[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]
by Victoria Lucas
OK, that’s neat. Mostly when I look at the covers of science-fiction magazines, I see silly bug-eyed monsters and rocket ships that look like they’re out of early movies, and I don’t know who those men or boys are who wrote those stories or why, but I suspect the stories are for other men or boys.
But now I see “Lee Chaytor’s” name on an sf magazine cover and I feel like giggling — for Lee is no he! A friend going to San Diego State College sent me word that she’s a lecturer in English, name of Elizabeth Chater, and she is writing science fiction (and advocating that it be taught as literature, of all things!) while she works on her Master’s degree there.
Chater/Chaytor has a story in the May 1958 Fantastic Universe Science Fiction magazine that I happened to see when I was in that dusty bookstore I mentioned last time. On this visit the cat got down from the desk near the door and accompanied me as I fumbled around, trying to remember where I’d seen it. Ah, there, with bug-eyed monsters, a flying saucer, and a rocket ship, with an eagle harassing an alien. And “featuring their BAIT FOR THE TIGER A New Novel by Lee Chaytor.” So I gathered my pennies and, after considering leaving them with the cat since the owner was elsewhere, I found him, showed him the magazine, gave him my handful of change, and walked out reading it.
Wow! She doesn’t stint on the monsters, but these sound close to human in their description. Lots of suspense after the story opens with men locked into a corner of a lower floor of the Pentagon, secret government workers affiliated with the FBI. There is a flying ball of green light, a master race (the aliens) and a subservient one (the aliens again), and what’s left of a town cringing in fear as the aliens take over a piece of Oregon.
Oh, and of course there has to be a buxom blonde (is she blond?), Valentine, 6 feet tall, an exotic dancer with a “magnificent body” who uses a robot snake in her performances, and who is described in florid terms. The wife of a missing agent, she falls in with a scheme to try to find out if the aliens have her husband. Other characters include a sad and terse bodyguard for the telepath running the operation, an argumentative type who tries to keep an eye on the telepath; and a domestic agent who makes breakfast and does the dishes, the most sympathetic of the men to me. The telepath is a little man who knows all and is predictably headstrong and obnoxious. The men spout British poetry.
Complications enter the plot in the form of a dying agent who heard a human consorting with the aliens, said to be golden and godlike (as well as conceited), nothing like the green monsters on the cover of the magazine.
I don’t know if I like the piece. It’s a fast-moving story; you want to find out what happens! But at this pace in a magazine novella, there is no time for character development. There are no other women in the narrative, and I can’t identify with the one introduced so far, with those full lips and young, lissome beauty one expects to see in a science fiction tale (at least from looking at other covers). I guess it’s always been the covers that have alienated me and often deterred me out of science fiction books and magazines. Scantily clad women, bug-eyed monsters, weird-looking space ships and flying saucers: what’s for me to like? Adventure? I consider music and poetry and history and art and architecture to be adventure. I guess that just sounds pompous, but those media constitute my adventurousness.
Oh, well, back to “Lee Chaytor.” Valentine is up to the task. The suspense continues. We hear how nasty the aliens are, how ruthless. Will she survive? The team of three men and a telepath stays as close to her as possible as she pursues her mission, but they cannot get too close. Not yet. At this point, I had the suspicion that Valentine, “Val,” now referred to as a “girl,” would still be a “girl” at the end of the narrative, and might never become a “woman,” even though much of the narrative is through her eyes.
The ending could be considered to be a happy one, less so inside the circle of characters we know. I won’t tell you what happens because you have a right to see for yourself. I’ll just say this: Valentine lives and is unhurt, but, as so often happens with women, her interests come last and are hardly considered. We have instead clichés about male bonding and jealousy.
I haven’t learned much from this tale about aliens and secret US government departments, but I did learn this: that a woman can write like a man when she chooses — take that as compliment or damn. But it does make me wonder: how many other woman authors (and English Professors!) lurk behind androgynous pseudonyms?