Thursday, March 12, 2009

William Tenn's "Child's Play" (novelette, sense of wonder): What if Kuttner & Moore retold "Frankenstein"?

Quote from short story Childs Play by William TennFew imitations can qualify as classics. This one does. A retelling of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", in the style of the joint works of Henry Kuttner & C L Moore - including the ending. And author does a pretty good job of it.

Story summary.

Sam Weber, an unsuccessful lawyer, has received a mysterious box as a Christmas gift - "Merry Christmas, 2353"! Obviously someone is playing pranks.

After much frustration, he will discover the box responds to voice commands - "open" & "close". And its contents are befuddling. "The interior was a crazy mass of shelving on which rested vials filled with blue liquids, jars filled with red solids, transparent tubes... seven pieces of intricate apparatus on the bottom... also a book."

Book is actually a manual. He will learn the box contains something called "Bild-A-Man Set #3... intended solely for the use of children between the ages of eleven & thirteen... will enable the child of this age group to build & assemble complete adult humans in perfect working order". Some of the chapters in the manual:
  1. "Chapter II - Making simple living things indoors & out".
  2. "Chapter III - Mannikins and what makes them do the world's work". "Mannikins" are single purpose beings - sort of biological inflexible androids.
  3. "Chapter IV - Babies & other small humans".
  4. "Chapter V - Twins for every purpose: twinning yourself & your friends".
  5. "Chapter VI - What you need to build a man".
  6. "Chapter VIII - Disassembling the man".
The manufacturer is "The Bild-A-Man Company, 928, Diagonal Level, Glunt City, Ohio." Of course, inquiries will reveal no such firm or address exists.

We'll see a lot of fun & irresponsible behavior - making "a primitive brown mold", "a few oysters", a mannikin, duplicating a baby of land lady's family & depositing the clone in an orphanage, ... There is also a complication involving Sam's girlfriend Tina Hill who's going to marry another man Lew Knight - so Sam wants to get nasty.

Things will come to an abrupt end when he dups himself, so he can sort out any human-making problems before duplicating Tina. Only the dup got vitalized with all of Sam's thoughts - including the though to disassemble the dup!

Confrontation, intervention from source whose package was misdelivered, & horrific ending. Census Keeper, a manufactured being from future sent here to fix the delivery error, misjudges the real & dup, & ends up disasssembling the real Sam... so dup will live!

Collected in.

  1. John W Campbell, Jr (ed)'s "The Astounding Science Fiction Anthology".

Fact sheet.

First published: Astounding, March 1947.
Rating: A.
Listed among the stories from John Campbell's Astounding/Analog.
Related: Stories of William Tenn; Stories from Analog/Astounding.