Sturgeon’s “Granny Won’t Knit”

In my Complete Sturgeon reading, I just read his 1954 story “Granny Won't Knit.” Spoilers and an entertaining anecdote follow.

For the first three-quarters of the story, it appears to be a pretty standard 1950s-sf kind of thing, with echoes of The Stars My Destination. It's set in a future society (post-Collapse, post-Rebuilding) where “transplat” teleportation machines make the whole world the same, and everyone dresses in identical whole-body-concealing clothing. The protagonist, Roan, the young scion of the family that runs the transplat business, has some mysterious encounters with a gorgeous scantily clad woman, and he talks with his 183-year-old grandmother, and then he finds out there's a group of back-to-nature types who can teleport themselves and objects.

And that's about where it finally started to get interesting to me, forty pages into a sixty-page story: Roan's sister Val (the future society is extremely sexist) turns out to have also gone to the commune and fallen in love with someone there, and Roan is really nice to her and supportive about it, and I started liking him for the first time. And then he goes to his Granny, having figured out that she's connected with the psi people, and gets her to help him fool his patriarchal father into thinking that Roan has invented a new teleport machine that will revolutionize the transplat business. But then, confusingly, she tells him to tell his father that the machine is actually just a way to help psi people do their psi thing. And the father goes along with it.

And Granny tells Roan about changing a culture:

[B]reaking up a culture isn't something you can do on an afternoon off. You've got to know where it's been and where it is, before you know where it's going. [...] Then you have to decide how much it needs changing and, after that, whether or not you were right when you decided. Then, it's a good idea to know for sure—but for sure—that you don't push it so far, it flops over some other gruesome way.

And then comes the twist ending:

It turns out that there is no psi. The new machine is really doing all the work, and the “psi” people had to trick Roan because everyone in his generation was heavily conditioned in the creche (to preserve societal stasis) to believe that there couldn't be any machine better than transplat, but the conditioning said nothing about non-machine sources, so they made up the psi stuff to get past his conditioning.

And then it turns out that Granny was the inventor of both the original transplat and the new machine.

I was delighted. I can't say that I especially enjoyed the first forty pages of the story; I kept reading only for Sturgeon-completism reasons. But the last six pages are a lot of fun, gleefully upending half of the genre conventions that the rest of the story appeared to rely on.

So I was in a good mood already when I turned to the story notes at the end of the book. Where I read this great anecdote, from Sturgeon's introduction to a 1979 reprint of the story:

Horace Gold, having saved space for me in an upcoming issue, called to ask, as politely as possible, “Where the hell is the novelette?” and I answered with perfect truth [that it wasn't written yet]. So he put me on hold, and called another writer with whom he had discussed an idea, but who had later said he had decided to do nothing with it, and asked him if he would mind his passing the idea over to Sturgeon. The writer said go right ahead; he'd never do anything with it himself. The basic idea was this matter transmission thing. So I wrote Granny, hardly getting up from the typewriter, at about the time the other writer changed his mind and wrote The Stars My Destination. I do indeed love Granny, but I wish I'd written the superb novel Alfred Bester did.


2 Responses to “Sturgeon’s “Granny Won’t Knit””

  1. debbie.notkin

    That’s the deep dark secret of Sturgeon completism. It rewards you in the oddest and most delightful ways.


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