Group Read 27The Big Book of Science Fiction

Story #66 of 107: “Wives” by Lisa Tuttle

“Wives” by Little Tuttle was first published in the December 1979 issue of F&SF, but over the years it’s been included in a number of anthologies, including two focusing on women fantasy writers.

“Wives” is a strange story. Set on an alien world where humans, and I assume only males, have mostly wiped out an alien civilization. Some of the aliens survive by being assimilated as wives to human husbands. They wear a skinsuit and makeup to hide their real shape and appear as women and adapt to human ways. Susie wants to rebel and return to the old ways, but the other wives want to survive.

Of course, I assume Tuttle’s story isn’t about aliens and alien worlds but about life on Earth, and how women must hide who they are and let themselves be subjugated by men. But I also thought about parallels to Europeans and Native Americans, and I imagine, any conquered people. This story could be a metaphor for any kind of imperialism — cultural, ethnic, racial, even species. Think about what we’ve done to animals. Can’t you see Susie and her kind in your dogs and cats?

Just how effective is using science fiction to analogize our current problems? Netflix has a new film out, Don’t Look Up that satirizes how society has ignored warnings of climate change. The film is full of great actors but the story has all kinds of problems. The only reason I admire it or recommend it to others is because of its message. Is that why we like “Wives” too? Just because of its message?

I believe we need to judge the story by the story too. So, how well does “Wives” hold up as a story? In that regard, I think very well. Even though it’s absurd, I found its science-fiction setup believable. I felt for Susie, but I understood Doris and Maggie’s positions too. The whole existential problem for Susie’s alien race was realistic within this story.

Rating: ****

James Wallace Harris, 12/29/21

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