Homecalling And Other Stories: The Complete Solo Short Stories Of Judith Merril (book review).

May 20, 2022 | By | Reply More

Purely by accident hunting for Merril books, I came across ‘Homecalling And Other Stories: The Complete Solo Short Stories of Judith Merril’ and only when I started reading, as per usual, checked if its publishers were still going. The collection has been out since 2005 and according to the NESFA website is still on their sales list, as indeed many other SF authors, so check their website at the end link.

For now, though, it’s a look at all of Judith Merrill’s 25 short stories and novellas. They are not in the order of release, starting off in 1948 and ending around 1979. Her grand-daughter, Emily Pohl-Weary, points out that her grand-mother saw SF as a means to an ends than merely just a storyteller. However, when you read the first story, ‘That Only A Mother’ (1948), where the title character doesn’t see the results of radiation on her newly born daughter, there is an interesting nerve touched. Bearing in mind this short story was released in 1948 and the effects of nuclear radiation was only coming to light in the west, Merril strikes an interesting nerve. It’s also probably the best story of the lot.

I’m going to pick out only a selection of the short stories to give detail to. There has to be some objectivity to the time period Merril’s stories were written. It does become apparent from ‘Survival Ship’ (1951) that she takes, without going too spoiler, a feminist point of view which had to be surprising at the time.

The first novella in the book, ‘Daughters Of Earth’ (1952), is more an accumulation of a bloodline of women in space and the latest colonising a distant planet. Although its downplayed, Merril uses freezing hibernation and crew rotation to get there and cannibalising the starship for parts when they arrive. The concentration is on the people though and the nature of survival. The end could have been stronger but that’s a common problem.

Here’s something that will make you think. The end of the opening paragraph of ‘Whoever You Are’ sounded like the lyric of the Police song ‘I’ll Be Watching You’ and looked at the date, 1952, should make you wonder if it was sourced.

‘Rain Check’ (1954) builds up a picture of the Earth at war and a warden system to keep people secure. Seems we’re at war with shape-shifting Martians and then a woman comes to town. Any more risks spoiler but it gives a strong imagery of middle America from Merril’s time period in a satisfying way.

That’s not to say I’m full of praise for all of Merril’s stories. The novella ‘Project Nursemaid’ (1955) has a promising start about women being hired for a form of surrogacy, although not quite sure of what and no wiser at the end. There definitely was a good idea in the planning but got lost somewhere in the writing.

‘Exile In Space’ (1956) continues the theme of an alien on Earth, again a female, adapting to American culture where she has a distain for the smell of meat cooked in any form and getting a driving licence. Meeting a test pilot has its own repercussions. I think Merril loses it towards the end but might just be a need to end the story to keep it novella length.

The title story ‘Homecoming’ (1965) is a novella where Deborah ‘Dee’ Levin is nanny to baby Petey is marooned when her rocket crash-lands on an alien planet and encounters the giant sentient bugs who take them in and their mother, Daydanda, developing a common ground between them. There is also a divided chapter where the two lead characters are given split columns for their thoughts and actions. I’m not too sure about the ending but it does illustrate how Merril’s strength was in character writing.

‘The Lady Is A Tramp’ (1956) is about a new member of a space crew getting used to their relaxed attitudes. Again, the ending is somewhat weak but Merril was deft with characters that were anything but strait-laced.

‘The Lonely’ (1963) gives an interesting alien analysis of the human body pointing out what is duplicated and what isn’t and thinking it odd.

Objectively, part of my mind has to focus on why Merril stopped writing stories. Her strengths are in character writing and observation. There is a weakness in story endings but that is a common problem for many authors of the time period needing to stay within a word count and I know, these days, I will spend time on the endings to see if I can do an unexpected twist. A lot of Merril’s stories offer something of interest.

Please bear in mind when you read this book that there were few lady SF authors back in the 1950s. CL Moore hid behind her initials and Alice Sheldon behind the male pseudonym James Tiptree Jr. Judith Merril stood by her name and got in print making her remarkable for the time period where male writers dominated.

Oh, a word for the cover by James Warhola. I’ve seen it before in one of my artbooks and investigating, no publisher has released a book of his work although a trading card collection has been done and worth getting if you want to see other samples of his work.

GF Willmetts

May 2022

(pub: NESFA Press, 2005. 558 page hardback. Price: somewhere around the £20.00 (UK mark. ISBN: 1-8867789-54-X)

check out website: www.nesfa.org

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Category: Books, Scifi


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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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