Sunday, January 8, 2023

A Scarab in the City of Time

Marta Randall (b. 1948)
From The Future Is Female! More Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women

Cover of New Dimensions 13, scheduled for publication in 1982 but cancelled at the last minute by the publisher. Illustration by American artist Carl Lundgren (b. 1947).

“I wasn’t going to be the one stuck at home baking cookies,” Marta Randall tells readers on her website. “I was going to be the one balancing on the raft in the lashing seas, gripping the mast with one hand while the other held on to the cookies somebody else had baked.”

Fifty years ago, in 1973, Randall published her first story in New Worlds Quarterly 5, a paperback series edited during the 1970s by British science fiction writer Michael Moorcock. (Despite its name, the “quarterly” came out only once or twice a year.) That summer, she attended a science fiction convention in San Francisco and met Robert Silverberg, whose novel A Time of Changes had recently won the Nebula Award. The two authors had a friendly argument about short stories; as Silverberg remembered it, she “preferred the sort of stories with an identifiable beginning, middle, and end,” and he responded that he did as well—but he didn’t “necessarily require that they happen in that order.” He wrote, “As is usual in such debates, neither of us held as extreme a position as it might have seemed to the other.” Six months later, Randall shared with him, “with some trepidation,” her second piece of fiction; “I read it on the spot and rather to her surprise accepted it then and there.” The story, “A Scarab in the City of Time,” was published the following year in the fifth issue of New Dimensions, an annual publication that Silverberg edited between 1971 and 1981.

“Trepidation is no longer a Marta Randall characteristic,” Silverberg later noted. Neither author could have guessed that at the end of the decade Randall would coedit two volumes of New Dimensions with Silverberg, who informed readers that both collections were “largely the work of Marta Randall.” Nor, for that matter, would they have predicted that New Dimensions 11 and 12 would be the last two issues of the series. A thirteenth volume, edited solely by Randall with Silverberg’s support (and including his latest story), was prepared for press and scheduled for publication in the summer of 1982, but the publisher, claiming that SF anthologies no longer sold, cancelled it after advance copies had been sent to reviewers. It would have been a landmark volume: all seventeen stories from the collection were published elsewhere, and five of them were selected to appear in The Year’s Best Science Fiction. That same year, Randall became the first female president of the Science Fiction Writers of America (now the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association).

In 1988, when Randall was asked to comment on her work to date, she wrote:
I find it difficult to speak about my own fiction—primarily, I think, because of a conviction that stories must stand by themselves, and the hopes, opinions, or beliefs of their authors are ultimately irrelevant. I view science fiction as a tool, as a useful series of conventions with which to deal with a storyteller’s basic task, that is, the exploration not of ideas, but of people. By using the devices of the genre the writer can pare away anything not relevant to the characters and their dilemmas, can, in effect, create a crucible in which to toss the characters and view their reactions. Lest that sound pompous, I believe it equally important that science fiction remain, far more than general mainstream fiction, a genre in which one can tell stories, present adventures, write for the simple joy of creating wonderful things. My principal goal as a science-fiction writer is to meld these two approaches to the genre. It is a goal which I hope to be chasing for the rest of my professional life.
A lifelong resident of California, Marta Randall was born in Mexico City to Richard Baleme Randall, an American teacher, and Nelly (Amador y Spat) Randall, a native of Yucat√°n. At the age of two she moved with her parents to Berkeley. She wrote seven novels and two dozen stories while pursuing a career as a legal assistant and paralegal specializing in trademarks, interrupted by a six-year stint in the 1980s as a freelance writer for a video-game developer. She retired in 2013, moved to Hawaii, and has since published a fantasy duology and several short stories.

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