Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Puritan Planet, Part III

In the biography C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary, I discuss the elements in Kornbluth's stories "The Little Black Bag" and "The Silly Season" that allow them to be read as critiques of his chosen form, which was science fiction. Similarly, elements appear in Carol Emshwiller's "Puritan Planet" that allow it to be read as a critique of science-fiction, as a pulp genre.

A story that is emblematic of the masculine viewpoint in pulp science fiction is the famous Tom Godwin story "The Cold Equations," in which the feminine principle, the anima, the "girl," of the story is jettisoned to die in the vacuum of outer space, putatively because the action is necessary in order to save lives. The definite murder is justified by the indefinite possibility of preserving numbers of others.

Kornbluth's being a fiction of the divided individual, it interests me that this emblematic "hard science fiction" story is also symbolically a piece of fiction of the divided individual, with the anima separated and then rooted out from the masculine soul. (Interesting, too: Rick Bowes' story mentioned here recently, "Pining To Be Human," has a conflicted main character who "sees" his anima in an external manifestation. The word "anima" even appears from the lips of a character who is a woman of insight.)

In "Puritan Planet," the anima plays a redemptive role. The "she," who is called "girl" by Morgan, is a cat who simply by existing resolves the conflict of the story. The cat is named Cat -- which as Cat or Kat can be a shortened form of a woman's name. Cat's presence in the crash-landed ship calls into action Brotherhood's social organization named Animal Welfare. Cat is "a poor dumb animal" -- the defenseless, voiceless anima -- who nevertheless speaks and defends, in resolving the story's crisis; and she does so in a way outside the ability of the male aspect, as represented by Morgan. The soul's coherence, in other words, brings the story to closure. This stands in contrast to the sacrifice of coherence that brings "The Cold Equations" to closure.

It might be too much to call Carol's story brilliant -- the alert reader, for instance, knows from the beginning that Cat will prove a pivotal figure. Yet it rolls out some verbal felicities ("It was still and black and beautiful, and he wanted to stay in the soft, warm, dark forever ... "); and it offers ample reward when regarded from the historical perspective. It also suggests to me that Carol's works are of a piece -- that there is coherence to be found there, scattered across the course of decades.

Cheers ...

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