A Drop of Water in an Endless Sea
A Cupful of Space
By Mildred Clingerman
Mildred Clingerman’s 1961 A Cupful of Space is a collection of speculative fiction short stories.
But first! Who was Mildred Clingerman and why would I suddenly decide to reread the earlier of her two collections?
Clingerman was active as a writer in the 1950s (and a few years before and after), when women were a comparatively small fraction of speculative fiction writers. Women were an even smaller fraction of speculative fiction protagonists. But Clingerman wrote about women.
Her stories appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, as well as Good Housekeeping and Colliers. During her most prolific period, her stories were frequently anthologized, even by women-shy editors like Groff Conklin. Clingerman is notable enough to have an entry in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, even though my understanding is that the SFE prefers its authors to have published at least one novel. Clingerman never wrote a novel (the field being focused on short works seventy years ago).
Time has been the enemy here and her works do not often appear in more recent anthologies.
I got the urge to reread her because one of her stories was in the Merril collection I read earlier this week. I selected this Clingerman collection because I read it as a teen, in the correct date range to appear in the Because My Tears are Delicious to You reviews.
Clingerman’s habitual brevity meant that the short volume contains a surprising number of stories, stories covering a vast range of tone and subject. Her often pointed commentary is delivered with ruthless (although often comedic) efficiency. Really, you can’t go wrong picking A Cupful of Space as your introduction to Clingerman … except that it’s been out of print for sixty years.
Happily, there is The Clingerman Files, which I will get to soon enough.
“First Lesson” • (1956) • short story
Haunted by prophetic visions of her husband’s death, a military wife resorts to extremes to save him.
“Stickeney and the Critic” • (1953) • short story
A visiting critic provides some food of thought to a rustic family.
“Stair Trick” • (1952) • short story
A lonely bartender finds a woman who shares his vision.
“Minister Without Portfolio” • (1952) • short story
Humanity is saved by the chance that one of the people by which aliens judge us is a pleasant old woman filled with basic human decency.
“Birds Can’t Count” • (1955) • short story
The very story that got me wanting to reread this book! A woman discovers to her delight that she has a voyeur. She is displeased to discover she is only very nearly correct: she is only adjacent to the target.
In its way, this foreshadows both “the internet is for porn” and “send more cat pictures.”
“The Word” • (1953) • short story
Desperate aliens are saved from certain starvation by their fortuitous selection of a date on which to forage for food in an American town.
I am certain I reread this recently. No sure where; nothing in its ISFDB entry looks familiar, except of course for this collection.
“The Day of the Green Velvet Cloak” • (1958) • short story
A woman too timid to tell her overbearing fiancé that she does not love or even like him is rescued from unwanted marriage by an imprudent purchase and a short episode of time travel.
“Winning Recipe” • (1952) • short story
Faced with the prospect of automation stealing from her the joy of cooking, a determined spinster in the far off year of 2002 maliciously explores the limits of artificial intelligence.
The automatic cook is called a Kitchen Autocrat, which suggests to me marketing had an off day. The story does not go where you would expect a story featuring a Kitchen Autocrat to go.
“Letters from Laura” • (1954) • short story
A time tourist is highly displeased by the difference between the experience she was promised and the experience she gets.
“The Last Prophet” • (1955) • short story
A boring man finally finds a willing audience. Too late.
“Mr. Sakrison’s Halt” • (1956) • short story
An increasingly dotty old woman searches endlessly for her lost lover, undeterred by — refusing to acknowledge or accommodate — the institutional unpleasantness of the Jim Crow-era South.
“The Wild Wood” • (1957) • short story
A long-suffering housewife yearns to avoid her stalker … in vain.
“The Little Witch of Elm Street” • (1956) • short story
A determined and precocious girl resorts to the occult arts to save a terrifying four-year-old from herself. Saving everyone else from the toddler is a welcome bonus!
“A Day for Waving” • (1957) • short story
A little girl struggling with the loss of her father, the prospect of a stepfather, and the reality that her grandmother’s grating exterior conceals a genuinely unpleasant core receives comfort from an unexpected direction.
“The Gay Deceiver” • short story
A hard-working woman accompanies Papa Frolic as he delights children across America … until she makes the mistake of delving too deeply into Papa Frolic’s activities.
“A Red Heart and Blue Roses” • short story
A housewife does her best to resist the efforts of a determined young man to become part of her family, but her best will not be good enough.