That Only a Mother
modern readers have heard of Judith Merril, it is almost certainly
due to either the Canadian
that bears her name
or to her impressive career as an editor. She was the first woman to
put out (alone) a Best SF of the Year annual anthology; she was the
only woman in the whole of the 20
century to do so . Her popular anthologies evinced a breadth of
taste few of her male competitors ever attained. Before she was an
editor, Merril was a fan turned professional writer, one of the
who shaped so much of 20th
century SF .
knew immediately which story to introduce to young fans:
Only a Mother,
1948 tale of a deliriously happy modern nuclear family. It has been
anthologized many times.
wanting to learn more about Judith Merril—writer, editor,
activist—should consider Judith Merril and Emily Pohl-Weary's
to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril.
Women (most particularly Katherine Cramer) have
Best SF Annuals. But between the end of Merril's series in 1970 and
the 2015 debut
of Paula's Guran's
Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas, not one woman
edited a Best SF annual on her own. There has been, of course, no
lack of annual Best SF series helmed by
in that time.
Indeed, a number of the young men who Merril took as lovers and as
husbands were not just easy on the eyes. Some of them even went to
have quite respectable writing careers of their own. Space precludes
naming any of them, but I am sure they were a credit to their sex.
Editor’s query: but did they look good in bathing suits?]
Uh, that got dark. I admit that I don't understand the impulse to
infanticide that is apparently epidemic in this world. Sure the child
is limbless, but she's not in any pain and is also extremely
intellectually precocious. The disability clearly isn't posing too
much of a problem for the mother, and on her own the child might be
clever enough to design her own prosthetics after a few years. I
guess Stephen Hawking wasn't big on the scene yet when this story was
written. (I looked it up, he was 6 when this was published.)
letters and telegrams back and forth was an interesting way to frame
the story. I liked it. I was really interested in the mistrust of
news sources and suspicion of government censorship, talking about
missile strikes being covered up and news of them not being released
for publication. Fascinating to know that that attitude to official
news sources goes back to at least the 40's.
is a good story to have read. It wasn't fun to read, more disturbing,
trying to figure out what the dark twist was going to be. Then the
ending came and the real twist was the murderous insanity of the
have a new goal when working on this project: I will not talk about
representation of women in my reviews. Unless i read something Really
Bad. Which I am sure is not going to happen in classic science
fiction, ha ha. I realize that making this goal just before reading
a story from "A new feminine science-fiction author" may
not make sense. But I want these reviews to chronicle my impressions
of whether the stories are good, not whether they're good and/or
include characters I'm able to relate to. So. no more
representation-talk starting........ now.
read lots of cozy mysteries. Is it fair to call this a cozy science
fiction? Instead of exploring new worlds and outward possibilities,
this story looks in.
was also a captivating story with three characters who were all
interesting to follow! It started and ended just at the right
time—leaving me wanting to know more, more, more. And also
wondering if happy science fiction exists. This story took me for a
ride. It referred to current events at the time of publication, but
the themes explored still apply today. The story was a great reminder
(to me, at least) to be kind.
going to give print outs of the story to my non-sci-fi reading
parents. I'm going to email the link to the story to my friends. I
may even post about this story on Facebook. Everyone should read this
need to read more stories like this one.
it aged well?
gendered norms and sexism everywhere.
questionable opening tagline: “A new
feminine science-fiction author gives a slightly different slant on
one of the old themes—and a brilliantly bitter little story
results.” Read: Don’t worry, this
author is still feminine even though she writes science fiction.
She’s also not that original, so don’t feel threatened, boys.
It’s only a tiny little story, so don’t get up in arms about her
stealing work from the men.
the one hand, she stops herself questioning the news because it’s
not her place to do that. On the other hand, ignoring information
from outside sources presumably contributes to the ending. Also,
“Read the social notes or the recipes, Maggie girl” is one of her
would have stopped reading if I was reading for fun. Little did I
know that the ending would not be a great payoff. It continued with
her being “a little hysterical,” throwing “a small fit” and
not understanding medical terminology.
then at the end:
can she not understand human anatomy and/or be in that much denial?
this is the opposite of a payoff. This is like giving money to
someone for safekeeping, and they put it in their pet’s litterbox.
the aging of this story was a little confusing to place at first. Fax
machines, rolovators, visiplates? Conclusion: set in an alternate
version of 1953. Maybe the story is telling me that technology is
bad. Nah. *plays Pokémon Go for hours*
reminds me of…
heard that The Fly has a scene involving a woman giving birth to a
maggot. I have never watched The Fly. I wish I hadn’t read this
story for similar icky reasons.
also reminded me of The Chrysalids.
author did a good job with description: 8 pages of efficient and
vivid storytelling. I liked reading only her side of the stories
out of 10
I was someone who liked being creeped/grossed out, this would be
But since I’m me, this story only gets points
for good writing. Really not for me. 3/10.
can see why this story makes sense since it was written shortly after
WWII, when people didn’t know the long term effects of dropping
nuclear weapons on people. The assumption that there would be
widespread mutation feels very dated, in a modern day story I would
expect the main worry to be cancer.
makes me uncomfortable how physical disability is treated in this
story. Based on the information we’re getting from Margaret’s
letters, the society she lives in considers it justifiable for a
parent to murder their disabled baby, since juries won’t convict
parents who do so. It doesn’t seem to bother Margaret that this
happens, only that her baby is “normal” and therefore not at
for Margaret herself, I’m really unsure how to react to her. I’m
glad to see characters with mental illnesses represented in stories,
but on the first read through it felt to me like it was used to make
Henrietta’s disability a shock reveal at the end. On the second
reading, I could see how clues were planted along the way, but I was
so distracted by Henrietta’s (completely impossible) ability to
speak and reason at such young age, to the point where I was
expecting the reveal to be related to that in some way.
title choice feels wrong for multiple reasons. For one thing, the
idea that only a mother could love a disabled person is horrible. For
another, Margaret is avoiding grasping the reality of her child’s
disability, rather than loving her child for who she is.
for the rest of the story, the setting of the story felt very
undefined. There’s some kind of war going on, but we don’t know
who is fighting who, where it is happening, or why. It’s clearly
set far enough after WWII that they’re dealing with the impact on
the next generation from radiation, but it’s unclear if we’re a
few years later or if it’s been a longer period of time. We also
have clear evidence that our narrator is unreliable, so it’s hard
to say how much of the information we are given can be trusted. I’m
inclined to believe that most of the few details we get are accurate,
but I can’t trust them completely.
was an interesting story, in that it gave a perspective into some of
the fears of the time; however, it feels quite dated and there are
many aspects that have not aged well.