1970s science fiction short story about a young mother going crazy?
August 21, 2014 5:53 AM   Subscribe

There's this science fiction story I can recall reading in at least one anthology, if not multiples. It is told from the perspective of a young mother who is going crazy dealing with her kid(s). The writing is very stark and bleak, but it's a fun story nonetheless. I am fairly certain the author was a woman. I believe it's from the late 60s or early to mid 1970s.

The title was long and interesting, something like "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" (not that one, obviously, but it had a similarly cool title). I remember at one point one of the children is choking, and the mother pounds him/her on the back and child coughs up a "tiny green snake with red glass eyes" which is the cereal box prize. Other parts of the story involve her dealing with laundry and such. I realize this doesn't sound like science fiction, but it was definitely in a well-known sci-fi anthology and had a laudatory blurb about the author. Any ideas which one I'm thinking of?
posted by Slinga to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "The Heat Death of The Universe," by Pamela Zoline?
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:00 AM on August 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

Best answer: "(47) One child will not eat hot dogs, ice cream or cake, and asks for cereal. Sarah pours him out a bowl of Sugar Frosted Flakes, and a moment later he chokes. Sarah pounds him on the back, and out spits a tiny green plastic snake with red glassy eyes, the Surprise Gift. All the children want it."

That's from "The Heat Death of The Universe"; I should have added a (.pdf) warning to the above. Terrific story.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:22 AM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

That's gotta be it.

I was going to suggest "The Small Assassin" but all the details are wrong.
posted by psoas at 6:23 AM on August 21, 2014

Response by poster: You guys are the BEST. Thank you!
posted by Slinga at 6:35 AM on August 21, 2014

FYI just found this page about the author:

“Heat Death” was the first story Zoline had written since high school and appeared in the same month that one of her paintings was exhibited in the Tate Gallery. While she would go on to write only a few more new-wave science fiction stories, published in The New SF, Likely Stories, and Interzone, all her works are noteworthy for their refusal of straightforward realistic narratives; and in “Sheep” (1981) she ingeniously deconstructs particular Western cultural genres—the pastoral, the spy story, the western, and science fiction itself—exposing, as it were, the Wizard behind the curtain putting on a show to keep the audience entranced and docile.
posted by latkes at 7:36 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just for the record, it was published in 1967 in New Worlds; I read it the next year in Judith Merril's anthology England Swings SF. It's one of those stories you never forget, and as soon as I read this question I knew the answer.
posted by languagehat at 8:22 AM on August 21, 2014

That is one powerful piece of writing.

An interesting exegesis here, excerpted from "Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century"
posted by pharm at 12:12 PM on August 21, 2014

I just sent this to my husband and I'm a little confused - is she intended to come across as crazy? Because 95% of that story is a fairly typical thought process day for me.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:16 PM on August 21, 2014

is she intended to come across as crazy?

I've always read it as a particular kind of madness compelled by her cultural/local circumstances, and that it is as inevitable as the heat death of the universe. Battling the entropy created by a particular constellation American cultural standards/must-have objects of childhood/children -- even when armed with the best and most shiny promises the grocery shelves offer -- is a losing, and maddening, battle.

Perhaps I could interest you in some yellow wallpaper today? Or an iron? (Link goes to a previous Ask about mad housewives and a lost poem; the poem itself is...upsetting. )
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:32 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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