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Wyndham, John – “Survival” (1952)

04/23/2013

And of course, after the relatively encouraging portrayals of women in the last two stories (even if they are, of course, the only women in each story), we have this bit about a conniving shrew who uses motherhood as a weapon. A ship travelling to the colony on Mars loses the use of its lateral thrusters, marooning them in orbit around Mars until another a rescue mission from Earth can reach them. Food runs out and things go foul among the crew and passengers, who quickly resort to mutiny and cannibalism – space travel here is highly reminiscent of the age of sail, down to navigators and charts and parlance.

There is one woman among said passengers, the seemingly-mousy wife of one of mining colony’s bureaucrats, who the captain singles out as a problem from the very beginning: “Her presence was certainly a possible source of trouble. When it came to the pinch the man would have more strain on account of her-and, most likely, fewer scruples.” As it turns out, she is the one lacking scruples, and although her husband quickly succumbs (off-screen and mostly unremarked), she reveals that she is not only secretly pregnant but that the news media back on Earth have made her the heroine of the story, and so she is untouchable to the other mutinous cannibals. We then cut to an unspecified time later when a rescue crew arrives in an effectively creepy scene of a ship full of floating debris and human bones and a disembodied voice singing “Rock a Bye Baby” before they stumble upon the only survivors: the mother and child. Mom points a pistol at them and says “Look, baby. Look there. Food. Lovely food…”

I haven’t really harped on how terribly written most of these stories are, but every now and then we get something so tortured that it just must be singled out: “The consciousness of a corpse floating round and round you like a minor moon is no improver of already lowered morale.

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