October 2022’s Young People Read Old Hugo Finalists offers a story unusual in several ways. Firstly, I was utterly unfamiliar with Susan C. Petrey’s Hugo finalist story “Spidersong1”. A glance at Petrey’s ISFDB entry offers a grim explanation: Susan Petrey died in her mid-thirties, 5 December 1980. Most of her work seems to have been published posthumously, largely in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, a magazine that for no good reason I did not read.
In addition to her Hugo nomination, in spite of having just three stories in print (1979’s “Spareen Among the Tartars”, 1980’s “Spidersong”, and 1980’s “Fleas”), Petrey was nominated for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer2. Petrey died before the results of the nomination were announced. In fact, Petrey was one of two authors present posthumously on the 1981 Astounding Award3; Robert Stallman died August 1, 1980. As far as I can tell, this is the only year any nominees, let alone two4, for the Astounding were nominated post-mortum.
“Spidersong” is unusual in a third, far more positive way: it is still in print, for web-based values of in print. Spidersong can be read in Issue 54 of Light Speed Magazine.
The Hugo and the Astounding nomination set very high expectations for “Spidersong.” I can assure you they met mine5. I am not the focus, however. The Young People are. Did “Spidersong” please them, or like so many SF works, did it fall short? Let’s find out!
In the wake of Petrey’s death, Portland’s Oregon Science Fiction Conventions, Inc. established the Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund. To quote:
This scholarship is a memorial to Susan, a friend of ours, and a member of the Portland Science Fiction Society. Since her death in 1980, we have raised money to annually send aspiring writers to the Clarion Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop. This was an event she had hoped to attend herself but was unable to do so because of financial reasons. At the present time, the fund annually awards scholarships to both the Clarion & Clarion West workshops and also supports an instructor at Clarion West as a Petrey Fellow.
The original seed money was raised for flowers at Sue’s funeral but the money could not be used for that purpose. Since then, money to fund the scholarship has been mainly raised by auctions at conventions and more recently by selling “eggs” for prizes at OryCon. Donations from conventions and individuals are also an important source of income for the fund. We are always looking for donations of items large and small to be used as egg prizes or to be auctioned, and money is never refused. Cash donations can be made through PayPal to the email address: email@example.com. If you have any items to donate, please contact us at:
Susan C Petrey Scholarship Fund
1203 SE Kibling
Troutdale OR 97060
We also produced a book, Gifts of Blood, which contains all of Sue’s stories. All proceeds from the sale of this book go to support the Fund. Copies are available from us at the address above.
The fund is administered by us, with the support of Portland fandom, and is legally a part of Oregon Science Fiction Conventions Inc., a tax-exempt organization.
Paul M. Wrigley
1: The results were:
- Grotto of the Dancing Deer by Clifford D. Simak
- Our Lady of the Sauropods by Robert Silverberg
- Spidersong by Susan C. Petrey
- Cold Hands by Jeff Duntemann
- Guardian by Jeff Duntemann
2: Then named for an editor whose name escapes me.
3: The results were:
- S. P. Somtow
- Robert L. Forward
- Susan C. Petrey
- Diane Duane
- Robert Stallman
- Kevin Christensen
4: Assuming Kevin Christensen, about whom I could find little information, did not make a third posthumous candidate.
5: More to come when I get my hands on her only collection, Gifts of Blood.
The words that come to me after reading this are “lovely” and “pleasant”, it is not doing anything ground-breaking or particularly new but it is well written and I was really engaged. I loved her lyrical prose and the dual stories of the two musicians.
I don’t have lots of in-depth things to say, I just enjoyed it.
“Spidersong” is a perfectly fine story. It’s totally inoffensive, and I have no reason to believe it could not have been published in 1960 instead of 1980. Completely the opposite of “Options,” a story which, for how much it’s aged, was genuinely daring. Do I want the more of-its-time story that’s innovative or the timeless story that’s ultimately less memorable? Not so easy a question for me, but then I often play devil’s advocate for stories that are considered “dated.” I can see why we didn’t review Simak’s “Grotto of the Dancing Deer” though, for one because we already covered similar territory with P. J. Plauger’s “Child of All Ages” (though the Simak is easily superior), and also because we do need to cover more young writers like Petrey and Vinge. What I’m saying is that you won’t regret reading “Spidersong,” but I can’t call it more than capably written.
This is adorable and I love it. I don’t have a lot of in-depth to say either, but I love the idea of the little fairy friend who is actually a spider, and Laurel being aware of what she is, and them becoming friends, in a way, even without much communication. Only think of how disappointed Laurel is going to be when she gets a new and probably much nicer lute and realizes that it doesn’t have a friend in it to duet with her!
I enjoyed reading this story, but I don’t have much to say about it either.