The Last Mimzy

Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 4, 2007

The Last Mimzy by Henry Kuttner

Eight of us of us gathered at the North Village library for this meeting, and another submitted comments by email. Our topic was The Last Mimzy, a collection of classic short science fiction and fantasy by Henry Kuttner. This is a reissue of the earlier book The Best of Henry Kuttner, retitled to tie in with the recent film The Last Mimzy, adapted from one of its stories. About half of us had read Kuttner previously. Everyone started the book, and four finished.

The book starts with “Mimsy Were the Borogoves,” the basis for the recent film. It involves bright children finding toys from the future. The Lewis Carroll thread that imparts the title to the story is well-done. One person was impressed that such a good story could be inspired by a few silly sentences from Jabberwocky. Those of us who saw the movie were pleased by how well the basic concept of the story is maintained, yet the movie is clearly updated to the present. A few people complained about the poor characterization of children of the story. They felt that Kuttner did not understand children at all, and were not surprised to learn that he was not a parent.

This book is full of strong stories. We all liked “The Twonky,” a story about a home-entertainment device from the future that does a lot more than its owners expect. “The Voice of the Lobster,” about a conman on a spaceship, was fun both for the plot and the third wall-breaking writing style. “Two-Handed Engine,” a paranoid horror story, reminded some of us of Philip K. Dick. The only true fantasy in the book is “Gnome There Was,” a humorous examination of labor relations among fantastic creatures. We were delighted with “Nothing But Gingerbread Left,” a WWII-era story that proposed a musical solution to defeating the Nazis. “Or Else” is a wonderful and low-key first contact story. The book concludes with “Absalom”, a tale of a parent and a brilliant child that suitably bookends “Mimsy.”

A few people commented that some of these stories seemed like episodes of The Twilight Zone. It turned out that the story “What You Need” had been adapted for this classic show in 1959.

We liked Kuttner’s writing style a great deal. His clean prose and efficient storytelling made the stories easy to read. We felt he had great respect for the reader. We appreciate the variety of topics he explored, and the care his editor took in choosing stories for this collection.

Surprisingly for sf written 50 years ago, the technology in these stories does not seem dated. Kuttner does not go into much technical detail, but just describes objects as they are used. All the devices either exist now or are plausible.

What does date the stories is that many of them rely on the protagonists getting drunk. “The Proud Robot” and other stories of Gallagher, a recurring Kuttner character, involve a guy constructing a sophisticated robot, getting stinking drunk, and forgetting the robot’s purpose. Drunkenness is a device use solely for humor. As society’s attitude toward drinking has evolved, this storytelling device is rarely used.

One person who originally read these stories in the Sixties commented that they were written at a time when no sf novels were being published. He also noted that several New Age writers were influenced by Kuttner.

Overall we enjoyed this book, and everyone was glad we picked it. A latecomer arrived just as we were finishing the discussion, to join us for dinner. We had a nice meal at Conan’s.

–A. T. Campbell, III