Monday, June 8, 2009

“Mars Child”: A letter to author Judith Merril from friend Fritz Leiber, 1951

Thursday, May 24, 1951

Dear Judy,

Spent yesterday evening being jealous of the second installment of "Mars Child." You know, it's the things closest to us, most intimately linked to our own thoughts, and that stir our own feelings most, that we're most jealous of. But it's with such things that jealousy is most inappropriate, least to anyone's advantage -- and always best (I mean jealousy) when one rides out the feeling until it fades into a warm sense of appreciation. (Ye jealous people everywhere take not of this profound principle!)

I think you and Cyril have produced a landmark of American SF in "Mars Child." A combination of realism, competent writing, political and social sophistication, and imagination. It's odd that last year's best SF novel was, in my opinion, Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky, while "Mars Child" will likely be the best for 1951. Very different stories in treatment and attitudes, but alike in being stories of colonization, with the prospect of a doomed earth in the background. But I like your cooperators better than Heinlein's noble space-patrolmen. Of course, Heinlein has a weakness for thinking the best of people (except tiny coteries of villains) while Cyril Judd is rather bitter about folks (an understatement?). You press Heinlein closely when it comes to technology (the description of spaceship landing was succinct and effective, while the treatment of Martian agronomy shows a lot of scope), and I think you outclass him in social-political insight. [...]

The gunther is a nice surprise, the liquor dealer a good character, and I like the way the non-individualistic feel of the Sun Lake colony is maintained -- also those constant behind-the-scenes peeks at family life that having Tony a doctor makes possible. It isn’t easy to make a colony a hero and you do it well. Needless to say, the raw realism of abortions, brothels, suckling problems, etc., is one of the best things in the world for present SF and one of the items that makes “Mars Child” a landmark. [...]

‘Fectionately, Fritz
A letter to author Judith Merril from author and friend Fritz Leiber, as printed in the autobiography Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril (2002), by Judith Merril and her granddaughter, Emily Pohl-Weary.

“Mars Child” is a collaborative work written by Judith Merril and Cyril Kornbluth, published under the joint pseudonym Cyril Judd. It was originally published in three installments in the May, June and July 1951 issues of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine. The next year,
“Mars Child” was reprinted by Abelard Press as a novel, Outpost Mars (1952). Almost a decade later, Outpost Mars was “sexed up” by Beacon Press and published under the racy title Sin in Space (1961).

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