Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

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

Monday, June 14, 2010

Puritan Planet

Reading Carol Emshwiller's "Puritan Planet" has generated several thoughts. One is that Carol's distinctive contribution to the science fiction pulp genre reflects a mindset that echoes well with the current concerns of Wiscon attendees.

The central character of "Puritan Planet" is "a big, square man" whose name is Morgan. However big and square he may be, from the opening paragraph he is displaying elements in his character somewhat at odds with that big squareness. He is deeply and unquestioningly concerned for the welfare of others who cannot care for themselves, to the extent of placing himself at some risk when acting protectively; and in his manner he is freely expressive of his feelings.

In Carol's more recent fiction -- here I am speaking from general memory, not of a particular work --- a sort of character appears who may be described as male but who displays openness, curiosity, sympathetic feelings, and some amount of capricious logic -- none of which are necessarily feminine aspects but which resonate nicely with my understanding and experience of what it is that, at times, makes female personalities valuably different from male personalities.

This stands in contrast to some overtly feminist fiction, in which the female characters are strong, decisive, experience-hardened, and not at all capricious or outwardly emotive. They are emulations of an old masculine model -- one that saw heavy deployment in the pulps, including the science fiction pulps. (In speaking of "some overtly feminist fiction," I am again speaking from general memory, from my reading experiences of perhaps a decade ago -- so these impressions may, of course, be less than perfect.)

What Carol seems to have done from early in her career was to conform to the pulp model of the masculine hero (Morgan is big and square and, importantly to this story's proceedings, one who curses freely) while at the same time housing within this masculine outwardness a richness of character that seems in many ways to be female in its expression.

Her approach might be regarded as subversive, because of this. She was subverting the pulp hero to serve her own non-traditional artistic ends.

Yet this approach may have been a natural expression of Carol's personality, and not a conscious practice intended as subversive. The approach reflected her instinctive way of adapting to the given marketplace situation.

Cheers ...

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