This week’s story being discussed over at the Deep Ones group, devoted to weird fiction, isn’t weird at all. But we cast our net wide in nominations and sometimes that happens.
It is a story from one of science fiction’s great power teams: Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore. Both writers were acclaimed for their solo efforts. After their June 7, 1940 marriage, Moore said that all their works thereafter were collaborations.
Review: “Home Is the Hunter”, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, 1953.
This story is mostly told by Honest Roger Bellamy in sort of an interior monologue with the part of him that has regrets or questions his path in life. It’s not a dialogue of conscience even though Bellamy is a noted killer, an acclaimed killer.
He’s a Head-Hunter, a practioner of consensual and legal homocide in this 21st Century New York City. They are this society’s most revered and respected men. They kill each other in Central Park then take the loser’s head back to their trophy halls in their lavish homes with many wives and children in what’s called a Triumph. The best will have a plastic statue in Central Park.
In his interior monologue, we learn something of Bellamy’s life. He knew a mother’s love until age six when he was taken away to be a Hunter, shown not much love by his father or mother afterwards. He was trained in machete, gun, and judo. His older brother was killed in a judo training “accident” actually secretly engineered by Bellamy. Then he became heir to his father’s role as Hunter.
Having recently read Tom Holland’s Rubicon and Dynasty, I suspect this story was Kuttner’s and Moore’s taken on the status obsession of Ancient Rome. The victorious Hunters have Triumphs. When a Hunter is killed, he gets all his victim’s trophy heads and the victim’s wives and children are turned out to become “populari” which was the Roman term of those not from patrician families.
But there is a major difference between Rome’s populari and the one in this story. It is purely voluntary. Bellamy can stop being a Hunter anytime. The populari of this story, unlike most of Rome’s, aren’t poor. This is a society of plenty. They can eat at lavish restaurants and are housed well.
In fact, in some ways, their lives are better than Bellamy’s. He eats simple and nutrious fare to keep fit, sleeps alone every night despite his many wives, and trains constantly. Always there is the danger of someone challenging him for his trophy collection though one Hunter has simply refused any Central Park challenges, always done at night to facilitate ambushinga and stalking.
And, when one Good Ben Griswold, kills a Hunter with almost as many heads as Bellamy, we see that, in this status society, there is always the danger of someone besting you. (Hunter names bring to mind something out of the Old West, but they also remind one of the Roman naming system though the correspondences aren’t close.)
Griswold is a Hunter of berserker rage which Bellamy almost envies since he doesn’t seem to feel all that much emotion these days. He is clever, though, in manipulating Griswold, instead of just sitting back with his head collection, coming after Bellamy in the Park.
Bellamy bests Griswold, and, in the end, finds an unexpected way out of the status competion: he kills himself at the moment of celebration over Griswold’s death.
“This is triumph,” he tells us in the story’s final line.