books Project Gutenberg

The Crypt City of the Deathless One by Henry Kuttner

A drunk traumatized amnesiac walks into a dark forest.

This review is a product of my never-ending mining expeditions on Project Gutenberg. I decided to read it for two particular reasons. Firstly, I really like the title. Sounds more like an classical adventure story, something that we now identify with Indiana Jones and his ilk of character. The other reason was that the name Henry Kuttner sounded familiar. And after a bit of digging online I realized why. He is the husband of CL Moore. She is one of the biggest discoveries I have made on Project Gutenberg. When I read her story Tree of Life, I was befuddled. I couldn’t believe just how such a talented writer could be forgotten. The way she writes descriptions is up there with some of the best, like Tagore or Joyce. I seriously mean it.

Kuttner and Moore frequently corroborated. This novella is a solo project of Kuttner’s, even if some of the descriptions of the forest or sunsets on this Jupiter moon leave an impression that Moore maybe gave him a few hints. In general, those who knew them say that they had a very unique artistic chemistry. There are couples who finish each other sentences. Well, Moore and Kuttner were similar, with the expectation that they could also finish each other’s paragraph or even chapter. Their work was so seamlessly interwoven that it created a distinct artistic voice. Even if you were completely familiar with both of their solo work, you could never tell where his or her began, and where it ended.

But back to the man of the hour and his short novella.

In this book we follow Garth, an earthman who is stuck on a moon of Jupiter. He drinks and helps the locals when he can. But he also has a dark and tragic past. He first came to Ganymede as a part of an expedition. Back on Earth, there is a plague, called the Silver Plague, that is slowly but surely killing the population of the planet. With the help of his then significant other Moira and his mentor figure dr. Willard. But something went wrong during the exhibition. Moira died. Willard and Garth were kidnapped by the Zarno, a Ganymede race that lives in the Black Forrest and protects what the “Ancients” have left behind, after they vanished and their civilization died out. To the Zarno, the Ancients are gods, and they protect their legacy ruthlessly. Due to the fact that Garth was under the effect of Noccoli poison, he is having issues remembering what really happened to Dr Willard. All he does remember tho is a creepy ritual table, where he is about to smash something into Willard’s chest.

Garth’s potential redemption comes in the form of a young couple. There are under a military mission. But, they also have plans of their own. The couple thinks that what the Ancients left behind wasn’t some sort of material treasure. They see it as some sort of power source. The Earth is running out of fossil fuels and they need solutions. The only way to the ruins of the Ancients is through the Black Forrest, one of the most dangerous places in the whole Solar System. They need Garth as a guide because he is the only one who survived a trip inside. What follows is an Indiana Jones like story, with a few great examples of speculative biology, such as an insect that mimics a rock until its pray sits on it, or a dirt like moth that prays on lost animals. Twists and turns, secrets unveiled, make for a fun, short weekend read.

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