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FirstOne and Its Kin

The Short Fiction of Alison Tellure

By Alison Tellure 

27 Jun, 2021

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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Alison Tellure had a brief but memorable career that began in 1977 and ended (at least thus far) in 1984. While her works did not attract awards and do not appear to have been frequently anthologized, they were memorable enough to spark conversation during a discussion of women SF authors of the 1970s. In fact, I’ve occasionally thought it might be good to read her work. Which I have now done 😊

Biographical details are slim. While several sources state that Alison Tellure is a pen-name for the person who is or was Rob Chilson’s wife, no source I encountered cared to say which name that person used in daily life. The work cited by Wikipedia concerning Tellure’s pseudonymous status, Chilson’s own 10 Analogs of the Future (co-written with William F. Wu) seemed quite coy, not to mention unrevealing. Her Analog biography provides interesting detail (and a photo) but not her actual name. It’s a puzzler. Onward, to the stories themselves!

[Editor: Have you wondered if Alison is Rob Chilson publishing under another name? Using a stock photo? I did.]

As with Wormy, some of the material herein post-dates my cut-off date for this review series, but I am including it thanks to my determined completism. 

Tellure’s first story was the utterly forgettable Yes, Virginia.” Had she settled for that sort of predictable, harmless filler, I would not be writing this. However, the next story, Lord of All It Surveys,” introduced the setting that would define her career (to date, anyway), an alien world populated by vast intelligences struggling for dominance, and small beings to whom the first set are as gods. Remarkably, the author never introduces humans to this world. While the smaller entities are a lot more human in their outlook than the island-sized aliens, they’re still pretty alien when it comes to things like reproduction and communication. 

Rereading Tellure more than forty years later, her stories stand up fairly well for stories of their vintage. Granted the prose is on par for Disco Era Analog(that is to say, pedestrian), but the conceit of sticking to alien perspectives was unusual. It’s a real pity that Tellure seems to have exited the field in the 1980s, particularly given the hints she might have been working on a novel. Unfortunately, four short stories and a novellette are probably not enough to justify a collection. Ah, well. 

Now for the nitty-gritty:

Yes, Virginia” • short story • (1977)

An unnamed narrator eavesdrops on a discussion between an adorable moppet and her mother on the subject of the logistics of Santa Claus’ Christmas deliveries.

We are off to a weak start because this tale is exactly as predictable as you might fear, even taking into account that it appeared in Analog.

Lord of All It Surveys” • short story • (1977)

This is the biography of a vast, inhuman intelligence. It begins with the abiogenic origin of life on a distant, unnamed world orbiting a blue-white star. Having stumbled across multicellularity, the entity expands to dominate its immediate environment. Once in possession of intelligence and curiosity, it uses the only tool available — itself — to spawn a bud to explore its world. This necessitates the invention of names — FirstOne for the original, First Child for the bud — and raises a question. Can FirstOne share a world with beings like itself or must they turn on each other? 

Skysinger” • short story • (1977)

FirstOne’s Descendant Skysinger makes a momentous discovery: the tiny land-dwelling creatures it has habitually gobbled are more than a delectable treat. They are surprisingly intelligent, despite being so much tinier than Skysinger’s kind. Scarcely has Skysinger had time to digest this information than it learns that ancient FirstOne, determined to have the world for its own, is methodically exterminating its offspring. FirstOne’s proxies are formidable, but FirstOne knows nothing of Skysinger’s discoveries nor of Skysinger’s ingenuity. 

Green-Eyed Lady, Laughing Lady • novelette • (1982)

Green-Eyed She, also known as Wink, expects to serve God as a fisher, then (if she survives) as a Servant. To her astonishment, she is singled out for a very personal relationship with God, who is none other than Skysinger. Little of what God teaches Wink is welcome: God is no god, Wink’s people have somewhat misapprehended their relationship with Skysinger and worst of all, the great evil featured in their religion is very much real. Following Wink’s rebuke of the vast being for its treatment of her folk, a lengthy, fruitful relationship follows. 

At the end of the long partnership, Skysinger still eats the elderly Wink because hey, why waste food? 

Low Midnight” • short story • (1984)

Having prepared its land-dwelling allies for all-out war with FirstOne, Skysinger ventures out of the Lesser Sea to seek out its older, larger ancestor. Confrontation is delayed by the scale of the new ocean which Skysinger and its allies must explore. When confrontation does come, Skysinger discovers that it has seriously misunderstood the nature of the challenge.