The Hurkle is a Happy Beast by Theodore Sturgeon

The Hurkle is a Happy Beast by Theodore Sturgeon from Vol 1 Num 1, 1949

Summary: In a “different universal plane,” there is a planet called Lirht. There, during a disaster, the door to a lab is carelessly left open, and a hurkle kitten wanders in. Hurkles are pets on this world. They’re small and cheerful and purr by emitting radiation. They’re also curious by nature, so this particular adorable critter climbs into some kind of dimensional portal in the lab and ends up in our world.

Schoolteacher Mr. Stott is interrupted in his endeavor to be as unpleasant to his students as possible when he notices that they all seem to be scratching themselves furiously. He takes this as a sign of insolence, and intends to scold them, until he notices the hurkle sitting on his window sill. It’s like nothing he’s ever seen, but it has six legs so he gets DDT from the janitor, sends his students from the room, and sprays the poor hurkle.

Something about the chemistry of the DDT causes the hurkle to mature and give birth to a litter of two hundred baby hurkles, all of which were parthenongenetic females and so could reproduce on their own. And reproduce they did.

The story ends thus:

But the humans had the slidy itch, and the scratchy itch, and the prickly or tingly or titillative paraesthetic formication. And there wasn’t a thing they could do about it.

So they left.

Isn’t this a lovely place?

My impressions: This charmingly disturbing little story is, indeed, a work of science fiction. So much for The Magazine of Fantasy, huh? It’s also the shortest work I’ve read so far.

I’ll admit to being kind of biased about this story. It uses tropes and ideas that I already really like, so it was no surprise that I enjoyed reading it. First of all, I love the tone. It’s funny in a kind of quiet way, a way that doesn’t rely on jokes or outrageousness to make itself known. The humor is in the word choice and the framing, the way the narrative chooses its priorities. Think Lemony Snicket. Here’s an example of what I mean. This sentence introduces the inciting incident of the story:

Now, on Lirht, in its greatest city, there was trouble, the nature of which does not matter to us, and a gwik names Hvov, whom you may immediately forget, blew up a building which was important for reasons we cannot understand.

See what I mean? A person blowing up a building is hardly funny, but telling it to us and then saying we should forget about it is hilarious. This is what I try to do when I write comedy.

Plus, the punchline is the destruction of the entire human race, which is just the best.

I also have such a weakness for aliens who are a) really, really alien, and b) presented as cute. This is something that shows up in my own writing as well. My friends make fun of me for it. And the hurkles are really, really alien. They’re blue (well, the prettiest ones are blue), with a knobby head, eight eyes of graduated sizes, and six legs, two of which are “boneless” and the others of which are stiff. They’re also described as “kittens” and presented by the narrative voice as just adorable. Like the humor, this is conveyed through word choice, and it’s really well done. Even though they’re freaky and will give you radiation poisoning, I kind of want to cuddle one.

The only thing that came off as dated or annoying in the story is the teacher. His particular brand of self-absorbed tyranny seems like it belongs to sepia-toned period dramas about plucky boys escaping their one-roomed schoolhouses, not in a modern town. Maybe he’s true to someone’s experience of school, but even my shitty teachers were not shitty in this particular way. In any case, his attitude pulled at my suspension of disbelief more than any of the fantastical elements did.

Final Word: Does it hold up? Yes/No/Sorta

It’s really funny. I think it’s worth your time.


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