Monday, July 21, 2014

Story Identified (Davidman's SMOKE)

So, having posted a query to see if anyone out there might recognize a science fiction story Joy Davidman uses, in synopsized form, as a chapter-opener in her SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN [1954/55], I was surprised to have the answer the very next day. Many thanks to Doug Anderson for reposting my query to folks who were able to identify the story in question, and to John Boston for being the font of knowledge that held this particular piece of information and was generously willing to share same.

It turns out Davidman is retelling, probably from memory, a story that had been published in ASTOUNDING back in March 1940: "THE DWINDLING SPHERE" by one Wm. Hawkins. I've never heard of Hawkins before, but a subsequent posting provided a link to the entire story online:

Interestingly enough, this story seems not to have been reprinted or anthologized between its original publication and the date of Davidman's book.* Also, it's clear from reading the story itself that it differs a good deal from Davidman's version, which is thus probably being retold from memory (which might explain why she fails to name the author) or only known to her at second-hand, in a version told her by someone who remembered the gist of the story but not any detail. The most significant departure is that Davidman provides an ending for the story (a brief glimpse of the last human, floating dead in space, after the world has been completely used up by its inhabitants): an ending entirely appropriate and indeed rather better than the one the original author provided, but definitely not taken from the 1940 publications.

And this offers up some interesting possibilities. Did Davidman read this story when it first came out, when she was in her mid-twenties? If so, that wd suggest she was more deeply involved in science fiction than is our general impression of her. Or was the story told to her at a later date, which wd suggest she was plugged in to the science fiction community (fans and writers) more than published accounts have let on. Now that we know her husband knew Heinlein, and Fletcher Pratt, et al, and that Davidman knew Clarke and John Christopher, maybe it's time for someone to research and write up a piece on "Joy Davidman and Science Fiction".

--John R.
current reading: INTO THE WILD by Krakauer  (just finished), FRANZY AND ZOOEY by Salinger (still painfully slogging through), TOLKIEN'S BEOWULF (re-started)

*rpt in MASTER'S CHOICE, ed. Laurence M. Janifer [1966]; THE GREAT SF STORIES 2 (1940), ed Asimov & Greenberg (DAW, 1979); ISAAC ASIMOV PRESENTS THE GOLDEN YEARS OF SCIENCE FICTION, ed Asimov & Grrenberg (1983).  


David Bratman said...

It is a strange feature of almost all early (pre-1970s) commentary by outsiders on science fiction that it describes stories without ever naming the authors or titles, even if the commenter clearly has the stories immediately to hand.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear David

How odd. Do you suppose it was a feigned nonchalance to distance themselves from an academically suspect genre?

--John R.