The People: No Different Flesh

by Zenna Henderson

Cover image

Series: The People #2
Publisher: Avon
Copyright: 1967
Printing: May 1968
ISBN: 0-380-01506-4
Format: Mass market
Pages: 221

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This is the second book of Henderson's People stories. Like Pilgrimage, it's a short story collection with a bridging story to tie them together, although in this case the bridging story is very scant and has no significant plot of its own. The stories here are comfortably readable without having read Pilgrimage; you won't know who some of the characters are, but it doesn't matter much.

I probably should have reviewed Pilgrimage as a short story collection, but its stories felt like they followed a narrative line and merged together. The People: No Different Flesh, on the other hand, is much more like a traditional short-story collection with stories ranging from the destruction of the original Home to new stories of the People hidden among humans. Henderson fills in a bit more of the background outside of Earth, including both Home and New Home, but don't expect technological details or much traditional world-building. As with Pilgrimage, the focus is on emotions, trust, caring, and families.

There is also, throughout, quite a lot of religion, more so than Pilgrimage. There are some interesting variations, such as much less fear of death among the People, but for the most part their religion feels and acts like an unspecified Christianity. Henderson's aliens are not particularly alien; even the full view of their old Home feels like a slightly tweaked Earth postulating widespread mental powers. Alienness here is a plot device and a symbol for being an outsider and different, and an excuse to play with magical powers.

"No Different Flesh": This is one of the lightest and I think one of the weaker stories in this collection. A couple find a baby after a mysterious crash and bring her into their lives, having previously lost a child of their own. The baby of course is one of the People and starts exhibiting special abilities, they make contact with the People, and some devastating human meanness is overcome with their help. It's a typical Henderson story with good-hearted protagonists, a sense of healing, and a happy ending, just without much meat. (6)

"Deluge": Here, Henderson finally tells in detail what happened to Home. Its destruction is the defining background of the People stories, the event that created the diaspora and led to their encounters with Earth and humans. Seeing it happen does satisfy some curiosity, but it's the story that needs to be the most grounded in SF explanations, and that's not Henderson's strong point. There is, therefore, a lot of handwaving. It's never clear just what happened to the planet or why, and there's a lot of mysticism without a lot of understanding. I would have liked the story better if Henderson had used the opportunity to dig further into how a fully-structured and complete society of the People would function and respond to significant problems, but most of that happens in the background and she "cheats" a little by employing prophets. I found "Deluge" largely unsatisfying; there's a poignant ending, but even there Henderson pulls her punches to keep the ending happier (and to explain how the People know the full story). (6)

"Angels Unawares": Another story of humans finding a scarred and traumatized one of the People, this one focuses on an older child and a human-caused catastrophe. This is one of the few Henderson stories with clear-cut villains, in this case a breakaway religious sect with an exceptionally harsh interpretation of the Bible. Given the often religious tone of the People stories, there is some interesting contrast, but unfortunately it rarely runs deeper than the classic contrast between rules and love so common in Protestant religious analysis. The best part of the story is Marnie's slow recovery of her memories and abilities. (6)

"Troubling of the Water": I think this is the best story of this collection and perhaps the best People story period. It has the same structure as many others: a human family discovers a child of the People after some calamity (this time, another lifeship crash) and takes care of him in the midst of their own troubles. But here, the trouble (a drought that may make their farm no longer viable) and the wonderful characterization of the gruff, well-read father make the story. Nothing is easy, including the power-assisted solution to their problems. It's a story about trust and hope, with a nice link at the end to other stories in this book. (8)

"Return": "Deluge" gives a glimpse of Home. "Return" gives a similar glimpse of New Home, by way of one of the characters who left for it at the end of Pilgrimage and now returns. That part was somewhat interesting, particularly the way that Henderson captures the emotional feel of a terraforming planet and a fully-populated ecosystem. Unfortunately, the story centers on the most appallingly self-centered, arrogant, vicious, and uncaring character that I've seen in any of Henderson's stories, making most of it actively painful to read. It is, like most of these stories, a healing story, so of course this does improve, but that isn't enough to make me want to read it. Ugh. (4)

"Shadow on the Moon": Two children of the People, Shadow and her older brother, run across an old man holed up in a cabin who has apparently gone somewhat crazy. Shadow's brother is wild to go into space and frustrated that the People won't show all the humans how to do it, so when they discover a link between that and this half-crazy man, it becomes an exciting project.

The story is made by Shadow, who I think is my favorite of any of Henderson's characters. Henderson does a remarkable job of capturing the younger sister role, showing both why Shadow wants to shadow her brother and her ability to think for herself and help him out of some dangerous situations. The story also has a nice bit of plot and suspense and the growing and healing aspects common to so much of Henderson's work, but I read it for Shadow and would happily read another dozen stories about her. (7)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-06-28

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21