Sonya Dorman Hess’ “When I Was Miss Dow”

Sonya Dorman Hess’ 1966 short story, “When I Was Miss Dow,” is another gender bending story that is the same category as Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe.” Thinking about great openings, I like the way Hess begins this story:

These hungry, mother-haunted people come and find us living in what they like to call crystal palaces, though really we live in glass places, some of them highly ornamented and others plain as paper.

It’s about humans, the “hungry, mother-haunted people,” exploring a planet inhabited by “Protean” or shape shifting aliens. The narrator describes itself and others like it as “he,” but “he” transforms into a “she” with the directive to obtain money from the predominantly male human explorers in return for “her” services. Unlike the others, the narrator is given the special task of emulating human brains by forming two lobes instead of just one as is customary for his people to do, and in so doing, transforms into Miss Dow, a thirty-something lab assistant. As Miss Dow, the narrator falls in love with the much older scientist she works with and she experiences attraction, dejection, and longing as the story progresses.

This is a great example of early Second Wave Feminist SF, and I recommend it. You can read it online here, but I read it in The Norton Book of Science Fiction.

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Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.