Sunday, February 26, 2023

If Ever I Should Leave You

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

Left: Front cover of Women of Wonder (Vintage Books, 1975), with art by American graphic designer Charles Shields (1944–2020). Right: Sargent’s first story collection, Starshadows (Ace, 1977), which contains the unaltered version of “If Ever I Should Leave You.” The cover art is by American illustrator Paul Alexander (1937–2021).
In the introduction to the 1975 anthology Women of Wonder: Science-Fiction Stories by Women about Women, Pamela Sargent questioned “why a literature that prides itself on exploring alternatives or assumptions counter to what we normally believe has not been more concerned with the roles of women in the future.” For the collection, Sargent selected a dozen of the best SF stories written by women during the previous quarter century—a shortlist that includes such still-renowned authors as Joanna Russ, Vonda N. McIntyre, Anne McCaffrey, and Ursula K. Le Guin. The book’s success spawned two follow-ups, one in 1976 and a third volume in 1978, yet when Sargent initially peddled the idea to publishers, she met with resistance, as she recounts to SF critic James Nicoll:
In fairness, part of that might have been because I was a novice writer of only a few published stories, but it was also because some editors, as they admitted, didn’t think such an anthology would sell. I was asked by a couple of editors if there were enough good stories to fill an anthology of sf by women. One editor said that such a book would appeal only to a “minor” part of the audience for sf. . . .
Sargent’s break came when McIntyre wrote to the editorial team at Vintage Books and asked why there had been several SF anthologies with exclusively male writers but not one containing only women. When an editor agreed to consider such a proposal, McIntyre put Sargent in touch with the Vintage staff.
Women of Wonder remained in print for over a decade, so clearly there was an audience for such a book and for two more WoW volumes. . . . For years afterwards, I would encounter people, mostly but not all women, who had thought there was nothing of interest in sf for them until they saw Women of Wonder in a bookstore or library.
Twenty years later, in the mid-1990s, Sargent compiled two more Women of Wonder anthologies for Harcourt Brace.

During the period she was assembling the first anthology, Sargent was also dealing with a bit of a nightmare; her story “If Ever I Should Leave You” had appeared in the January–February 1974 issue of the SF magazine Worlds of If, and it had been altered almost beyond recognition under the heavy-handed direction of editor-in-chief Ejler Jakobsson and a new managing editor, Albert Dytch. In 1991, Sargent recalled:
I glanced at the story after it was published, and it was horrifying—all these dumb lines I hadn’t written. The story was told in the first person by a nameless protagonist, but apparently some dufus at If—not the editor, as far as I could tell—decided my narrator should have a name. The name he decided on was Nanette. And the other changes were worse—clumsy bits of exposition that were wrong, details that made no sense. I spent months fighting with them about it, and one of the publisher’s potentates even had the gall to make veiled threats about suing me if I didn’t shut up about my grievances.
Sargent’s story was not the only victim of unwelcome modification by Jakobsson and Dytch in the pages of Worlds of If and its sister publication, Galaxy Science Fiction. As Michael Ashley reports in his book Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980, the serial version of Christopher Priest’s The Inverted World had undergone what its author disparaged as “a multitude of petty re-wording” and “an orgy of rewriting towards the end.” Similarly, not only was Harlan Ellison’s story “Cold Friend” heavily revised, but the editors even changed the title—despite a prior agreement that not a single word would be changed. Ellison found out about the alterations as the magazine was going to press, and he forced the editors to claw back the changes with only partial success.

Editor and author Barry Malzberg told Ashley: “Jake’s meddling with manuscripts was notorious. He was not only an interfering editor of the worst sort but a terrible writer who screwed up work. [Sargent’s] story was destroyed by him.” As the months passed, both Jakobsson and Dytch were replaced and, in December 1974, If published its last number and was folded into Galaxy. The first issue after the merger included a letter from Sargent: “A writer’s name is his or her stock in trade. If I am to stand or fall by what is published under that name, let it be by my own words and not those of a nameless collaborator. I must therefore disassociate myself from the story as it was published in If.” The magazine’s new editor, Jim Baen, simply responded, “Ms. Sargent has the right of it.”

In 1977, “If Ever I Should Leave You” finally appeared as its author intended in Starshadows, her first story collection—and, of course, that is the version that has appeared in anthologies since and that is the version we present below. The same year, Sargent was among eight women asked by the editors of Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies about why and how they “use the genre” for their fiction, and she responded in part:
The writer of science fiction or fantasy is not as limited as the writer of other kinds of fiction. . . . Within the context of most human activities to date, women of strength and achievement are exceptions to the rule. This is reflected in novels about the past or present. Science fiction and fantasy, on the other hand, allow one to imagine and write about worlds where strong independent women are the rule, or to construct a society whose features can illuminate the workings of our own.

. . . Science fiction writers are limited only by human potential, not human actualities. SF can serve to show women, and men, how large that potential can be.
Since selling her first story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1970, Sargent has published fourteen novels and several story collections, and she collaborated with George Zebrowski on four Star Trek novels. She currently lives in Albany, New York

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