I’m so glad I wrote out my personal guidelines for the Tough Mothers anthology before I delved deeply into the reading. That way, I know when a wonderful story won’t fit into what I’m doing without a lot of (personal) angst.
To recap, I’m editing a volume that would entice modern readers into reading other work by the women in the volume (and on the recommended reading list in the back, if I have room). I knew that, in reading some of the older stories, I would find outmoded attitudes.
Generally, those attitudes have shown up as behaviors. Like smoking cigarettes on spaceships, things like that. Tonight, though, I read Leigh Brackett’s “Mars Minus Bisha,” and even though I knew I couldn’t use the story, I also couldn’t put it down.
Why couldn’t I use it? Well, some of the things said and the corollaries drawn to desert peoples made it clear that they were based on her perception of Middle Eastern cultures. And her perception was very 1950s American which is to say, not all that flattering. Although by the end of the story, that perception does get turned on its head a little.
A doctor stationed alone on Mars—this Mars the Mars of Bradbury and Burroughs, not the dead red planet—has a seven-year-old Martian child dumped on his doorstep by her mother, because the child is causing the villagers to get sick. They want to kill the child. Her mother wants her to live. The doctor wants her to live, but he gets sick…and this heartbreaking story goes from there. It’s impossible to put down.
I found the story in The Coming of The Terrans by Leigh Brackett, Ace Books, 1967. The story first appeared in Planet Stories magazine in 1954. I don’t know if the story’s been reprinted elsewhere, and I’m not going to check. But my, oh my. There’s a reason everyone who has read her work remembers Leigh Brackett.