Zenna Henderson

Category: Science Fiction
Morality: A-
Writing: B+

This book is not exactly a novel; rather, it’s a compilation of short stories linked together by two frames. The stories concern the People, a group of aliens who fled their dying planet and landed in nineteenth century America. One repeated theme of the stories is being different: the People look exactly like humans, but they have several psychic abilities–“gifts and persuasions,” as they call them–such as levitation, telekinesis, and telepathy. A lot of the stories are concerned with their struggles to live in a world where, as one character puts it, “Different is dead.” Another theme is the desire to be special, or experience magic: a number of the stories include outsiders, and their wistful perspective on the People. Yet another is the idea of home: the People are constantly remembering the Home, their planet that is now destroyed; and many of the stories involve “lost” members of the People finding others of their kind who will love and accept them for what they are.

The great triumph of the book is Henderson’s depiction of the People. They’re compassionate, close-knit, and just really good. Though they’re not perfect, they don’t seem to be driven to hate and destruction in the way of normal humans; they have an instinctive/infused knowledge of God. Yet the characters are so well-characterized that they never seem sanctimonious or too-perfect; and Henderson writes with such immediacy that the People do not seem improbably utopian.

The other great strength of Henderson’s writing is the feeling of wonder that permeates her stories: not just about the People, but about the whole universe. It’s this, more than anything else, that makes the books enjoyable.

Morally, the book is excellent. There aren’t any deep insights, and the People’s religion is pretty vague; but it’s pervasive and definitely compatible with Christianity.

(Note: this book combines the stories which appeared in Pilgrimage and The People: No Different Flesh.)

Posted by Rose | May 7, 2003

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