Out of Everywhere

A James Tiptree Jr. Critique

“Beam Us Home” Review

“Beam Us Home” (Copyright © 1969 by James Tiptree, Jr.)

First published in Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home

Also appears in Byte Beautiful

Available online here.

Well, first of all, this story is available on the Science Fiction Archive, which means you all can read it for free! (It’s a short one, so I recommend it. And if the background or format throws you, copy and paste it into a Word document as I did.) Second, I believe anyone who is a fan of Star Trek, or at least knows the fandom, will appreciate or find amusement in this story. It is not a very comic story (really, none of Tiptree’s stories are comic) but I still found it amusing. The title is not just a reference to Star Trek, but the whole story is about a fan trying to get into space.

In fact, I found this story very similar to “With Delicate Mad Hands.” It seems like the male version of that story, except it is all about the efforts to get into space, and not the events in space. Spoiler time. But this time you have no excuse, because you can read this one for free. I had forgotten how it is to read one of these stories for the first time. For some, they begin and they are so obviously on another planet, or about a completely different species, but this one had a vaguer beginning. It is almost like a game for me, to see how long it takes before I can determine if a story takes place on Earth or elsewhere, if it is the future or “modern” times. I must admit, I was thrown by this one at first, because I did think it would take place in the future, even with the title as a reference to Star Trek. However, half way down the page, the main character, Hobie, is in the hospital, delirious, and in his delirium calls for “Dr. McCoy.” The story is clearly set in the sixties, then. However, although it pulls many things from actual history, this technically is an alternate history story — which are more common in steampunk, but do appear occasionally in science fiction. The changes are things like: Kennedy is shot at but not killed, the Cold War lasts longer, North and South Korea come back together (the least likely change), and the US uses its experiences in Vietnam to charge full scale into Venezuela. This story is very political and war-related, which did go over my head a bit, but I felt I was able to follow.

Amidst all this, Hobie believes he is really from the Starship Enterprise and was sent down into the past on Earth to observe history. To this end, he never relates with people, and tries to use his considerable intelligence to get into the space program. This is the lenses through which he examines the world. He says the world is torn in warfare because society is still young. As he knows, humans will get along much better by the time Kirk is captain of the Enterprise. His plans are thwarted because the space program gets cut when the US charges into Venezuela. So he has to fly planes, and ends up in the middle of biological warfare. The disease he has is nasty and causes horrible bowel movements and gut-puking and such. They’re lovely descriptions. In a delirium, he takes his plane and flies it as high as he can and then wakes up on the operating table in a spaceship that is not the Enterprise. And as it says, “Somebody who was not Bones McCoy was doing something to Hobie’s stomach” (Byte Beautiful 65).

While this story makes a nice psychological story which looks into the mentality of a slightly unstable person, or the ability of a person who cannot connect to society to connect to a fictional story. However, because this is a Tiptree story, there will always be a science fiction justification. Just as in “With Beautiful Mad Hands,” that the voices are really aliens, Hobie really ends up on a spaceship. However, I believe this is a bit vaguer. He could have ended up on a real alien spaceship. Or he could have passed out or died, and this is his final death delusion. Personally, I feel this is what happened even though the story ends with an uplifting note of Hobie yelling, “I’m HOME!” (65).

Overall, this story gets 4 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed it, and I recommend it, but I did not quite like the automatic science fiction justification ending. Though I did like the jabs at Star Trek.

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February 19, 2011 - Posted by | Books, Byte Beautiful, Death, Hard Science Fiction, Review, Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home | , , , , , , , , ,

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