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West, Jessamyn

Entry updated 6 October 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1902-1984) US author active from the 1930s, most famous for the tales of rural Quakerism assembled in The Friendly Persuasion (coll of linked stories 1945). She is of sf interest for two novellas. "The Pismire Plan" (in Cross Section 1948: A Collection of New American Writing, anth 1948, edited by Edwin Seaver [1900-1987]) is a spoofish but ultimately serious Satire set in a Near Future California where the debilitating effects of "Depression II" are worsened by an intensely intrusive Media Landscape (see also Advertising), with almost everything monetized, and with "Mak-A-Mansions" increasingly evident; echoes of the apocalyptic California depicted in Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust (1939) are noticeable, in a narrative that also points to societal dysfunctions later targeted by writers like Kurt Vonnegut and Frederik Pohl. Industrial magnate George Pismire's solution to these woes, inspired by his realization that "people should be paid for having to endure the world", involves transforming consumers into salaried Patrons, their incomes rising with the increasing awfulness of the California they must experience. Though this vista does not exactly augur a planet in crisis, sharp points are conveyed, further darkened late in the tale by an exercise in Cultural Engineering designed to generate a numbly ecstatic citizenry unable to demur (see Eugenics), along the lines of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932).

The Chilekings (in Star Short Novels, anth 1954, ed Frederik Pohl, as "Little Men"; 1967), is a Satire in which children across the world switch statures with adults, but retain their child minds; having taken control, they impose their own vision of reality on their elders by raw force, a vividly depicted Disaster that generates an entirely justified Paranoia on the part of deposed adults everywhere. The premise, though described in realistic detail, is given no more rational explanation than the mutual vanishing of all men and women from each other's ken in The Disappearance (1951) by Philip Wylie. [JC]

see also: Great and Small.

Mary Jessamyn West

born Vernon, Indiana: 18 July 1902

died Napa, California: 23 February 1984

works

  • The Chilekings (New York: Ballantine Books, 1967) [novella: first appeared in Star Short Novels (anth 1954) edited by Frederik Pohl, as "Little Men": pb/Robert E Schulz]

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