Tin Soldier by Joan Vinge

Somehow I have missed out on reading Joan Vinge’s short work. Tonight, I read “Tin Soldier,” reprinted in More Women of Wonder, edited by Pamela Sargent. The story wowed me. Pam’s introduction mentions that the story is based on the Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” and it clearly is. Joan makes reference to the fairy tale in the story.

But “Tin Soldier” first appeared in Orbit (edited by Damon Knight) in 1974. In 1972, about the time the story would have been written, a song called “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass spent 12 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. I remember hearing that song endlessly that summer. Brandy tells the story of a girl who works in a bar in a seaside town who fell in love with a sailor, who sees her only when he comes to port. She loves a man who is “not around.” To someone, like me, who heard that song continually, the connections are impossible to miss. (Upon Googling the story, I see that Joan mentions the song as an influence as well.)

Joan reverses the genders, adds some wonderful sf twists, and makes Brandy—the woman—someone who travels on a ship that moves at nearly the speed of light. She’s gone three years, but Maris, the Tin Soldier, experiences the same time as 25 years.

Warm and resonant, this story is one that I love. It’s long, though. At least a novelette or a novella, and as I said, I only have 100,000 words to work with. We’ll see…

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