The following review is the 13th installment of my series searching for “SF short stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them.” Some stories I’ll review in this series might not fit. And that is okay. I relish the act of literary archaeology.
As always, feel free to join the conversation.
Today: Anthony Boucher’s “Star Bride” (1951) in the December 1951 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Samuel Mines. You can read it online here.
“Star Bride” (1951) first appeared in the December 1951 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Samuel Mines. You can read it online here.
Anthony Boucher’s short “Star Bride” is a tepid condemnation of colonialism written in the immediate post-WWII stages of decolonization (the Philippines gained its independence from the United States in 1946 and India from the British Empire in 1947). While a deeply problematic and forgettable story, a handful of Boucher’s themes and observations are worth teasing out due to later SF formulations I’ll be exploring in this series.
A female narrator (N) recounts the experiences of her astronaut (A) partner and the death of his first love. Before their own romance, he fell in love with a “native girl from a conquered planet” (93). Under treatment for depression back on Earth, he recounts First Contact with the Vinians, humanoids with white and green skin. He marries a native woman and bears a child. Recalled home, he promises to return. “Space fever” forces him to renege his promise. Her words, “If you don’t [return], I’ll die” (94), come true. The narrator promises to find his son as he’s no longer able to return to the stars.
The First Sinister Thread: When Exploration Became Conquest
In Boucher’s formulation, like European settlers in the New World, first contact will inevitably move to conquest. N remembers her school days before “Conquest and the Empire,” back when we used to talk about a rocket to a moon and never dreamed how fast it would all happen after that rocket” (93). Boucher’s ploys general terms—“Conquest and the Empire” (93)—for their archetypal sense. Humanity, as it has in Earth’s history, will slip into similar patterns. And with Conquest comes exploitation. In A’s reminisces about his lost love, he hints at their oppression at the hands of his Empire–“But Damn it, they’re people” (93)–despite their “higher level of pre-Conquest civilization than we’ll admit” (94). A attempts to talk to the “Federation Council” about “a humane colonial policy” (93). In another instance, he hints at the lack of care Colonial Administrators have about natives (94).
The Second Sinister Thread: We Can’t Hide from Space Passions
Boucher, like innumerable later authors, address the sexual nature of exploration/conquest/and colonialism. Boucher presents spacers like A as easily swayed by their passions. Regulations prevent mixed male and female crews (93). The spacers like A upon arrival on the alien planet immediately pair off with natives who look the “closest to somebody back home” and go through native marriage rites (93). A appears to be in the minority as Boucher wants us to believe that he legitimately loves his partner and cares about the treatment of her people. But Boucher does not factor in the implicit power relationship–conqueror and conquered–that dictates A’s own actions.
I have explored elements of this theme previously on my site with Norman Spinrad’s “A Child of Mind” (1965), Philip José Farmer’s “My Sister’s Brother” (variant title: “Open to Me, My Sister”) (1960), and Craig Strete’s “When They Find You” (1977). I reread the Spinrad recently so I might include it in the series although it doesn’t exactly fit.
Boucher wants to make the aliens as similar to humans as possible as an analog to historical conquest/contemporary racism. It is a half-hearted critique couched in the language of lost love and the end of dreams. For a more searing condemnation of colonial masculinity, check out Craig Strete and Philip José Farmer’s stories mentioned above.
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