Birthday Reviews: Mary A. Turzillo’s “Thumbkin, Caesar, Princess, and Troll”
Mary A. Turzillo was born on June 12, 1940. She is married to fellow science fiction author Geoffrey A. Landis.
Turzillo won the Nebula Award for her novelette “Mars Is No Place for Children,” which also topped the readers poll for Science Fiction Age, the magazine in which it appeared. She won two Elgin Awards for poetry chapbooks for her collection Lovers & Killers and for the collection Sweet Poison, written in collaboration with Marge Simon, both of which were nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, as was the poetry collection Satan’s Sweetheart, written by Turzillo and Simon. Turzillo’s poetry has also been nominated for both the Dwarf Star Award and the Rhysling Award. She has also been nominated for the British SF Association Award.
Turzillo sold “Thumbkin, Caesar, Princess, and Troll” to Stanley Schmidt and the story was published in the October 2002 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. It has not been reprinted.
“Thumbkin, Caesar, Princess, and Troll” has a title reminiscent of a fairy tale , and despite its setting in a future Ohio focusing on nanotechnology, it has the trappings of a fairy tale to go along with the title. Thumbkin is a genetically modified genius who was bred to be only twelve centimeters tall by parents who though it would improve his chances to become an astronaut before an anti-science wave swept the country and destroyed the space program.
At Thumbkin’s graduation, Harry P. Caesar promised his company and his daughter’s hand to anyone who could solve three seemingly impossible problems. Naturally Thumbkin, as the hero of the story, was able to come up with solutions. Of course, Princess Caesar didn’t necessarily want to marry a twelve centimeter tall genius, especially when she was already dating a drug lord, Dick Troll.
The idea of a father giving his daughter in marriage to the winner of a contest is pervasive in fairy tales and despite his offer, Caesar, Thumbkin, and Princess are all well aware of how misogynistic the arrangement is. When Thumbkin goes to Caesar to seek his prize, Caesar explains that the decision must be Princess’s, something Thumbkin acknowledges, even as he works to “win” her from Troll.
Of course, space is not only the final frontier, but it is the alpha and omega of this story. Thumbkin’s parents designed him to become an astronaut and he makes the same mistake with his own children, taking what his parents did and going a step further, partly to try to achieve their goal and partly to prove that he can do anything to Princess. The ending provides a hook that Turzillo could easily use for a (long belated) sequel.
Reviewed in its only publication in the magazine Analog Science Fiction and Fact, edited by Stanley Schmidt, October 2002.
Steven 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.
An excellent choice from a writer well worth the additional notice.
We should also mention that today is Black Gater Peadar O Guilin’s birthday. I remember several of his stories well, notably the Black Gate piece “Where Beauty Lies in Wait”, and also “Heartless” …
It’s also the birthday of the American writer of bestselling adventure stories, James Oliver Curwood. (Whom I tend to think of as Canadian, since many of his novels were set in Canada.)
Alas, though I have a couple of his books, and I plan to read at least one eventually for my blog, I haven’t done so yet.