Sunday, March 9, 2008

Henry Kuttner's "Absalom" (short story, non-genre): Generation gap can be a major source of parents' heartache

Quote from short story titled Absalom by Henry KuttnerThis is the second story I've seen from Kuttner on the theme of generation gap. But this is a much darker story compared to "Mimsy Were the Borogoves".

An overprotective father cannot understand his son's ambitions. And both parties are willing to hurt each other.

While there is a small science fictional element, I think this story is best classified as non-genre.

Title is the name of some character from Bible: "Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron". Presumably there is a similarity in theme. I'm not familiar with Bible - so cannot comment on this aspect.

Free SF Reader notes this audio rendition of Absalom (MP3 file). I personally haven't heard this audio version.

Story summary.

Joel Locke holds "the chair of psychonamics" at "the university". Other members of his household are housekeeper Abigail Schuler, & his son Absalom.

For the last few generations, a genetic mutation has been sweeping through the population, turning "homo sapiens to homo superior" - making larger parts of the younger generation much smarter than their elders. Absalom is an 8 year old prodigy - far smarter than his father.

Absalom wants to go to university at Baja California or to Crèche, where other lads of his caliber are in abundance, & study "entropic logic". Overprotective dad won't allow this. Somewhere at the back of dad's head is also the fact that he himself cannot understand entropic logic - so the subject must be beyond the son too.

To enforce his will, the father has been using a process called "rapport" over the years with Absalom. It's a way "in which it was possible to enforce hypnosis, to pry open a mind willy nilly and search it for contraband thoughts." Dad will soon discover the child has grown beyond even what this insidious technique can achieve.

In the end, we see an angry father about to physical hit the son; housekeeper hits the dad to protect the son - throwing him unconscious. Son uses this opportunity to tinker with his dad's brain with help from his friend over phone.

Father is not externally hurt, & can do his daily chores; but he can no longer think of opposing the son's ambitions, keeps eagerly waiting for son to call when he's gone to university, & is constantly aware he is forced into this by son's tinkering & thus hates the son. Story ends with dad's wish for revenge: "Some day Absalom would have a son."


  1. "Something had begun to stir lazily far back in the brains of the coming generations and a new species, of a sort, was coming slowly into being."
  2. "You've the advantage of knowing yourself better than I could know you. You're handicapped by immaturity, lack of a sense of proportion. And I've had the advantage of more experience."

    "Your own, though, Dad. How much would such values apply to me?"
  3. "Don't forget that legally I exercise control over you, though I'll never do that without your agreement that I'm acting justly."

    "Justice for you may not be justice for me".
  4. "I want you to have every possible opportunity, especially the ones I never had."

    "It wasn't lack of opportunity. It was incapability."
  5. "You're afraid that I'll outstrip you. And I will."
  6. "it's the role of any parent to protect its young. Only the immature parents are out of step - like you."

See also.

  1. Wilmar H Shiras' "In Hiding": Another story where genetic mutation has created a very gifted child, but his grandmother is forcing him to behave at the level of his peers. But Shiras' story is much less dark.

Collected in.

  1. "The Best of Henry Kuttner"

Fact sheet.

"Absalom", short story, review
First published: Startling Stories, Fall 1946.
Rating: A
All stories by Henry Kuttner.