Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Henry Kuttner & C L Moore's "Cold War" (novelette, humor): Reason common cold virus is so tough to eradicate!

Quote from short story titled Cold War by Henry KuttnerThis is a Hogbens story - a sequel to "Exit the Professor". This one takes a while to pick up - through first half, I got the impression of too much effort being put into humor. But later half is great.

Story summary.

Only three members of Hogben family of mutant low-profile long-lived & very competent supermen plays a role in this story: Saunk (narrator), "grandpaw", & Uncle "Lem" Lemuel.

Plus we have 3 new key characters: a man named Alderman "Ed" Pugh, his 7 year old son Junior Pugh, & his now dead wife Lily Lou Mutz.

A time machine also plays a key role in the story. It's origins are weird (of course). You see, maw has given a job to Saunk - to sour a milk jug (I guess that's the US equivalent of Indian curd). He doesn't want to do it the usual way because "Cruelty to dumb animals is something I can't abide. Them there little critters work hard enough souring milk the way it is... Paw says they're enzymes. But they can't be. They're too teeny."

Not wanting to be cruel to little critters makes Saunk quickly put together a time machine!! "This here gadget ... will send Maw's cream-jug ahead into next week some time. This weather, don't take cream more'n a couple of days but I'm giving it plenty of time. When I bring it back - bingo, it's sour." It looks like a simple "sled" with telepathic controls; you put stuff on it, & telepathically send it through time!

OK - on with the story.

Lily was a very ugly woman living alone, & often a butt of jokes. Some 10 years ago, a kindhearted Uncle Lem granted her a bewitchment - the ability to "hex" someone (a kind of curse) - causing the victim extreme pain - so she can cope with social rejection. Pugh is also ugly, & so is Junior.

While Lily is now dead, she passed on her genetic mutation to Junior that gives him the ability to hex others. Pugh & Junior now sell a headache remedy, hawking off a mobile van something called "PUGH HEADACHE CURE". Pugh collects a crowd, Junior hexes them causing headache, making the crowd buy the remedy!

Pugh is worried "Junior's the last of his race". That Junior will never be able to find a wife - because of his ugliness & this mutation he has inherited - making his line's end at Junior a real possibility. Wants Uncle Lem to fix it. Uncle Lem doesn't think it advisable - because the required changes will almost certainly kill Junior. Pugh thinks Uncle Lem is bluffing - so he resorts to blackmail. First making junior hex a crowd, then some innocent individual passersby; then hex Uncle Lem & try bargaining with Saunk.

It's this bargaining with Saunk that leads to story's very entertaining conclusion. While Saunk could have easily killed both Pugh & Junior to revive his unconscious Uncle Lem, there is a grandpaw's prohibition against killing on all members of Hogbens family.

So Saunk has a telepathic conference with grandpaw, & is advised to bring Pugh & Junior to Hogbens' den for cure. Pugh is apprehensive, but Hogbens are known to never go back on their word. And what other choice does he have?

In Hogben's den, the Pugh & Junior will be made to stand on the time machine after a minor genetic modification, & sent far far back in time. Grandpaw has met his promise - that line of Pugh will continue a long time. You see, by the time Pugh & Junior return to our time after going through their evolution, they are not human but common cold viruses! Breeding profusely, jinxing everyone they meet, impossible to get rid off, ...

See also.

  1. Arthur Clarke's "Cold War": Another humorous story that has nothing to do with US/Soviet stand-off. Apart from title, the two stories have nothing in common.

Collected in.

  1. "The Best of Henry Kuttner"

Fact sheet.

"Cold War", short story, review
First published: Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1949.
Rating: A
All stories by Henry Kuttner, C L Moore; Hogben series.