Young People Read Old SFF

To Lift a Ship

Kit Reed

Young People Read Old SFF

16 Jul, 2020

Dry witted and lethally incisive, Kit Reed (19322017), was prolific in a variety of genres: speculative fiction, literary fiction, and (as Kit Craig) psychological thrillers. Selecting a particular work out of all the short SFF Reed published over her long career must have been challenging. Nevertheless, editor Marcus assures us 

To Lift a Ship” is my favorite story from this era, and I think you’ll like it, too.

Did my Young People, in fact, enjoy it?

To Lift a Ship” may be found in Rediscovery: Science Fiction by Women (19581963),

which is available here.


I liked this one. I had been a fan of Kit Reed’s later work but hadn’t checked out her earlier stuff before. This has a really good atmosphere and shows a maturity of character development you rarely see in stories from this period. Very interesting.


I’m honestly not sure what to think about this one. I’ve sat with it for half a week and I still don’t have an answer. It’s enjoyable for sure, but…I don’t know.

I think it’s a story that could use a bit more ending. Was the guy’s decision really terrible, like that other guy said, or will this all suddenly work out for him? Either way, I’m pretty sure this duo is done, and that feels like the greatest tragedy of all.


I’m also left wondering about the ending. I can’t see that things can end up working out for Ike — he’s burned his bridges with Zorn and Mary Lee, and yet failed to impress his potential investors — but I’m more interested in what will happen to Mary Lee. Will she be able to fly with a different partner? Can she fly solo? Early on in the story it seems as though she needs her partnership with Ike to fly, but at the end she flies back to Zorn presumably on her own — are we meant to read this as her developing her abilities, or is this something that she manages just once in a moment of heightened emotion? When the craft fails to fly with the investor on board, is that because Mary Lee’s abilities are needed and she is not committed to the flight, or due to the conflict between her and Ike, or due to some sort of interference caused by the investor’s presence?

For a story which — according to the introduction — the author considered hard science fiction”, the rules behind the core concept are frustratingly vague and difficult to deduce, and the mechanism is totally unexplored, leaving these questions unanswered.


Oh, wow. I was intrigued that Gideon introduced this story himself and called it his favorite of the anthology. It set my expectations high (and also surprised me, since I’d have expected his favorite story to go at the start or end of the anthology).

Two main things stood out to me. First, the writing style. It’s lean and spends time inside the main character’s head in a way that I don’t see in a lot of older science fiction. And secondly, this feels like the most feminist story we’ve read so far. The entire story, we’re shown how Ike’s ambition and greed drive him to try to profit off the ship. All he wants his to make a name for himself and to get rich. Meanwhile, all Mary Lee wants is Ike.

We see Ike belittle her with the pet name baby” without showing any affection. When she reaches out to him, he says he’s on a date. Whether that means a romantic date or he’s speaking with the potential investors we see later, the point remains the same: Ike wants to lift himself up, and doesn’t care about Mary Lee.

We’re led to believe that it takes two psychics to lift the spaceship. Ike and Mary Lee have practiced for some time and spend a good portion of the story actually flying the ship together. But at the key moment when Mary Lee bares her soul to Ike, he simply uses the opportunity to land the ship for his potential investors. Both Ike and the investors ignore Mary Lee. Why should they care about her?

And then she flies the ship home by herself.

I suppose this ending is open to interpretation, but I understood it as Mary Lee being the sole pilot all along. From the name of the story itself… What does it take to lift a ship? Mary Lee.

Nobody paid attention to her, least of all Ike. And yet Ike couldn’t fly the ship, and Mary Lee could. This was such a great ending and reframed everything that came before. It wasn’t a random plot twist at the last moment; the emotional groundwork had been laid throughout the entire story.

This was my first time reading anything by Kit Reed, but I’ll definitely be picking up more of her work now.