Short Reviews – A Princess in Distress, or Anna and the Thing, Abraham Strongjohn

This review is of the original short format version of “A Princess in Distress, or Anna and the Thing” which was not featured in the July 1972 Issue of Argosy. Subsequently the story was fleshed out into a novel-length work, though its authorship is dubious.

This is a particularly strange work; Abraham Strongjohn’s writings seem mostly intent on capturing and embodying all of the tropes of pulp fantasy and science fiction without delving into the introspective navel gazing of genre deconstruction or -god forbid- satire, so one can not be entirely sure what was going through his mind when he wrote “A Princess in Distress, or Anna and the Thing”.

In this ribald tale, we see some influences as diverse as Anne McAffrey, Andre Norton, George Guthridge and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, but in a work that finds itself not quite at home within the confines of typical genre fiction. This story, like so many others, features a dashing space pirate, a beautiful princess (a cat-girl, no less), and an unknown alien creature whose physical inhumanity is slowly established in contrast with his personable nature that is also in contrast with the aforementioned Space Pirate, who is, while classically handsome, a total boor to be rooted against as the beautiful princess flees from his clutches.

We see the story from multiple perspectives, and thus we understand the story through the lenses of our prejudices in favor of certain types of character and what we know of the conventions of typical pulp adventures. Therefore, our expectations are built up and then toppled as the story takes its twists and turns as Anna is hunted by the Pirate and the Pirate is hunted by the Thing. So often we want to root for dashing space pirates, because of their ‘folk hero’ quality in popular fiction, but Strongjohn reminds us that while Drake was a dashing knight and Kidd a mere victim of circumstance, the pirate is more often than not a cur and a human trafficker.

The princess has forced down the pirate’s ship, though the pirate will never admit that his googoo eyes for her let her get the better of him. The princess would rather try her luck on the surface of the jungle planet than fall into the rapacious hands of the pirate. And the inhabitants of the planet? Well…

I’m not a fan of one-liner endings in Science Fiction, and I’ll admit that the last line of several Asimov stories have killed what little suspense and enjoyment they managed to hold for me, but in this case the reveal is far too good not to share. (Spoilers!) Whatever faux pas committed by the princess through body language or other-means (we’re never quite sure) in her gesture of supplication, the response elicited is golden: “You’ll forgive me if I decline your offer, princess, but my species are egg-layers.”

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