Birthday Reviews: Miriam Allen deFord’s “Pres Conference”

Birthday Reviews: Miriam Allen deFord’s “Pres Conference”

Cover by Richard Powers
Cover by Richard Powers

Miriam Allen deFord was born on August 21, 1888 and died on February 22, 1975.

Although deFord had some fiction published as early 1928, she really turned to writing science fiction and fantasy in the 1950s and 60s. Her non-SF book The Overbury Affair earned her an Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime Book and she helped develop and sign the Humanist Manifesto in 1973. Much of her science fiction appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, beginning under the editorship of Anthony Boucher.

DeFord’s “Press Conference” appeared in the sixth and final volume of Frederik Pohl’s Star Science Fiction anthology series in 1959. The story has not been reprinted since.

“Press Conference” is essentially a transcription of the press conference given upon the occasion of the return of the first human to travel outside the galaxy. It is told, mostly, in the voices of Mr. Rasmussen, the press secretary for the United Nations whose job is to introduce her and make sure she givens approved questions, and Miss X, or Dor-je Lhor-kang, the woman who made the journey.

The press conference opens up by listing the specifications used to find someone to go into space. A woman is the preferred candidate, and she should be acclimatized to higher elevations, so someone from Peru or Chile. She should have a Ph.D. in physics and, because there is limited space in the spacecraft, she should be a dwarf. This is all by way of introduction of deFord’s somewhat atypical protagonist.

The press conference goes well as long as Lhor-kang is speaking. She knows the limitations Rasmussen has placed on her and has no real desire to break away from him. As soon as she opens the floor to questions, however, the press conference goes off the rails as the reporters want to ask questions with real substance. Although Rasmussen attempts to retain control over her, Lhor-kang eventually lets slip the truth about the aliens that she has seen and their desires with regard to the Earth. When Lhor-kang exhibits admiration for the aliens’ goals, she is branded by some of the reporters as a traitor or brainwashed.

Published only a few years after the McCarthy hearings, it is clear that the aliens Lhor-kang has interacted with are a stand in for the Soviets and any interaction or sympathy for the other, whether Soviet or alien, is a form of treason against one’s own kind, although it is also clear that the story does not feel this sort of reaction is appropriate or fair.

Reviewed in its only appearance in the anthology Star Science Fiction No. 6, edited by Frederik Pohl, Ballantine Books, 1959.

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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