Birthday Reviews: Kate Wilhelm’s “State of Grace”

Birthday Reviews: Kate Wilhelm’s “State of Grace”

Orbit 19
Orbit 19

Kate Wilhelm was born on June 8, 1928 and died on March 8, 2018.

She won the Hugo Award twice, for her novel Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang and the book Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. She won the Nebula three times for the short stories “The Planners” and “Forever Yours, Anna,” and the novelette “The Girl Who Fell into the Sky.” She helped establish the SFWA and Clarion Workshop, and helped run the early Milford Writers Workshops. Along with husband Damon Knight, she was a Pro Guest of Honor at Noreascon Two and received the Gallun Award for contributions to science fiction. She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2003. She received an inaugural Solstice Award in 2009 and in 2016, the awards was renamed the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award in her honor.

Wilhelm sold “State of Grace” to Damon Knight for inclusion in Orbit 19 in 1977. It appeared in her collection Somerset Dreams and Other Fictions in 1978 and in the collection State of Grace, part of Pulphouse Publishing’s Author’s Choice Monthly series in 1991. In 1980, the story was translated into French for the publication of Quand somerset rêvait, a translation of Somerset Dreams and Other Fictions.

“State of Grace” is the story of a deteriorating marriage in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky. The narrator believes she has seen small creatures living in the oak tree in her backyard and she begins to work to protect the unseen creatures and take care of them, providing them with food, water and other essentials. Her husband, on the other hand, gets the inkling that there may be something in the tree that could be worth quite a bit of money and he decides he needs to capture them.

The argument over the tree escalates as she tries to help the creatures and he gets more and more anxious about their presence and his attempts to remove them, including a brief try to cut down the tree. When he goes into the tree, something causes him to change his mind and he accepts the creatures’ presence.

The story is written in a way that never really makes it clear if there really are creatures in the tree. The narrator believes there are and reacts to them and their influence, but she may be hallucinating or paranoid. Her husband’s reactions to both her and the tree may be seen as his attempts to assuage his wife’s paranoia, but since his actions are seen through her eyes, nothing she really says about what he thinks or does can be trusted.

Reprint reviewed in the collection Author’s Choice Monthly, Issue 16: State of Grace, by Kate Wilhelm, Pulphouse Publishing 1991.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Rich Horton

Good choice! I really regret that I didn’t get a chance to ask Kate Wilhelm about her experiences writing for Cele Goldsmith early in her career.

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