Friday, January 20, 2017

Short Fiction Month: Prott - Margaret St. Clair

Margaret St. Clair is one of the few women who managed to publish stories under her own name. Most of her work appeared in the 1940s and 1950s in various magazines. Later in her career she also produced a number of novels, four of which were published in Ace Doubles. St. Clair passed away in 1995 and her work is not receiving much attention at the moment. Based on this one story, that might be a shame. I have rarely read a 1950s science fiction story that has aged as gracefully.

The Prott are rumoured to inhabit deep space. No truly scientific documentation exists on them but there is a wealth of sightings. Enough to convince a researcher to take a space ship out where they are most likely to show up, and have a go at making properly documented observations. When he makes contact with them however, things don't quite go as expected. Soon, the scientist starts to slide from fascination to obsession.

This story was originally published in 1953 and generally science fiction written sixty years ago is laughably dated. The technology described in this story is as well. The digital age never arrived in St. Clair's future and it would have been nearly impossible to foresee in an age where computers were in the pioneering stage. Technology is not the focus of the story however. The main character and his interactions with the aliens are. His relationship with them and his personal feelings gradually change as the story progresses. It starts out with the optimism of 1950s science fiction but soon derails.

The character in the story does not follow the pattern of the classic, lone astronaut faced with a challenge in space. Competence and ingenuity do not save the day at the end of the day. The main character slides deeper into obsession until he digs himself a hole he can't get out of. Alone, cut off from help, in the deeps of space, is not a good place to be when you bit off more than you can chew. I liked this story a lot. I think St. Clair might have been more popular if she had been writing today.

Story Details
Title: Prott
Author: Margaret St. Clair
Language: English
Originally published: Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1953
Read in: The Big Book of Science Fiction , edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (2016)
Story length: Short Story
Awards: None
Available online: Not that I am aware of

No comments:

Post a Comment