In Martha Bartter’s article “Nuclear Holocaust as Urban Renewal” (1986), she explores the deep ambivalence within tales of future atomic war. Authors, and their characters, yearn to “build, a new infinitely better world out of the old” (148), and what better way than to destroy all that was. Narratives often betray a sinister destructive urge. She argues that “atomic war has traditionally been presented both as obvious disaster and as secret salvation” (148). I planned on featuring this thought-provoking article in my Exploration Log series but never got around to writing it. Alas! Maybe a comment or two from my readers will inspire me to finally do so.
With Bartter’s argument in mind, I’ve paired two divergent post-nuclear stories. Margaret St. Clair affirms, despite devastation and violence, the possibility of a revitalized future that avoids the pitfalls of the past. Richard Matheson sidesteps the issue entirely and instead explores how survival, even if fleeting, depends on an interior retreat into a world of pulp science fiction (and thus posits a meta-analysis of genre).
Margaret St. Clair’s “Quis Custodiet…?” first appeared in Startling Stories, ed. Sam Merwin, Jr. (July 1948). You can read it online here.
Margaret St. Clair (1911-1995) was a mainstay of the major pulp magazines and maintained a prolific career from 1946 to the late 60s (between the 70s and early 80s she produced only one novel and a handful of stories).”Quis Custodiet…?” explores a conflict three hundred odd years after the “big atom bombs fell” (114) between “homo mutatus,” or the “Blown-up” humans who experience the effects of radiation mutation and the “Formers,” those spared the mutations (110).
(“Survival Ship” appeared in the May 1955 issue of New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell, cover: Gerard Quinn)
Reviews of “Survival Ship” (1951) by Judith Merril, “Short in the Chest” (1954) by Margaret St. Clair, and “The Wait” (1958) by Kit Reed
Not being much of a short fiction reader, these were all new-to-me stories that I thought I might appreciate. A selection of fifties SF, all of which are dark and strange and rebellious, and examine the social and political pressures that are often Continue reading →
(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1963 edition of A Handful of Time (1963), Rosel George Brown)
The time has come for a new Guest Post series on SF Short Stories by Women Writers pre-1969. My reasons are two-fold: 1) to showcase a deserving and fascinating topic in line with my goal to feature lesser known SF from a range of viewpoints and traditions 2) to feature posts from reviewers in the vintage SF blogsphere and beyond (in any combination of the following) that attempt to move past standard lists and grand narratives of canon, tackle fiction from evidence-based analytical and academic perspectives, or are simply darn good writers whose sites I cannot help but return to compulsively.
Why pre-1969? Although most endpoints are arbitrary in nature, 1969 saw the publication of Ursula Le Guin’s magisterial The Left Hand of Darkness. Considered a watershed moment in the history of women writers as it was the first to win a Hugo Award for best novel, Le Guin among many others were part of a rich (albeit oft suppressed and ignored) genealogy of women SF authors reaching back to Mary Shelly. My focus on short stories will allow exploration of many authors who did not write novels, whose novels overshadow their short fiction, and those whose rich body of early work focused predominately on the short form.
Thus I have rounded up my normal suspects along with new voices. The first guest post series covered the work of Michael Bishop and the second Kate Wilhelm.
Topics in the queue: Robot therapists, French and Soviet SF, a range of speculative fictions from the 19th Continue reading →
Margaret St. Clair (1911-1995) was a mainstay of the major pulp magazines and maintained a prolific career from 1946 to the late 60s (between the 70s and early 80s she produced only one novel and a handful of stories). Previously, I found myself disenchanted with her work as I struggled through the Wicca-inspired ramblings of Sign of the Labrys (1963). However, I thought I would give her short fiction a try and snagged a copy of the 1964 Ace Double #M-105 that contained her collection Three Worlds of Futurity (1964) and her best known novel Message from the Eocene (1964) (which I might read sometime in the future).
