sumerian barbarian also trapped out of his own time.

This is the opening of THE TIME TRAP, a novel by Henry Kuttner that originally appeared in the November 1938 issue of the pulp MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES. Kuttner specialized in these “normal guy thrown into a bizarre and dangerous setting” yarns, and nobody did them better. Despite the science fiction trappings, the first half of the book reads very much like a sword-and-sorcery story set in ancient Al Bekr. But then the plot takes a left turn and THE TIME TRAP, appropriately enough, becomes a wild chase through time as Mason and his allies try to foil the dastardly plans of the despicable Greddar Klon in various eras, from the prehistoric past to the far future when Earth is a dying world.

I probably shouldn’t mention it, but in each of those eras, there’s at least one beautiful girl who has trouble keeping her clothes on for more than a page or two. This novel didn’t appear in one of the Spicy pulps, but it might as well have, although Mason does manage to resist temptation better than most of the protagonists in that line.

Kuttner piles on the action and keeps things galloping along, and that may be the biggest flaw in THE TIME TRAP. It’s almost too much of a kitchen sink book. But the writing is vivid and there are a lot of really striking scenes, not to mention a very satisfying climax. I’m a little surprised this was never reprinted as an Ace paperback during the Sixties, one of those smaller-sized editions with a cover by Frazetta or Krenkel. If it had been, I would have bought it and raced through it, I can guarantee that. Probably stretched out in a lawn chair on my parents’ front porch, because this is definitely a Front Porch Book.

There’s an e-book version available on Amazon (with some formatting problems, I might add; this is the edition I read), it appears in the Kuttner collection THUNDER IN THE VOID from Haffner Press, and there’s a paperback edition as half of one of the Armchair Fiction double volumes, along with THE LUNAR LICHEN by Hal Clement. While it’s not in the top rank of Kuttner’s work, THE TIME TRAP is an entertaining adventure and a good example of science-fantasy. I recommend it, especially if you’re still in touch with your inner 12-year-old like I am.

14 comments:

George said...

I've read many of Henry Kuttner's stories. He was a wonderful writer who died too young.

Sean Brodrick said...

Excellent review. I remember my younger self enjoying this book immensely when I read it.

James Reasoner said...

Luckily I'm very much still a kid at heart.

Keith West said...

My inner 12 year old is the one calling the shots most of the time.

I've got a couple of copies of this, but I haven't read it yet. The inner 12 year old says that needs to change.

Anonymous said...

THE TIME TRAP is also included in Brian Aldiss’ anthology EVIL EARTHS, which is where I read it. It’s a dazzling whirlygig whizz-bang of a story, pure Pulp Sci-Fi entertainment. It has the wild invention and manic dynamic page-turning energy that I look for in early Space Opera, but rarely ever find. Kuttner himself would “out-grow” this kind of thing all too soon, more’s the pity — though two of his early STARTLING STORIES novels, “When New York Vanished” and “A Million Years To Conquer” have something of the same “Gosh Wow” intensity. Anyhow, I highly recommend it too.

-b.t.

Leo Doroschenko said...

Greddar Klon-- would you trust a character whose name is so similar to "Genghis Khan"? "Time Trap" also appeared-- along with several related works-- in the small press title GIRLS FOR THE SLIME GOD (Obscura Press, 1997) edited by Mike Resnick. http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?15475

James Reasoner said...

I've read "A Million Years to Conquer" under its paperback reprint title of THE CREATURE FROM BEYOND INFINITY and recall enjoying it. I have "When New York Vanished" in the collection THE WATCHER AT THE DOOR but haven't gotten around to it yet. I really need to do that.

I remember reading William Knoles' essay "Girls for the Slime God" in PLAYBOY and see that it's reprinted in that collection, along with several Kuttner stories and stories by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, as well. That was enough to send me looking on-line for a copy, but I didn't find any that weren't priced a little more than I'm willing to pay. However, I will definitely keep my eyes open in case I run across one in the future.

Anonymous said...

If you're looking for a cheaper alternative to GIRLS FOR THE SLIME GOD -- the two other Kuttner "Spicy Scientifiction" stories from GIRLS, "Avengers of Space' and "Dictator of the Americas", are both included in a Fiction House Press replica of MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES #1. As a bonus, there's even a THIRD Kuttner story in the issue, under yet another pseudonym: "The Dark Heritage" as by "Robert O. Kenyon". Pound for pound, none of them are quite up to the level of "The Time Trap", but they're still pretty fun (and yep, the ladies do tend to lose their clothes in all three, IIRC). Of course, you don't get the articles by Resnick & Co., but you do get lots of zippy, strippy pulp for a mere fifteen bucks.

- b.t.

Todd Mason said...

MARVEL, in this version, was the closest sf got to a SPICY SKIFFY STORIES title.

By the time VENTURE SCIENCE FICTION rolled in in the late '50s, the handling of sex in the field was a bit more sophisticated...

James Reasoner said...

I ordered that reprint of MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES #1 mentioned above, as well as more reprints of old pulp SF than I probably should have, considering my limited reading time these days. But it won't always be that way . . .!

Keith West said...

I grabbed a copy of GIRLS FOR THE SLIME GOD when it came out. If I come across another copy, I'll pick it up for you, James.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks, Keith.

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