Retro-Hugo 1943, Best Short Story

“The Twonky”

C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner (as Lewis Padgett)

Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1942

Fellow nominees:

  • “Proof” by Hal Clement
  • “Runaround” by Isaac Asimov
  • “The Sunken Land” by Fritz Leiber
  • “Etaoin Shrdlu” by Fredric Brown
  • “Mimic” by Martin Pearson (Donald A. Wollheim)

Welcome back to Hugo, A History in which this week we’re looking at our next award-winning short, “The Twonky.” Receiving the Retro-Hugo for 1943, the short story, written by the husband and wife duo of Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, is yet another story featuring a robot. Though as we’ll quickly understand, this robot, this “Twonky,” doesn’t concern itself to follow Asimov’s Three Laws.

In “The Twonky,” we have to ask ourselves—how much robotic assistance too much? For the majority of the story, we follow Kerry Westerfield and his recent purchase—a radio. What could be so wrong with a simple radio? As Kerry discovers, a lot. Soon his purchase comes to life, providing for him some necessities, like lighting his cigarettes or cleaning up the dishes. What would be anyone’s dream scenario turns into a nightmare when the little Twonky starts making decisions against Kerry’s wishes. No, you may not read this particular book or listen to this exact record. What soon follows is a struggle between man and machine. One with dire consequences!

Photo by Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash

What I found interesting was that the audience is left to wonder about the Twonky’s origins. Is he a man-made machine, or did it find life out in the stars? Both very plausible realities, though I like to think it man-made. The Twonky reminds me a lot of Siri or Cortana. You know, that handy assistant included with every new smartphone purchase. It’s always there, always listening. While we haven’t reached a level of censorship like that with the Twonky, could you imagine getting there?

It’s censoring your reading – and apparently it reads the books, with superfast reactions. That gadget, whatever it is, isn’t mearly a robot.

– Fitzgerald to Kerry

Just look at the targeted ads on your social media feeds. Culled from both your online searches and from whatever your mic detects, these ads seemingly know what you want. Now, what if a greater intelligence used that tech against you. It uses your Siris or Cortanas to listen but instead provides what it thinks you need. It’s an intelligence that doesn’t take orders and protects itself at all costs. I guess the only thing going for us is that we confined these personal assistants to small handheld devices. At least for now!

As usual, I like to end things with the legacy of each winning piece. In comparison with some of our previous stories, the legacy of “The Twonky” is minimum. The only notable thing I could uncover in its history was an attempt in 1953 to adapt the story to film. Critics panned the independently made film, despite a synopsis that sounds like it remained faithful to the source material.

Well, that’s all I have for today’s entry. I’d love to hear from you. Have you read, “The Twonky” before? What did you think? Are you as terrified of Siri as I? Feel free to leave a comment or question in the space below.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the life of another visionary writer: Ray Bradbury.

See you all then!

The version of “The Twonky” that I read came from Fury / Mutant/ The Best of Henry Kuttner (ISBN: 0-575-128860), purchased from AbeBooks. Published by Gollancz in 2013, this collection features two of Kuttner’s major novels (Fury and Mutant) along with a selection of his short fiction. His Best of includes both individual works and those written with C. L. Moore.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.