Stickney and the Critic by Mildred Clingerman

As I’ve delved deeper into the research for the essay I’m writing for Women of Futures Past, I’m learning a bunch of things about my field that I didn’t know. For example, I didn’t know that James Blish, and the other critics of his generation called the slipstream stories set around hearth and home “wet diaper” stories. I was rather shocked at how dismissive these critics were of perfectly good stories by perfectly good writers.

I didn’t know about those critics when I read “Stickney and the Critic,” but I now have a guess as to where this story came from.

Stickney is something that lives in the well outside our narrator’s lifelong home. Her cousin, DeWitt, was a world-reknown poet, who died before the story starts. The story’s about a critic who shows up to see DeWitt’s early influences. Clingerman describes the critic as a “fussy little man who wrote modern criticism.”

Of course, he had to see the well, and of course he meets Stickney—and the story’s not really about the horror of the well, but the horrors of modern (1950s) literary criticism and the proper response to it.

Made me laugh out loud. I reread it as I wrote this, and laughed again. Clingerman has a lovely dry voice, and a marvelously skewed perspective, which shows up beautifully here.

From A Cupful of Space: A Heady Brew of Science-Fiction Stories by Mildred Clingerman, Ballantine Books, 1961.

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