Readers are easily lost when presented with a busy and unfamiliar setting. Russ succeeds admirably by concentrating on the comings and goings of extended family through a household. Teleportation between booths is near-effortless, intelligence enhancers are the norm, and of the family of eighteen adults include “two triplet marriages, a quad, and a group of eight.” And then there’s Leslie Smith, for whom intelligence enhancers don’t work, who wishes she’d lived in the 20th century instead.
Not that she’s the protagonist. Our POV is Janina, temporary matriarch of the family, so this future setting rushes through her matter-of-factly. This makes the story a heady rush of mundane life details, like switching the family’s dinner conversation to Finnish to show up a relative’s pronunciation, or this section about teleportation booths:
The booths at the cryogenics center at the North Pole have exchanged air so often with those of warmer regions that each has its own microclimate; leaves and seeds, plants and earth are piled about them. The notes pinned to the door said, Don’t Step on the Grass! Wish to Trade Pawlownia Sapling for Sub-arctic Canadian Moss; Watch Your Goddamn Bare Six-Toed Feet! Wish Amateur Cellist for Quartet, Six Months’Rehearsal Late Uhl with Reciter; I Lost A Squirrel Here Yesterday, Can You Find It Before It Dies? Eight Children Will be Heartbroken—Cecilia Ching, Buenos Aires.)
As for the plot, there’s nothing over-arching. Lots of little goings on that add up to a satisfying whole, and give a great taste of living in this somewhat frenetic future.
Nobody’s Home by Joanna Russ
Availability: Print only
Word count: 6,800
First published: New Dimensions II, edited by Robert Silverberg, 1972, Doubleday
Where to find it: Modern Classics of Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois, 1993, St Martin’s Press
Great Tales of Science Fiction, edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Robert Silverberg, 1994, Galahad Books
Women of Wonder, the Classic Years: Science Fiction by Women from the 1940s to the 1970s, edited by Pamela Sargent, 1995, Harvest/Harcourt
Supermen, edited by Gardner Dozois, 2002, St Martin’s Press
The World Treasury of Science Fiction, edited by David Hartwell, Little, Brown