Young People Read Old SFF

The Deer Park

Maria Russell

Young People Read Old SFF

9 Jun, 2020

This is Maria Russell’s only known published story. To quote Rediscovery:

Maria Russell’s real name was Mary Russell Standard. Born in 1926 in Orange, Texas, she worked as a senior computer systems analyst in Connecticut for several decades, eventually being promoted to Vice President of Software Engineering.

She is obscure enough I could not find an image of her and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction doesn’t seem to have an illustration for the story (I don’t think they did illos), thus my use of Rediscovery’s cover. Still, her low profile does mean my Young Readers won’t have heard of her and won’t have expecations going in. What will they make of Deer Park”?

Deer Park” can be found in Rediscovery Vol 1: SF by Women 1958 – 1963, which is available here.

Kris: I found this a very beautifully written and interesting story. It seems to border on fantasy in the style and tropes involved even though it seems to be actually science fiction. It is one that makes me think and there is definitely an interesting ambiguity of motivations here.
There are some slightly disappointing elements, which likely come from it being a first science fiction story. In particular words without clear pronounciation, like Zzzt and qopot, and the it was all a dream moment.“
But overall a piece I rather enjoyed.

: After my dislike of the last story we read, this was a welcome improvement. A nice little take on the supposedly perfect world is oppressive in its predictable perfection” trope. I would have liked there to be more of this, though — it all seemed very brief. There were plenty of tantalising hints about the overall setting which made it seem like there was a more substantial tale to be told in this universe.

: I’m torn on how to feel about this one. From Claire Weaver’s introduction of the piece, we’re told it’s a beautifully haunting feminist tale of a self-assured woman cleverly needling at a man’s insecurities to achieve her goals.” And yet, we experience the story through the eyes of that insecure man. He’s a rather insufferable character, even if that’s understandable after centuries of isolation.The central statement of security as a disease rather than a blanket is powerful, and the heart of the story. But when that security is finally rejected, the man is met with an ambiguous fate that I interpreted as death.So for me, the story works more as message. We’re meant to sympathize with the woman who visits the deer park, not the Minister. Her most effective way to save herself is to manipulate the man into breaking down the system that only benefited himself.If this were written today, I’d love to see it from the woman’s point of view.