I thought Mari Wolf’s “The Statue” (1953), a rumination on mortality, might find a home in my series on SF stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them. However, due to its overall positivism–despite the blue-collar grit and focus on death–it didn’t fit. I would like to thank “Friend of the Site” Mark Louis Baumgart (see comments) for pointing me towards a new author!
Mari Wolf (1927-), best known for her contributions to fandom including the Fandora’s Box column (1951-1956) in Imagination, published seven short stories between 1952 and 1954, six of which appeared in If. Unfortunately, after her divorce in 1955 from fellow SF author Rog Phillips (1909-1966), she stopped publishing SF. Here is a brief bibliographic blurb on her life, career, and SF endeavors. Ted White wrote an article about her in the fanzine e*I*5 (Vol. 1 No. 5) December 2002 (here). The issue also includes Wolf’s short story “Prejudice” (1953), which only received a fanzine publication.
“The Statue” (1953), 4.5/5 (Very Good), first appeared in the January 1953 issue of If, ed. James L. Quinn. You can read the story here (pdf). The story itself is devilishly simple and deeply affective. Martha and Lewis Farewell, the last survivors of the first Mars colonization mission 65 years earlier, desire to return to Earth before they die. But the elderly cannot make the three-month trip due to medical risks without a special dispensation. On a Mars redolent with Ray Bradbury-esque frontier feel, Martha and Lewis ponder their pasts, their shared love, their accomplishments, their last desires, and the pull of home, wherever that might be.
The Way Narratives Catch Hold…
“The Statue” explores the forces of self-reflection as mortality approaches. Here, narratives catch hold and uplift. Unlike Walter M. Miller’s “Death of an Astronaut” (1954), the narratives, and all the accompanying memories, held dear by Martha and Lewis do not complicate their achievement but rather accentuate it. While the general population of Mars might have forgotten that the couple still lives and farms outside the main settlement, both would relive their experiences again: “We’d go through all the hardships of those first fear years, and enjoy them just as much” (88).
….and Center You in This Turbulent World
Wolf evokes the stories of working-class immigrants, who risk everything to build their lives in a foreign place. Martha and Lewis still feel the pull of Earth. They still tell time according to Earth years. They sense the alienness of their dry and alkaline new planet, unlike the countless descendants born and raised in the land of red dust. There’s a generational sadness that permeates the pages. Without children of their own, they live among the descendants of their original colonist friends—and observe the changing attitudes, the past slipping away…
But there is no generational strife. In the end the community comes together and celebrates their stories, their struggle, and their role in creating a new home for those who come after.
It’s beautiful. It’s sad. It’s affirming. Recommended.
Anthologies “The Statue” appeared in
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