Amongst the ranks of near-forgotten women SF writers Rosel George Brown is one of the least remembered. Prior to her untimely death aged 41 in 1967 she published one collection of interesting if unspectacular short stories and this novel. A posthumous sequel and a collaborative novel with Keith Laumer complete her scant bibliography.
Sibyl Sue Blue is, however, a character of note for her time and possibly now. She is 40 years old, a widow with a 16 year old daughter Missy, a homicide police sergeant and a student of classical Greek. This last is both a direct reflection of Brown’s own academic background and an opportunity for at least one aside on the way female academic progress is hindered by domesticity.
Indeed issues of domesticity and feminine roles recur throughout Galactic Sibyl Sue Blue with Sibyl herself remaining not ambiguous exactly but inconsistent in her characterisation. She is independent, a working mum, tough in handling physical assaults right from the first sentence, and able to respond verbally to blatant sexism. She also worries about her dress, gets flustered by the handsome villain, flirts and expresses her need for a man rather often.
I’m lucky. I’ve got a beautiful daughter and a good figure no matter how much I eat, and naturally curly hair…
The only thing I don’t have is a man. At the moment.
If that makes the 21st century reader cringe it is tempered within a page as Sibyl ponders reading Thucydides and writing about Plataea. The ‘mad, mod heroine of the future,’ to quote the Berkeley edition front cover copy, may define herself by her relationships with men, but it is no longer the only thing she references. Sibyl eventually falls into the handsome, villainous arms of Stuart Grant, but only when she chooses to do so.
The plot of Galactic Sibyl Sue Blue, such as it is, begins as a quirky policier. There have been several mysterious murders possibly linked to the benzale cigarettes illicitly imported from Centaurus. Meanwhile Sibyl is attacked (and defends herself efficiently) by normally peaceable Centaurans, ones with an odd green tinge. Issues of inter-species prejudice and fetishization are dropped in and skim by. Sibyl’s boss is not quite in the Gene Hunt mould, but he is of his time.
It all changes when Sibyl smokes a dodgy benzale and receives a dream communication from her late husband lost a decade before on a mission to the planet Radix. Something links Radix, Centaurus and the murders, and Stuart Grant whose ships have the space trade monopoly, knows more than he admits. From here the rapid action leads to kidnap, escape, a mission to Radix, mutiny, and a wild plot flourish to match Philip K Dick’s minor novels at least. Radix is a planet covered in one single sentient plant lifeform, and Stuart thinks he can use it to rule over Earth and Centaurus by assimilation. Only Sibyl and the creepy Dr Beadle, Stuart’s erstwhile ally, can save the day.
Galactic Sibyl Sue Blue is mainly a superior 1960s SF romp with a hint of domestic romance, but Rosel George Brown mixes it up just enough to offer a subversive note. In Sibyl she tweaks gently at the aspirations of the working mother and simultaneously the systems that deny those aspirations. Sibyl’s concerns are her daughter and a man, yet she repeatedly and easily defeats male assailants. She is affected by emotions but sees beyond them when necessary.
Galactic Sibyl Sue Blue is a slight novel, 158 pages, of rapid pulp action and wild ideas, full of the gender political self-contradictions of its era. Brown tells her story with verve and wit however, and it is a fun novel, if not a classic, neither is it one to languish in total obscurity.
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