Sunday, March 29, 2009

Henry Kuttner's "Don't Look Now" (short story, satire, paranoia, free): Earth, including humans, are property of Martian overlords!

Quote from short story titled Dont Look Now by Henry KuttnerWhile not among the more entertaining stories of Kuttner, it's noteworthy because of influences:

  1. The plot is essentially the same as Eric Frank Russell's novel "Sinister Barrier" (1939) that came out a decade earlier.

    In both, humans are owned by normally invisible overlords - native "spheres" in Russell's version, Martians in Kuttner's. In Kuttner's version, humans are earth natives; in Russell's version, they're equivalent of cattle to their owners & were originally imported from some other world by these "spheres". In both cases, some protagonists accidentally are able to see the overlords. Russell's is a story of resulting revolution, with some hope for humans. In Kuttner's version, revolution is killed even as its seeds are germinating.
  2. Russell's hilarious novel, "Next of Kin" (1958) that came a decade later, has a feature very similar to this story. In Russell's story, a human prisoner of war convinces his alien captors that humans aren't really individuals, but exist in symbiotic pairs - every humans has an associated ghost called "Eustance" that has volition of independent action, will talk & be visible only to its paired human, & will do nasty things to anyone who dares harm the human!

    Kuttner's story has a darker version of it - each human has an associated Martian overlord with its own sinister purpose.
  3. There is an anatomical feature of Martians (when you can see the colors in which they are
    visible): they have a third eye on the forehead that clearly identifies an otherwise human-like camouflage of a Martian. Eye is normally invisible; it can be detected only when it is explicitly opened.

    This "third eye" is a feature of Shiva, one of the most important Hindu gods, & part of the Trinity. According to Indian lore, he opens this third eye only when he's extremely angry, & this opening results in widespread destruction as some kind of magic emanates from that eye. I'm not sure the written Sanskrit versions of the lore specify the location of the eye; I've seen it depicted both on the forehead & at the back of the head.

Story summary.

Lyman, a human, has just discovered the existence of Martian overlords - for some reason, he's now able to see the colors in which they manifest. But he's carefully keeping the knowledge to himself - lest the discovery be noticed by overlords which will guarantee severe punishment. So he keeps obeying the subtle signals Martians use to make humans do things for them.

But he's on the watch, & he seems to have located another human (a newspaper reporter) who probably has also discovered the Martians but is keeping the knowledge to himself. He will confront the newspaperman in a bar with knowledge & plan to publicize the existence of Martians. Turns out the newspaperman has even taken pictures of Martians.

Only the Martians are eternally watchful & are privy to this discourse...


  1. Story makes a reference to panic in US in early decades of twentieth century when some radio station broadcast "news" of Martian invasion, based on H G Wells' novel "War of the World".
  2. Bits of the story appear to be satirical references to US society of Kuttner's time. Specifics of them mostly went over my head, though I could get the gist.

Fact sheet.

First published: Startling Stories, March 1948.
Rating: B.
Download MP3 of old radio play based on this story via MindWebs at Internet Archive.
Note: This post is based on the written text of the story. MP3 link is courtesy of Free SF Reader.
Related: Stories of Henry Kuttner.