Friday, March 18, 2011

The Refugee

Jane Rice (1913–2003)
From American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now

Over the course of a career lasting four decades, John W. Campbell was one of the leading forces behind the increasing popularity of science fiction. As editor of Astounding Science-Fiction (later Analog Science Fact & Fiction) from 1938 until his death in 1971, he is widely credited with launching the genre’s Golden Age. From 1939 to 1943, he also published Unknown (later Unknown Worlds), a magazine specializing in fantasy, but the magazine was forced to end its brief run after thirty-nine issues because of the lack of paper during the war.

Unknown’s legacy far exceeds its brief duration; The Encyclopedia of Fantasy says, “Along with Weird Tales, this was one of the most influential of all fantasy magazines, and in content superior to its rival.” The contributors included a number of science-fiction authors from Astounding willing to try their hand at horror-fantasy crossover—writers such as Robert Heinlein, A. E. van Vogt, Theodore Sturgeon, and Jack Williamson. One of Raymond Chandler’s last pulp stories (“The Bronze Door”) and Fritz Leiber’s debut (“Two Sought Adventure”) also appeared in its pages. The rigorous naturalism favored by Campbell, often using everyday settings and infusing the fiction with droll or dark humor, overturned the traditional boundaries of the genre.

Campbell was a pioneer in another way: he introduced to readers a number of women writers during an era when they were not very commonly found in the pulps. In 1942, according to Eric Leif Davin in Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction/, Ursula Kroeber was encouraged enough to send Campbell her first science-fiction story—which he rejected, “but no doubt this was only because Ursula K. Le Guin was just twelve years old at the time and the story needed a lot of work.” One author who did pass Campbell’s editorial muster was Jane Rice, whose career began at Unknown, which published several of her stories. This week’s selection, “The Refugee,” appeared in the very last issue of the magazine. A playful mix of comedy and the macabre, the story portrays an American woman stuck in France during the war, enduring the discomforts of rationing and the boredom of isolation, when an extraordinarily handsome—and entirely naked—young man appears in her garden.

Rice went on to write for other magazines in the 1950s and 1960s, sometimes as “Allison Rice” (a name used for her collaborations with Ruth Allison). Just before her death in 2003 at the age of ninety in Greensboro, North Carolina, she gathered her fiction, including her 1995 novelette “The Sixth Dog,” in The Idol of the Flies and Other Stories, a 500-copy limited-edition hardcover collection that she unfortunately did not live to see published. The book is now very hard to find.

Notes: Milli quotes from two poems during the story. “The curfew tolls the knell of the parting day” (p. 42) is the opening line of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” by Thomas Gray (1716–71). “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas” (p. 47) is from “The Highwayman,” by Alfred Noyes (1880–1958).

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The trouble with the war, Milli Cushman thought as she stared sulkily through streaming French windows into her rain-drenched garden, was that it was so frightfully boring. There weren’t any men, any more. Interesting ones, that is. Or parties. Or little pink cocktails. Or café royale. Or long-stemmed roses wrapped in crackly green wax paper. There wasn’t even a decent hairdresser left. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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