The Creature From Beyond Infinity was the first novel published by Henry Kuttner, an author who was one of the half dozen or so pillars of the Golden Age of Sci-Fi. It first saw the light of day in a 1940 issue of “Startling Stories” magazine under the title A Million Years to Conquer, and finally in book form in the 1968 Popular Library paperback that I recently completed. Although that original title may perhaps be a more accurate descriptor, the pulpier Creature title gives a truer feel for what this book is: pulpy as can be!
In it, we meet Ardath, the sole survivor when his Kyrian spaceship crash-lands on Earth while our planet is still in the throes of its infancy. Ardath is instructed by his dying captain to repair the ship, put it into orbit around Earth, go into hibernation stasis for several aeons, and await the coming of genius mentalities on the new Earth. Ardath follows his captain’s orders, sleeping for ages and awakening every million or so years to see what’s cooking down below. Ultimately, he is able to collect four comparative geniuses from various periods of Earth’s history, with the intention of creating a eugenically superior strain of man. From the dawn of prehistory he selects Thordred, a Conan-type usurper; Jansaiya, a priestess of Atlantis; Li Yang, a Chinese advisor to a Genghis Khan type; and Scipio, a Carthaginian revolutionary. I’ve always been a sucker for a story with two ongoing parallel plots, and Kuttner here gives us a doozy. On modern-day Earth (well, the Earth of 1941, anyway), Stephen Court, one of the foremost scientists in the world, fights desperately to counteract the Plague, a scourge from space that turns its victims into radioactive, life-sucking zombies. Naturally, these two plot strands eventually intertwine, and that’s when things really start humming, in this exciting and clever little tale. (I do mean little… the whole thing is only 125 pages long, and can easily be read in a sitting or two.)
It is hardly a secret that Kuttner and his wife, the great C.L. Moore, collaborated on most of their novels AFTER their marriage in 1940, but since this book dates FROM 1940, I am not certain if the book can be ascribed totally to Kuttner or not. Fun as it is, it certainly does contain some of the errors that a first-time novelist might make; for example, repetitive expressions (such as “grizzled gray hair”), technical errors of wording (such as referring to a structure that looks like the Eiffel Tower as an “obelisk”), historical inaccuracies (mentioning that Moses, Socrates and Confucius came later than the Roman Empire), inconsistencies in plotting (Ardath is able to detect superior intelligences from his orbiting spacecraft and “beam” them aboard, yet later seems to find it necessary to go down in person and haul his candidates aboard physically) and some contrived situations. Still, the book IS as fun as can be, and the majority of readers will most likely be too busy flippin’ those pages to notice these minor slips. For an author of 26 years old, especially, the book is most impressive. It is remarkable how much action and incident Kuttner manages to squeeze into this novella, all to guarantee a rousing time. The nature of the menace from outer space is one that no reader should be able to guess, and although much of the science in the book is dated, that elusive “sense of wonder” is often fully achieved. The author even manages to explain to us the origin of those darn Easter Island statues. Nice touch, Henry! In short, The Creature From Beyond Infinity is an entertaining read from Mr. Kuttner, but nothing great or classic. Those would come later…