Monday, March 3, 2008

Henry Kuttner's "The Big Night" (novelette, space opera): For some, coping with change can be very painful

Quote from the short story titled The Big Night by Henry KuttnerThis is a philosophical story, written as a space opera. Quite readable, but not among Kuttner's best.

The philosophical thesis is: things have a life - a beginning, growth, then decline. Sometimes, you are unfortunate enough to become attached to its decline. Human nature will not let you go of the thing - so, in a way, you are championing a lost cause. "Big Night" of title refers both to this decline, & also to the time spent in dark interstellar space & "in" hyperspace.

Main theme is about technology change, though there are some other cases of philosophy's applicability also mentioned. World is going through a technology change for traveling interstellar distances - from hyper ships to material transfer booths ("Transmats"). But our hero has spent a lifetime running hyperships, & won't switch over for sentimental reasons - even though it's a dying business.

A curious thing about this story is its description of hyperspace. It has nothing to do with fourth dimension. It's a different space, relative to our familiar 3D one. And there are strong currents flowing through it which actually transport you! So the navigation trick is: move to hyperspace from normal one, then somehow get into the current flowing towards your destination (there appears to be a catalog of such currents, with names given to prominent currents!), & finally drop into normal space based on instrument readings.

Story summary.

The old hypership "La Cucaracha", badly in need of repairs, is headed towards Fria - a frontier human planet - to pick up local "fungus" that is highly valued elsewhere. Only our adventurers will learn after reaching there that a Transmat station is being setup there, & the prices have shot through the roof.

Captain will then take empty ship to an unnamed & unexplored world "thirty thousand miles from a double primary" somewhere far from civilization, & land under extremely dangerous conditions to pick up some kind of local drug called "paraine" - highly valued elsewhere. Only ship is in no condition to land anywhere with gravity after take off.

First mate will drug the captain, & maneuver the ship to a small asteroid with a material transfer booth - so the ship & crew can be transfered to a repair station on Moon. Only the transfer charges are rather steep - they will end up paying half their drug collection, & will have reveal its source planet too! Means no more business in this drug - material transfer booth is going to come up on that world too!

In the final scene, we see the ship fixed on moon & ready for a new journey. Captain is the only one who won't leave it. After some drama, we see that first mate also cannot leave it - part sentimentality, part friendship.

Characters & things.

  1. La Cucaracha: The hyperspace ship at the heart of the story. Our adventurers are, for most of the story, traveling in it.
  2. Captain Sam Danvers: Captain & owner of La Cucaracha. Very sentimental about hyperspace ships. This is really his story, though the story is mostly told via his first mate, Logger Hilton. Also, he has no love for anything related to material transfer booths - the thing that is killing his beloved hyperships.
  3. Logger Hilton: Human first mate of "La Cucaracha". Much of the story is told from his point of view. He himself is not so sentimentally attached to the idea of hyperships, & is willing to look at material transfer booths. But he does have a soft corner for both the hyperships & his boss who is sentimental about hyperspace.
  4. "Ts'ss": a multi-limbed "Selenite" - an intelligent creature of Luner origin. He is of a race much older than humans, but they have seen better days. He is pilot of "La Cucaracha".
  5. Wiggins: Ship's second mate, surgeon, & cook!
  6. Luther Saxon: A kid working in material transport business who wrongly ended up as crew on this ship! He was drunk & moving through the wrong place on Venus when he ended up as this ship's crew - without his consent! He will be made assistant pilot.
  7. Dzann: a an alien of "Canopian" race - "one of that retrovolved race that is only a few degrees above the moron level". He is the one who tips the captain on Fria about the location of unexplored world with drugs.

Collected in.

  1. "The Best of Henry Kuttner"

Fact sheet.

"The Big Night", short story, review
First published: Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1947. Under pseudonym "Hudson Hastings".
Rating: B
Related: All stories by Henry Kuttner; as by Hudson Hastings.