Short Story #89: The First Days of May by Claude Veullot

Title:  The First Days of May

Author:  Claude Veullot

Damon Knight - A Century of Science FictionSummary

It's only a few days after the landing of space crafts and the near obliteration of human life on Earth.  The narrator slowly makes his way through the city ruins in order to return to his home and find his wife, trying to avoid the insect-like aliens who use their supersonic shrills to disarm and destroy buildings, weapons, and people.  He encounters another human on his trek home who provides a little update about the state of affairs and things seem largely hopeless.  The narrator continues on towards home.  In his apartment, he encounters another man, who lived a few floors away before the Shrills showed up.  They discuss what's going on and the man knows nothing of about his wife.  The man explains that his wife like other humans is likely in the camp, where the humans are being held.  The narrator leaves to go find these camps.  He soon encounters a group of men with weapons who are more than happy to bring him to the camps--after they beat him up.  Instead of being taken to the camps, he is taken to a place called, the Winter Circus.  Here, he witnesses caged fights between a human and a Shrill.  He is set up to go next but since the first fight ends in a human winning, the fights are called off for the rest of the day.  His next remembers how his wife, Maria talks about the beauty of early May and the next thing he knows he's at a farmhouse where the Shrills are harvesting their eggs into babies.  They are sent into tunnels and matched with female Shrills to implant their eggs with.  The narrator has accepted all of this but as his time comes he sees a blonde haired woman that reminds him of his wife and wants to be implanted by the Shrill next to her.  His last moments are him reflecting on the female Shrill and how he doesn't believe she is so horrible.

Reflection

One of the more haunting stories that I have read thus far.  It definitely builds upon H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds (as the story's introduction says), but makes it much darker than what Wells imagined (even though it has its share of darkness).  The conversion of the narrator from fearful and loathing of the Shrills to his acceptance of them in the final scene is fascinating as it could suggest he has gone mad or that this was the only true way to reunite with his lost love.  There's also a fascinating juxtaposition in this story wherein the Shrills have not superior technology but just their voice which is used to conquer humankind.  The aliens of War of the Worlds had superior technology but were taken down by bacteria, a common Earth lifeform.  Similarly, humans with all their technology are eliminated by sound.  

Short Story #89 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/25/2014
Source:  A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. Simon & Schuster, 1962.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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