Planet Stories, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-136-7
Fantasy, 2008 (Reissue)
First published in 1946 by Ace Books, Henry Kuttner’s The Dark World is best known as the book that inspired Roger Zelazny’s The Chronicles of Amber series. There are also suggestions that his wife CL Moore might have written the bulk of, if not all of, this book. Back in those days, he and the wife used various names, including each other’s, on the cover of their works, after all, and if anything, the verbose and often florid prose here seems more like CL Moore’s style than Mr Kuttner’s. Whatever the story is behind this story, however, it’s pretty obvious, to me, that The Dark World is not exactly the best output from Mr Kuttner or Ms Moore.
Still, it’s interesting to have a story narrated from the point of view of a protagonist who isn’t a clear-cut hero for a change. Now that World War II has finally ended, Edward Bond comes home after spending a long time recovering from his injuries in the jungles of Indonesia. He is troubled by dark dreams, however, and voices from what seems like another world.
Through some mystical woo-woo method, he soon finds himself in another dimension, where magic is everywhere. Edward learns that he is actually Ganelon, an evil wizard who almost led the Coven in taking over that world, until Ganelon’s enemies cast a spell that switched Ganelon with the real Edward Bond. Ganelon’s allies have finally found a way to revert the spell. So, Ganelon is back. Even better, he’s a powerful wizard who has a special bond to Llyr, the resident Cthulhu-wannabe who wants a special sacrifice to keep himself happy. Ganelon’s memories of his time in this world is spotty, however, and as he slowly figures out what is going on, he may discover that things are never what they seem to be at the surface.
The story is actually quite clever, even if the twist is a little predictable. Unfortunately, this story is too short for its own good, as its brevity – it’d be considered a novella today – comes with a severely underdeveloped world and too many ill-explained plot developments. The author is also guilty of pulling out convenient magic powers and plot developments out of the blue.
Mind you, all these flaws are typical of the pulp fiction origins of The Dark World, so normally I won’t hold them against the work. For this work, however, those flaws stand out too much to be overlooked. Apart from the novelty of a hero who isn’t very, well, heroic, this one is best treated as some quick and breezy entertainment. It’s a good representation of the strengths and flaws of a typical work of the sci-fi and fantasy pulp fiction of the 1940s and 1950s – a good introduction for those who want to dip their toes into that genre. If they like what they read here, there are many other better works to discover from here.