Sunday, March 5, 2023

Frog Pond

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (b. 1942)
From The Future Is Female! More Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women

Left: The title page of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s second story, “Frog Pond,” which appeared in the March 1971 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. Right: Front jacket for Yarbro’s first story collection, Cautionary Tales (1978), designed by Bob Silverman.
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro had been writing science fiction for nearly a decade when her first story collection, Cautionary Tales, appeared—one of three books she published in 1978, an extraordinary accomplishment for someone who had published her debut novel only two years earlier. The collection featured an introduction by a friend, the award-winning SF author James Tiptree, Jr. Earlier that year, Tiptree had been revealed to readers (as well as editors and fellow authors) as Alice Sheldon, an experimental psychologist and former CIA intelligence officer who had adopted the pseudonym to shield her academic reputation. “A male name seemed like good camouflage,” she told interviewer Charles Platt in 1983. “I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.”

In Cautionary Tales, Tiptree opened her prefatory remarks with a sort of cautionary note:
It seems to be the fashion, when introducing Quinn Yarbro, to exclaim over the fact that these stories with fangs and claws issue from a young person of gentle and beguiling aspect. One editor went so far as to call her “cuddly.” Now it seems to me that we must have passed the stage of assuming that the view of a writers outside bears some necessary resemblance to the fires burning within. So I am not going into what a darling, dauntless person Quinn is, nor even into the extraordinary life she marshals. I am going into the stories, and they are not—repeat, not—cuddly.
Indeed, one of the other two books Yarbro published that year was Hotel Transylvania, the first in the series of more than thirty books for which she is perhaps best known: horror novels featuring the vampire Count Saint-Germain, a character loosely based on the historical French adventurer Comte de Saint Germain.

Yarbro’s third book of 1978 was a science fiction novel, False Dawn, featuring Thea and Evan, a couple struggling to survive in a postapocalyptic California landscape poisoned by a series of environmental catastrophes. In a way, the novel had been in the works for nearly eight years. Its first chapter had originally appeared in 1972 as a short story, also titled “False Dawn,” and was later included in Women of Wonder, the 1976 anthology edited by Pamela Sargent (and described more fully in the introduction to our previous Story of the Week selection). Even earlier, in 1971, the character of Thea made her debut in Yarbro’s second published story, “Frog Pond,” which Tiptree referred to as the “surprise” of Cautionary Tales: “the only merry, even charming tale of After the Holocaust that I can recall.”

In her collection, Yarbro added a postscript to “Frog Pond” that expressed her displeasure in the attempts at scholarly exegeses of her stories:
About a year ago I had the dubious pleasure of reading a paper about “Frog Pond” that had been published in a small, very academic magazine. It was full of comments on “developing parallel imagery” and the “equation of contaminated water with the contamination of the world” and so forth. The earnest young Ph.D. discussed at length the strange feeling of this far future setting. But “Frog Pond" takes place roughly around the year 2000, which is relatively near future.
She also noted that the study included a detailed analysis of the “ironic significance of the place names in the story”—even though every one of those locations could be easily found on a map in 1971.

“I’m not a dogmatic writer,” she told the editors of Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies in 1977, when they asked how feminism informs her fiction and if there is a difference between feminist fiction and SF written by women. “I don’t write stories to do anything other than entertain my reader—and entertainment to me is not an offensive word. Because I am a feminist, I tend to tell stories about women, but how those women function is up to the character and the story. Quite often my characters, even sympathetic ones, do things I would not do.”

Among Yarbro’s many honors are the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement (2008) and the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement (2014). A founding member of the Horror Writers’ Association and its first woman president (1988–90), Yarbro lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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