Chuck Rothman review for Tangent magazine

Science fiction started out as a male abode; the names of early SF writers shows this clearly. While there were women writing in the genre from early on, the numbers were swamped by male names. Over time, this changed.

Mildred Clingerman started publishing in 1952, and her complete works—including much unpublished material—appears in the anthology, The Clingerman Files.

When researching her for this article, I was struck by how many of her works were anthologized. The Internet SF Database lists 19 stories; 14 of them appeared in anthologies, a truly impressive percentage. She regularly appeared in Fantasy and Science Fiction, often appearing in their yearly “Best of” anthologies. One of her stories, “Letters from Laura,” appeared in Anthony Boucher’s monumental anthology A Treasury of Great Science Fiction (I must have read it, but had forgotten it. Fifty years will do that).

So how do the stories hold up? Actually fairly well. Some of the social conventions are dated—the women generally don’t work outside the home—and the stories stick to the assumptions of their time. But the characters are richly drawn, even in the lightest of tales, and the stories run the gamut from science fiction to fantasy to horror.

Particularly memorable is the subtle horror of “The Gay Deceiver,” the ironic humor of “Letters from Laura,” and the combination of the two in “Stickney and the Critic.”

It’s easy to see why the stories were so well received at the time. It’s a different, quieter voice of science fiction, subtly played and strong on character instead of plot,

The volume covers nearly all of Clingerman’s published work. But the unpublished stories that make up its second half are a bit more problematic. I didn’t find them as engaging as those that preceded it. They may be interesting if you need to see more, but the strength of the book is in the first half, where her published works are given the showcase they deserve.


Chuck Rothman’s novels Staroamer’s Fate and Syron’s Fate are available from Fantastic Books.

 

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