‘Changeling’ – a short story by Amabel Williams-Ellis

When I decided to make a page on the Feminist SF wiki, I didn’t realise just how prolific Amabel was. I’ve listed the majority of her published work there, but I’m pretty sure that’s not even everything. And none of it is still in print.

I read her ‘Changeling’ today. It’s one of those stories where maybe the pseudoscience was plausible when written, but as a 21st century geology student you just have to stick your fingers in your ears and go “la la la”.

Here is the premise: a young woman, a scientist, gets caught up in a war. These are the days of nuclear stockpiling, though this is a small war – “somewhere in Algeria in the nineteen-sixties, but it might as well have been in the Congo, in Angola, the Indian frontier, or in half a dozen other places, for it was only small-scale, conventional warfare.” Enid is pregnant, and has just been told “casually – as they dug me out of the crumpled lab – that a tank had got my husband.” It’s a story of its era, and Enid wants to know – is there hope? Or is this war, the little and the big, the end of it all?

Here comes the pseudoscience – use of a certain radioactive isotope transports Enid’s consciousness far into the future, where she shall live out the six years of the isotope’s half life.

It is a rash decision. Enid is born a baby in the future, her adult consciousness for the most part repressed. Her turmoil now has less to do with nuclear devastation than with her own cruelty – she has a mother in this future, and strange a child as she may be, that mother loves her.

William-Ellis’s prose is somewhat old-fashioned, but easy to read. She has quite a reassuring voice for me. I’m not really sure what I think of the story itself. Amabel’s interest seems to be with the consequences of Enid’s decision, as they affect Enid more than as they affect those in the future. She says in the introduction that it seemed to Enid that “the risk would be a private one, involving only herself and one other being.” But it is not a private decision, and Enid does indeed hurt others.

It seems a very female story to me, in its concerns, in the importance on mothers and children. Our protagonist is a scientist, but the morality of her science is of lesser concern than that of making decisions with far-rippling effects. I suppose it is a moot point whether the decision is personal or scientific.

One Response to “‘Changeling’ – a short story by Amabel Williams-Ellis”

  1. Nick Watkins Says:

    Thanks for blooging this. It was one of those stories, like “Infra Draconis” and “A Pail of Air” that really struck my young imagination hard, when read in those anthologies that she edited andwhich my library fortunately had.

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