the Little Red Reviewer

Robots Have no Tails, by Henry Kuttner

Posted on: January 26, 2021


Robots have no Tails, by Henry Kuttner


What fun this collection was!  I never know what to expect with pulp fiction, will it be good? Will it be super dated? Will I get the references?  


Ok, sure, I’m sure there were some references I missed, as these were written in the 1940s. But? They were great!  And hilarious!  Kuttner’s Galloway Gallagher jumps off the page, even as he’s passing out on the sofa from having had too much to drink.  And you don’t want Gallagher to stop drinking, because it’s only when he’s shitfaced drunk does he invent the wildest things . . .  . 


Gallagher sounds like the kind of character an author would make up during a drinking game with friends, maybe at a scifi convention. Imagine a talented inventor, who makes amazing machines and robots out of what’s laying around his lab (the original McGuyver?), but the inventor can only invent things when he’s absolutely drunk.  Sober, he can barely change a lightbulb, and has no memory of what he created the night before. Gallagher often wakes up surrounded by wild inventions that he has no memory of being contracted to create. . . screwball comedy ensues! 


This volume of all the Gallagher stories has an introduction by Paul Wilson, and also an introduction by Kuttner’s wife C.L. Moore. Wilson talks about the environment in which these stories were written, and Moore talks about their life when Kuttner was writing the Gallagher stories, and how the drafts made her laugh so hard she was worried about disturbing their neighbors. 


“Time Locker” is the first story in the volume, and considered the “least Gallagher” of the bunch, but it was one of my favorites.  Gallagher has invented a weird locker-thing, that you can put something in the locker and it disappears, but then you can pull it out again. A perfect place for a crook on the run to hide the documents that will incriminate him!  With crooks and lawyers stopping in at all hours of the day at Gallagher’s lab, how is he supposed to be able to concentrate to figure what this darn locker-thing actually does, and why he created it? This story has an absolutely fantastic twist at the end! 

In “The World is Mine”,  Gallagher isn’t sure what to be more surprised about – the fact that Martian furbies (they are called Lybblas, but i’m sorry, they look and act like furbies!), or that dead bodies keep showing up in his backyard. . .and then disappearing. I’m a sucker for anything time travel, so the fact that the disappearing dead guy is always older (and still dead) when he shows up again in the backyard was super fun for me. While trying to convince the cops he didn’t kill anyone, Gallagher needs to figure out how these Martians showed up, how to convince them to go home again, what’s the deal with the dead guy(s), and why he invented all this stuff while he was wasted.  I’m not explaining it well, but it was hilarious! The comedic timing with the scenes with the Lybblas was pure gold! 


In later stories in the collection, Gallagher gets himself a sidekick, a robot named Joe. Joe is a narcissistic drama queen. While Gallagher is scratching his head and trying to figure out why the heck he created a robot in the first place, Joe is trying to explain his extra senses, answering the door to strangers, generally being worthless, and answering nearly every question with “I’m not talking to you, you ugly man”.  


As the stories progress, they get more and more complicated, like a screwball Rube Goldberg machine that keeps getting bigger and bigger. Kuttner sets everything up perfectly, and then wraps everything up perfectly in the last few paragraphs.  He has a blast bringing in more and more ridiculous characters, and even having Joe do imitations of Gallagher. 


I can understand why readers would be so excited to get the latest issue of Astounding, to see a new Gallagher story. 


Why didn’t Kuttner writer more Galloway stories you ask? The answer is the most tragic thing you’ll read this week. Kuttner died of a heart attack at age 42.  (umm… I’m 41. And suddenly terrified)


A thing about pulp, and a thing about Gallagher, and Wilson mentions this in his introduction: don’t worry about Gallagher driving drunk – he doesn’t own a car, and rarely leaves his house. Don’t worry about him being a violent drunk – he lives alone, and when drunk as a skunk will invent things and then fall asleep.  As Wilson puts it, the “only harm he’s doing is to his own liver”. 


3 Responses to "Robots Have no Tails, by Henry Kuttner"

I read this a couple years ago and loved it. Kuttner wrote a variety of stories, but these are easily my favorites.

Liked by 1 person

That sounds so fun! I’ll have to read them sometime.


I will follow up on this recommendation. Thank you.

Liked by 1 person

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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