Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, December 8, 2023


The Green Queen by Margret St. Clair  (1956, based on "Mistress of Viridis," Universe Science Fiction, March 1955)

Margaret St. Clair (1911-1995) was a pioneering female science fiction writer who flourished in the 1950s and 1960s.  Her father, who was U.S. Representative George A. Neeley from Kansas, died when she was seven.  Known for her wit and inventiveness, she published some 130 short stories and eight novels, many of which contained masked satire on contemporary social norms.  Writing as "Idris Seabright" she also produce elegant fantasies far different from her adventure tales.  Among her most noted stories are classics like "The Man Who Sold Ropes to Gnoles" (as SEabright), "Brightness Falls from the Air" (as Seabright), "An Egg a Month from All Over" (as Seabright),  "Horror Howce," and "An Old-Fashioned Bird Christmas."  Her husband, Eric St. Clair, was "perhaps the leading american writer of children's stoories about bears, having written close to 100 of them."  (Anthony Boucher once published stories by both of them back to back in an issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, noting that Eric St. Clair was married to two of his favorite writers.)  

The Green Queen was St. Clair's first published novel, appearing as an Ace Double, backed by Thomass Calvert McClary's Three Thousand Years, which first appeared as a three-part serial in Astounding Science Fiction, April to June 1938.  (The Green Queen was closely followed by St. Clair's Agent of the Unknown, which had been published in Startling Stories in February of 1952, making that book her first written novel.)

The planet Viridis is a small, minor planet with a population of about one million, just over 40% of that number female.   The atmosphere of the planet is tinged green.  Settled several centuries earlier, Viridis turned out to be a dangerous place, with radiation leaking from the ground throughout the world.  Its population evolved into two distinct, rigid classes:  the "uppers," who lived in cities protected from the radiation, and the "lowers," the short-lived poor who lived "down the Stairs" on the planet's deadly surface.  The uppers, being elites, would often raid the lowers and take their women (in both senses of the term), then return to their haven where machines would remove whatever radiation they accumulated.  The uppers also had the advantage of the Masks -- a sort of 3-D imaging that could replicate all five senses; cheaper versions of the Masks could relicate only three senses.

Two competing groups of elites are vying to exploit the legend of the Green Queen, a mythic univeral savior who would purify the planet.  Using the ibim computer (which could handle 10-20,000 cards and hour), they found that no woman on the planet could meet their rigid requirements to become the green Queen.  When they lowered their standards, only two names of all the females on the planet appeared.  The most perfect match was Leaf Amadeus, a 27-year-old immigrant from Earth who had gone to Viridis to excape the memory of a failed marriaige and the death of her young child.  Leaf was close to the perfect candidate to be used as the Green Queen.  The one flaw in the criteria -- one that the elites were sure they could overcome -- was that she was stubborn...

Sharp social commentary and not-so-hidden themes of oppression, feminism, and sexual politics help make this entertaining novel stand out from typical fare of the day,

 Both The Green Queen and the March 1955 issue of Universe Science Fiction with "Mistress of Viridis" are available online at Luminist Archives.

1 comment:

  1. I wish she had been able to write novels at the top of her talents, which were very much in evidence in her short fiction, occasionally in crime fiction as well as fantastica. I certainly was floored by first encounter with her work, the "Seabright" story "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles" you mention, which I first encountered in the Scholastic Book Services anthology NINE STRANGE STORIES...some people might be reminded of seeing her work adapted on NIGHT GALLERY, with one of the best episodes there, "The Boy Who Could Predict Earthquakes"....