Wednesday, December 4, 2019

FREE SF short story from 1958! Only it's GOOD!


WISH UPON A STAR
JUDITH MERRIL

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Free on the Internet Archive

Rating: 3.5* of five

SF blogger Joachim Boaz (link is to his review) decided to do a project where he will review a sampling of the Golden-into-Silver Age short fictions about generation ships. The first review, and story, I read was Spacebred Generations by Clifford D. Simak. That read was a success, so why not follow along?

I got ahead instead.

In this December 1958 tale of a generation ship much more under its crew's control that Simak's, and on a much shorter voyage as well...there are people on Merril's ship who were born on Earth!...we're re-introduced to the hell that is adolescence and the agonies of first love.

We're also seeing the ship's life much more intimately than we did in Simak's story. For one thing, Sheik (Toshiko, our PoV character) is a boy in a world run by women. All the officers are women. The men, like Sheik's maybe-dad Bob, are laborers and technologists. Sheik's mentor as well as other maybe-dad is a plant specialist, Abdur or Ab, the one responsible for maintaining the biodiversity of the ship's air supply. Eventually, of course, when the ship lands Ab will be the one who teaches the whole community to grow plants for their food. And Sheik is his shadow, his willing and joyful amanuensis, already teaching the next generation about the miracle of plant life.

So we join the fun when Sheik's wretched over Naomi's mean and cutting comments to him, ruminating over how unfair it is that she'll always be in charge over him and she's just mean! Also why won't Sarah, like him the oldest in her generation, Notice Him? So far, so standard...but times are a-changin' and Sheik isn't about to let a little thing like being forbidden to listen in on adult stuff stop him.

Kids are kids. Don't care who's in charge, daddy or mama, a kid's gonna rebel. This time, what he hears is something so HUGE he almost can't believe it! And add to that Sarah's sudden, um, Noticing Him, and you have Sheik's birthday and Christmas come at once. (Heh.) Add on top of all that the men's secret council regarding the Big News, a discovery about what men and women really do together, and a sleepless night will pass for Sheik. Probably Sarah, too.

I gave this story three and a half stars because it's not the revelation that it would've been sixty-one years ago to have women in charge. There's a decent chance that'll happen in the USA in 2020, or so I hope. It's also a very small story, a slice of adolescent life; that's not all that interesting to me personally. It's fine as a story, it has good things to say about equality and the arbitrary nature of society and the fairness doctrine is far fleshier for its 1958 readers than it would've begun by being.

Just...slight. Homey. Not meant to be more, and published in December so it was probably meant as a holiday tale, one of the lighter fare that most entertainment venues specialize in presenting as North Americans head into the Winter Holidays with their feasts and decorations and gift-wrapping-fests. It's not badly written. It's just not my personal taste. Heck, the read is free, try it out.

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