This novel, which was probably (although not certainly) first serialized in Analog or Galaxy several decades ago, is about a brilliant young girl who, through her accomplishments, is placed in a special school.

The head of the school (who I think, but am not sure, she eventually marries) had great hopes for her based on her heroic performance before she entered the school. I think, but am not sure, that she resisted entering the school.

However, she is unable to cope with the teaching machines used in the school, which allow learning at a greatly enhanced speed. Other students in the school have no problem with the machines. Thus, she has to learn at her natural speed, and falls behind even though she studies long hours.

The head of the school is very disappointed, and thinks she is being stubborn -- trying to get flunked out. Eventually, the misunderstanding is cleared up and she does well in academic and physical challenges.

This is not a young adult novel -- it preceded that genre by several decades. And it wasn't by Heinlein.

This is all I remember. It was probably by a major author of SF.

1 Answer 1


"Unwillingly to School", a novelette by Pauline Ashwell; first published in Astounding Science Fiction, January 1958, available at the Internet Archive; reprinted in the anthology Uncollected Stars and in the Pauline Ashwell collection Unwillingly to Earth. [P.S. Scroll down for update.]

Beginning of the story, the narrator/heroine introduces herself:

This may look like a moviegram of Brownian Movement but no such luck; it is Russett Interplanetary College of Humanities Opening Day, four thousand three hundred twenty-seven other freshers milling around and me in the middle with a little ticket on my chest says Lee, L. because my given name is something not to mention; they say these kids came from one hundred twenty-four planets just to study at Russett but personally of all points in the known continuum this is the one I would rather be any place But.

Freshers come in all sizes, all colors but a fair number are girls so there is one thing we will be finding in common anyway.

This may come as a surprise, that I am a girl, I mean. My tutor at Prelim School says my speech is feminine as spoken but written down looks like the kind of male character who spits sideways.

I reply that I talk like my Dad he is a character all right, male too but does not spit, if you spent your formative years with a filter in your kisser neither would you.

He says my flair for seeing the functional significance of the minutiae of behavior is obviously what got me chosen for the Cultural Engineering course.


I know what got me into that all right I am not so dumb as I look.

Her trouble with reading machines:

Beschrievene says that the safety device only turns off the Crammer, the rest of the machine goes on working but only at the rate for unassisted reading about one-tenth normal rate.

M'Clare says, "You, my girl, have been trying to keep up with a course designed for people who could absorb information seven or eight times as fast. No wonder your knowledge seemed a bit sketchy."

The story continues with "The Lost Kafoozalum" in Analog Science Fact & Fiction, October 1960, which was reprinted along with "Unwillingly to School" in Ashwell's collection Unwillingly to Earth, and is available at Project Gutenberg.

I'm not sure if Professor M'Clare is the head of the school, but she does end up marrying him:

"You know, Lizzie, I dislike risking the lives of any of the students for whom I am responsible, but as it happens I find the idea of you—blowing yourself to atoms particularly objectionable because ... I happen to be in love with you. You're also one of my best students, I used to think that ... was why I'd been so insistent on your coming to Russett, but I rather think ... my motives were mixed even then. I meant to tell you this after you graduated, and to ask you to marry me, not that ... I thought you would, I know quite well ... you never quite forgave me, but I don't-want-to-have to remember ... I didn't ... have the guts to—"

[. . . .]

It is just as well my Education has come to an honorable end, because ... well, shades of ... well, Goodness gracious and likewise Dear me, I am going to marry a Professor.

Update. Actually there were four stories in the series: the two I mentioned and two more published decades later. Quoting Wikipedia (some links added):

Unwillingly to Earth (1993), a fix-up of four previously published stories detailing the space adventures of the young Lysistrata (aka "Lizzie") Lee, including

  • "Unwillingly to School" (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1958), set on the rough mining planet where Lizzie was born and from which she was sent against her will to university on Earth. [Available at the Internet Archive.]
  • "Rats in the Moon" (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, November 1982), where Lizzie exposes plots of interplanetary political corruption on Earth's Moon.
  • "Fatal Statistics" (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, July 1988), where Lizzie negotiates between hostile factions on the planet Figueroa, whose civilization collapsed, and helps survivors make a new start.
  • "The Lost Kafoozalum" (Analog Science Fact -> Fiction, October 1960), where Lizzie takes part in a daring plot to avert nuclear war on the planet Incognita, and when things go terribly wrong she sets them right, saves the life of her professor and eventually marries him. [Available at Project Gutenberg.]

  • 4
    • 2
      This is definitely IT! No doubt about it. Thanks. Is your brain hooked up directly to a computer, or do you just have an incredible memory?
      – ab2
      Aug 2, 2016 at 23:53
    • 9
      No, he just absorbs knowledge at 7 to 8 times normal speed.
      – Sam Weaver
      Aug 3, 2016 at 3:18
    • 2
      @SamWeaver Ha ha, good one. Truth is I'm slower than most people. Because I read slow, I haven't read nearly as many books and stories as the rest of you. The smaller number makes it easier to remember the few stories I have read. Like this one.
      – user14111
      Aug 3, 2016 at 6:48
    • 1
      I'd also say that the fact that the question describes how the character is unwilling to enter a school and that's the title of the story makes it quite easy to remember. :)
      – Jules
      Aug 3, 2016 at 10:12

    Your Answer

    By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

    Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.