January 5th, 2020

a literary source

Late last year, I found that Anthony Boucher's murder mystery Rocket to the Morgue, a roman à clef based on the Los Angeles science fiction writing community of the early 1940s, was available on Kindle. I had been curious about it for some time, so I picked it up.

Midway in ("location 2282 of 3642"), I ran into a passage where the character thought to be inspired by Robert Heinlein, Austin Carter, praises a novel by another member of his circle, Joe Henderson, titled Time Tunnel. In particular, he praises Henderson's treatment of the villainness, Storm Darroway:

"dear God, what a wench! If I could meet a woman like that, a thousand interplanetary civilizations could smash and much I’d care!”

Now, I thought I recognized that name, so I did some looking into it. There's a Poul Anderson novel, The Corridors of Time, which involves travelling between past and future via a series of extradimensional structures that could quite plausibly be called "time tunnels." The protagonist is recruited for an intertemporal war by a woman from the future who calls herself "Storm Darroway," whom he finds alluring but ends up opposing. So all of that is an almost perfect fit to what Boucher says, and "Joe Henderson" seems like an obvious allusion to Poul Anderson.

Except that Rocket to the Morgue was published in 1942, when Anderson was 16 years old! He didn't start selling fiction for another five years, and The Corridors of Time was published in 1965, nearly twenty years after that. So unless Boucher himself had a time machine, he didn't have Anderson in mind. And Wikipedia says that "Henderson" is thought to be a composite of Edmond Hamilton and Jack Williamson.

If there is influence here (which seems plausible), it has to run the other way: Anderson set out to write a novel about time travel, and took the name of one of its major characters from Boucher's novel, which he very likely had read. This might well have been an intentional allusion, and perhaps even a little auctorial joke. If so, it suggests wry self-awareness on Anderson's part, as his fiction often has a motif that Boucher describes:

"You see, one of the Henderson trademarks is the Two Women. They’re the same two that run through all of Rider Haggard too. One represents Virtue and is blonde and beautiful and good and dull. The other represents Vice and is black and beautiful and evil and marvelous."

I have to say, though, that it's rather neatly sfnal for Boucher's roman à clef to allude to a novel published a quarter of a century later. In a certain type of sf novel, it could give the protagonist a clue to a time travelling conspiracy.