Three Worlds of Futurity contains five stories from her most prolific period—the late 40s-early 60s. Although the majority do not rise above their fellow pulp ilk, “The Rages” (variant title “The Rations of Tantalus” 1954, revised 1964) shows a measured and incisive feminist inspired vision and the unusual subject matter of “Roberta” (1962) suggests St. Clair’s willingness to tackle controversial subjects. Most of the stories contain evocative imagery although the delivery rarely transfixes. Also, although most of the main characters in St. Clair’s stories are men, women scientists and pilots (etc) populate the pages. I suspect Continue reading →
Here are the rest of the books my fiancé purchased for me while on her vacation from my “to acquire” master list. I’m having a lot of fun reading White’s All Judgement Fled (1969) so I can’t wait to read The Dream Millennium (1973)—and, who can resist overpopulation themed SF? More Sheckley stories…. always good. A St. Clair novel and short story collection + more Zelazny.
Have you read any of them? Thoughts?
1. The Dream Millennium, James White (1973)
(John Berkley’s cover for the 1974 edition)
From the back cover: “Earth was a polluted, dying planet. Violence was rampant and civilization was doomed. If Man was to survive, John Devlin had to find him a new home somewhere in the galaxy. He had 1,000 years to look—and 1,000 Continue reading →
New books! At one point in time I had a copy of Frank Herbert’s great Destination: Void (1966). However, it wasn’t the original 1966 version but a rewrite from the late 70s. Generally I prefer reading the first published versions (unless they were serialized in magazines) so I was desperate to get my hands on a copy.
More Sladek! The Müller-Fokker Effect (1970) is his best known novel. SF aficionados of the 60s/70soften describe Saldek as one of the unsung comedic/satirical greats. I’ve read his first novel a while back, The Reproductive System (variant title: Mechasm) (1968) and had a lukewarm reaction. I will definitely pick up The Müller-Fokker Effect before the year is out.
Margaret St. Clair’s Sign of the Labrys (1963) has proved to be one of the worst books I’ve read this year. But, I will give her short stories, the the collection Change the Sky and Other Stories (1974). another chance.
Margaret St. Clair was one of a handful of prolific women SF authors who started publishing short fiction in the late 40s—her first SF story was “Rocket to Limbo” for the November 1946 issue of Fantastic Adventures. From the late 50s to the early 70s she published eight slim novels, mostly Ace Doubles (paired with authors such as Philip K. Dick and Kenneth Blulmer). Regardless of her earlier publishing prowess—by the publication date of Sign of the Labrys (1963) she had four novels in print and somewhere around 125 short stories—Bantam Books felt the need to include the following back cover:
“WOMEN ARE WRITING SCIENCE-FICTION!
ORIGINAL! BRILLIANT!! DAZZLING!!!
Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They possess a buried memory of humankind’s obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel. Such a woman is Margaret St. Clair, author of this novel. Such a novel is this, SIGN OF THE LABRYS, the story of a doomed world of the future, saved by recourse to ageless, immemorial rites…
FRESH! IMAGINATIVE!! INVENTIVE!!!”
Unfortunately, Sign of the Labrys is a disappointing read. The post-plague world is dark and creepy and for the first half an uncanny (palpable) tension permeates. But, ultimately the fantastic setting, revisionist stance on the normal pulp gender dynamics, are weakened by a disjointed (verging on amateur) narrative filled with Wiccan “craft” practices and references. As other reviewers have pointed out, one could easily substitute the Wicca magic with the pulp SF staple “psi-power” and I agree Continue reading →
First, a painful example of early 60s marketing for a SF novel written by a women: “WOMEN ARE WRITING SCIENCE-FICTION! ORIGINAL! BRILLIANT!! DAZZLING!!! Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They posses a buried memory of humankind’s obscure and ancient past which can emerge to unique color and flavor a novel.”
I wish I possessed a buried memory of humankind’s obscure and ancient past…
A wonderful batch. My first Avram Davidson collection although the blurb and cover are utterly unappealing. More Ballard, my first Margaret St. Clair novel, more Ellison…