Tuesday, 24 May 2016

"Green Grew The Lasses" by Ruth Laura Wainwright

Hey guys! Did you realize that the Gutenberg Project has old science fiction? It does! (I don't know why this surprised me, but it did.) So, hey, why not read some of them and review them? Not to poke fun at the old science fiction, although there might be a little of that. No, I'm more interested in looking at what this old science fiction tells us about the worlds that were being imagined at the time. What did they think about science? Gender? Race? The eventual fate of the world?

From: Galaxy, July 1953

"Green Grew the Lasses" gave me remarkably few lines to add to my "hilarious things to retweet or review" file, which is impressive. In fact, it's not a bad little story. It's not mind-bogglingly good, either, but it's quite competent. There are a few minor issues, but on the whole, perhaps worth a read. It's one of only a few old SF stories that I've reviewed that were written by women, and the other that comes to mind was such a mess.

Unfortunately, I can't find out much about who Ruth Laura Wainwright was, and on online databases, this is the only story that shows up.

It's all about gender, which means it's right in my wheelhouse. It also has a take on a world without men that is entertaining because it is also such a rare perspective. In most variations I've seen on this idea (and oddly, the one novel I remember reading it I can't trace and no list of books with this theme seems to include it), the abolition of men has happened with living memory. The women left remember what men were (and virtually always, there's at least one man still around, getting to carry the load of masculinity for a world.)

In this story, the women in a small California town start to turn green, and then to get pregnant without intercourse. It doesn't take the reader long (although it takes the characters much longer) to figure out that the four green women who just moved there are not from around here. In the sense that they're from another planet, and the weed they've planted in this town is behind both the hue and the babies. Venus, apparently, has never had men. It has no concept of men.

So when the Venusian women are confronted by men, they're not hostile, scared, or even lustful. They're just baffled. What are these people and what possible use could they be? And that attitude never changes - they never decide that men are bad. They just don't see the point of them.

When the women of the small town make it clear that they don't want to come back to Venus to help repopulate the feminine utopia (without the need to work, apparently), the Venusian women leave. (See, each has only one daughter via the fainweed, and so I would guess that attrition through accident would slowly deplete their numbers).

That is one quibble I have, though. I'm fine with most women not wanting to go back to Venus, but really? Not one single woman in 1950s suburbia hears the story about a world without work, populated only by women, where they'll have one daughter and spend the rest of their lives doing pleasant things, and says "fuck yes, sign me up"? Really? Not one?

(One woman does go back with them, but that's because she's determined to show them the error of their shiftless, menless, baby-out-of-wedlock ways. Or maybe that's just why she says she's going. Actually, that character is a little inconsistent, veering between small-town petty moralist and New York gal who is too worldly for her California cousins.)

The characters are a little dense, needing to be hit over the head with an anvil before they figure out that these four women (one named Patty Pontiac or something like that, for goodness sake!) aren't from around here. In other words, they're none of them science fiction readers. I don't mind it taking some convincing, but there's taking a while to be convinced and then there's just being obtuse.

Still, there were few hilariously bad lines, and I enjoyed this take on a world without men running into them the first time and being totally uninterested in the concept.

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