Author Topic: PseudoPod 542: That Only a Mother  (Read 2993 times)


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on: May 16, 2017, 11:37:51 PM
PseudoPod 542: That Only a Mother

by Judith Merril.

“That Only a Mother” was originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, June 1948. It appears here with appreciation through the assistance of the Virginia Kidd Agency.

JUDITH MERRILL was an American and then Canadian science fiction writer, editor and political activist, and one of the first women to be widely influential in those roles. In her mid-teens, Merril pursued Zionism and Marxism. According to Virginia Kidd’s introduction to The Best of Judith Merril, Ethel Grossman had been a suffragette, was a founder of the women’s Zionist organization Hadassah, and was “a liberated female frustrated at every turn by the world in which she found herself.” Judith Merril began writing professionally, especially short stories about sports, starting in 1945, before publishing her first science-fiction story in 1948. Her story “Dead Center” (1954) is one of only two stories taken from any science fiction or fantasy magazine for the Best American Short Stories volumes edited by Martha Foley in the 1950s. According to science fiction scholar Rob Latham, “throughout the 1950s, Merril, along with fellow SF authors James Blish and Damon Knight had taken the lead in promoting higher literary standards and a greater sense of professionalism within the field.” As an initiator of the New Wave movement, she edited the 1968 anthology England Swings SF. From the mid-1970s until her death, Merril spent much time in the Canadian peace movement, including traveling to Ottawa dressed as a witch in order to hex Parliament for allowing American cruise missile testing over Canada. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA renamed) made Merril its Author Emeritus for 1997 and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted her in 2013.

This week’s reader – Dagny Paul – is a teacher, writer, failed artist, comic book geek, and associate editor/occasional host of Pseudopod. She is guest editor for Pseudopod’s Artemis Rising 3 event in 2017.

She lives in the middle of nowhere, Louisiana. Follow her on Twitter for no good reason @dagnypaul. Listen to her story “There is No Road Through the Woods” on Pseudopod.

Info on Anders Manga’s album (they do our theme music!) can be found here.

A well-known geneticist, in the medical news, said that it was possible to tell with absolute certainty, at five months, whether the child would be normal, or at least whether the mutation was likely to produce anything freakish. The worst cases, at any rate, could be prevented. Minor mutations, of course, displacements in facial features, or changes in brain structure could not be detected. And there had been some cases recently, of normal embryos with atrophied limbs that did not develop beyond the seventh or eighth month. But, the doctor concluded cheerfully, the worst cases could now be predicted and prevented.

Listen to this week's Pseudopod.

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Reply #1 on: May 25, 2017, 03:22:31 AM
Hello fellow pseudopod fans. The story called that only a mother was horrific to me because of my personal experience. Like baby Henrietta, I was born with a physical disability, and it doesn't matter that I am eloquent Orr talented. What matters to most people when they first see me is the wheelchair. I've had people think I'm stupid just because I sit in a wheelchair. When I go someplace I don't know, I often have an able-bodied person go with me just tell whoever I'm speaking to yes it is okay to talk to her because she is competent. Henrietta's disability is clearly physical and the author means for her disability to be part of the horror I understand that given that this story was written in an age of fear of atomic bombs and stuff. But the idea of referring to a limbless child as a worm does not fit what I have seen of people without limbs. Like Alasdair mentioned, attitudes toward disability have changed since this story was written and now people without limbs are more likely to be humanized or thought of as inspiration when they are portrayed in the media. I cried when Hank strangled Henrietta even though it was clearly foreshadowed. I felt like I was the one getting killed. I am articulate but I can't move my body like able body people. I felt it was a bit simplistic for Alasdair to imply that things for people with disabilities have gotten much better. As a disabled person comma I see the truth as much more complex. Things have gotten better for disabled people who can express themselves and who can socialize like their able-bodied peers. However if you have a mental condition that makes you act weird or you have something that keeps you from following social norms, then your disability is much more likely to be stigmatized. I'm used to stereotypes of people like me being presented all over the media but this one made me cry because I really identified with Henrietta I was that smart articulate little girl. It felt I was being stabbed and had a horror horror residence for me that I don't think it was meant to have. I'd be interested to hear what other people thought. PS although I have hands comma I am typing via speech to text so that is why things are coming out weird

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Reply #2 on: May 25, 2017, 12:49:35 PM
I knew something was different about the infant. I was pleased that the mom was happy to look after the child.  This story was DEFINITELY a product of the times (underground nuclear testing sites; the eventual hot-war that lead from 1945).  Horrific? Not for me. Just sad.

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Reply #3 on: June 01, 2017, 04:47:05 AM
I really think it’s wonderful that EA sometimes finds a story written in the past. Well in the 1948 past astoundingly.  I am sure most of the listeners are avid readers, but there is so much out there that would go unread. Part of the reason we write and read is to connect, to share, to say something that will be heard, felt, understood when are gone. Stories connect us.

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Reply #4 on: June 16, 2017, 10:14:10 PM
I liked the ambiguity of the ending, where the father finally comes home and meets his daughter. He is obviously aware of his child's unusual anatomy, but the mother's understanding is less clear. Is it simply that she loves her daughter and feels that she's perfect because she's her daughter? Does she truly not know that her daughter doesn't have the typical distribution of arms and legs? More disturbing, does she somehow not know what a human baby usually looks like?

Disturbing, too, is the father's apparent inability to see that the girl is intellectually gifted. This time, it's the mother who knows this - her letters mention that the child is a prodigy, speaking and singing at an extraordinarily early age. But the father doesn't comment at all. Does he not care, or is he overwhelmed by his discovery that the child has been affected by radiation (?) after all?


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Reply #5 on: June 21, 2017, 09:46:57 PM
I read this story in an old anthology and I love it even more now hearing it narrated.

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Reply #6 on: July 11, 2017, 03:07:28 PM
Wow, really great!