Dead Center

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Merril, Judith. "Dead Center." The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction November 1954. Rpt. Fiction #20 July 1955. See Internet Speculative Fiction Database for translations, other reprints, collections, and the "Note: This story appeared in The Best American Short Stories [sic: no italics] 1955, edited by Martha Foley."[1][2]

Novelette, discussed in instructive depth by Lisa Yaszek in "Not Lost in Space: Revising the Politics of Cold War Womanhood in Judith Merril's Science Fiction," in New Boundaries in Political Science Fiction, Donald M. Hassler and Clyde Wilcox, editors (Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina Press, 2008): 78-92.[3]

Yaszek notes that during the Cold War,

Prominent authors including C. M. Kornbluth, Algis Bydrys, and Kurt Vonnegut produced stories that explored what seemed to be the inevitable conflict between scientific interest, military security, and social need [...]. For these authors, the real problem was not the unilateral impact of dangerous new scientific developments on society, but the emergence of a deadly new social matrix that perverted even the most benevolent scientific and technological research.

Postwar women writers refashioned this science fiction myth to explore the perils faced by women scientists trapped in a distinctly patriarchal social matrix that threatens to thwart their research and destroy their world. This is particularly apparent in Merril's [...] "Dead Center," which [...] was the first science fiction story ever featured in the critically acclaimed Best American Short Stories series. * * *

In direct contrast to advocates of the feminine mystique who claimed that women were biologically destined to choose between family and career, Merril proposes that scientific and social progress might well hinge upon the woman scientist's ability to incorporate her personal passions into her professional life." * * *

[...] Merril suggests that a truly viable science must account for both the subjectivity of the scientist and the subjectivity of everyone to whom she is connected. If it does not, both individual lives and human progress as a whole are doomed. (Yaszek, pp. 86-87)

The story develops the tragic results when a technology-based mission leaves out such passions and subjectivity.

RDE, finishing, 23Dec21