MAN'S CONQUEST OF SPACE
or UPSIDE-DOWN IN TIME
By Henry Kuttner
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 2003, I included Henry Kuttner's 1936 short story "The Graveyard Rats" in the anthology Horrible Beginnings, which collected to first professionally published horror stories by seventeen authors. In 2016, Haffner Press, in the process of publishing The Watcher at the Door, the second volume in a collection of Kuttner's early fiction, uncovered the story "Man's Conquest of Space or Upside-Down in Time," which is believed to have been an unpublished story that predated the publication of "The Graveyard Rats." Haffner Press published the story as a chapbook incentive to those who pre-ordered The Watcher at the Door.
The brief story opens in the year 2103 and tracks the expansion of humanity throughout a pulpy, alien filled galaxy over the course of three pages. More an outline than an actual story, Kuttner describes Amos Reeble's first steps on the moon and predicts the commercialization of space travel, before quickly moving on to the settlement of Mars and the proliferation of spaceships, eventually reaching man's colonization of Alpha Centauri. At the same time, Kuttner briefly describes the terrestrial species which arises to fill the void left by man's departure into space.
A comparison between "Man's Conquest of Space or Upside-Down in Time" and "The Graveyard Rats" shows an author who has learned how to plot and create characters rather than just scenarios. Haffner Press indicated that Kuttner may have written "Man's Conquest of Space or Upside-Down in Time" for a fanzine (whether or not it was published in a fanzine is unknown), but it is definitely not a story that deserves to have seen publication in Weird Tales, which published "The Graveyard Rats," or Thrilling Mystery, which published other early stories by Kuttner. The humor of the piece, which is not as obvious from his early professionally published works, is based on the ludicrousness of the scenarios he spins, whether regarding Reeble's fate or the takeover of the earth.
"Man's Conquest of Space or Upside-Down in Time" hasn't aged particularly well. It lacks depth and any grounding in what is known of the solar system, but it is a brief and pleasant diversion, demonstrating the nascent skill of an author who was on the cusp of making his first professional sale and establishing a career that would span two decades, multiple pseudonyms, collaborations with an equally prolific wife, and eventual recognition with two posthumous retro Hugo Awards and the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.