Out of Everywhere

A James Tiptree Jr. Critique

“Love is the Plan the Plan is Death” Review

“Love is the Plan the Plan is Death” Copyright © 1973 by James Tiptree, Jr.

First published in Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Also appears in Byte Beautiful and Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

Available online here.

This story is an odd one. First, let me state that I really like the title, though I do find it interesting that there is no comma in the middle. However, in Byte Beautiful, the book I just read it in, the title is separated onto two lines, suggesting the pause in the middle. It is something I have always thought interesting, but I don’t have a “so what?” about it. It is just curious. As for the actual story, as I said, it’s an odd one. It is so far from human, that it is almost difficult to read. The story is about alien creatures and “the Plan,” which is their mating ritual, or natural instincts. There is never a mention of humans or any kind of space travel. This is not a science fiction story in the way we are used to viewing them, but could almost be a “fantasy” story in the way it is written. In fact, I would say this one is more in the “speculative fiction” category, which I know many people say is the less geeky term for “science fiction,” but I feel has a different connotation. However, I believe it is as most alien stories are, in that the point is to show something “alien” in order to reflect on what is human.

Spoilers. So this story is narrated in first person, but to a second person “you.” However, the “I” and “you” do have conversations. The whole story is about a mating ritual, “The Plan.” Throughout the story, the narrator, Moggadeet, tries to defy the Plan. He assumes giving in to the Plan means giving in to natural, animalistic urges. There is also a fear of the cold, because it takes away conscious thought, and makes the creatures into vicious brutes. This story is strong with the theme of the fear of atavism, which is the fear of regression, of being more primitive. On this world, the main sentient creatures come in three varieties: The Mother gold, the Male black, and the Female red. A lovely description in the story is, “Gold is the color of Mother-care but black is the color of rage. Attack the black! Black is to kill! Even a Mother, ever her own baby, she cannot defy the Plan. …Red is the color of love” (Byte 75). The babies start out with gold fur, and then shed it to either black or red fur as they get older. The Mother chases away the red ones, but she tries to kill the black ones. Black ones compete to kill each other over red ones. Moggadeet finds a pinkish Red and kills another Black for her. He knows cold makes him senseless, so he takes “his” Red and retreats further to the warmth as winter comes on. There is a strange ritual where he makes silk and binds her, as a spider would, and everyday he unbinds a limb at a time to clean her before rebinding her. She starts as small as him, but once she is the same size, and a scarlet red, he fully unbinds her because he cannot help it, and they go through their mating ritual. The two use affectionate terms with each other with every sentence. Moggadeet says things like “my redling” or “my fat little blushbud” (77). This is part of their “defiance” of the Plan. She tries to defy it more than he does because she asks to be rebound after mating, and he refuses because he wants to look at her. He feels the Plan is to bind her, and since she is larger than him by this point, she attacks and eats him, which is actually the Plan.

The “plot” is hard to describe because the biggest push in the story is the narrative voice, which is such a self-assured first person. As with “With Delicate Mad Hands,” Tiptree does a very good job capturing a voice that is completely unhuman. However, it does make it hard to relate to or understand the characters a bit. The point is something about mating rituals, or fighting instincts. The whole story, what Moggadeet thought of as fighting the Plan was actually exactly the Plan, itself. So, by the end, even though the narrator is quite happy to be eaten and feeding the soon-to-be Mother and her young, there is a sense of futility. There is no circumventing the Plan. And this is the title. The Plan starts as love, but then it becomes death. To have one, you must have the other. There is no escaping it.

Overall, I’ll go with 3 out of 5 stars for this one. It is a good read for the narrative voice, but is just a bit too foreign to comprehend fully upon the first read.

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February 26, 2011 - Posted by | Books, Byte Beautiful, Death, Hard Science Fiction, Her Smoke Rose Up forever, Review, Warm Worlds and Otherwise | , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. One of my favorite stories ever for that very reason; because you must read it more than once to find your own understanding of it. Very thought provoking. Unable to convey how much I’ve enjoyed reading Tiptree over my lifetime, all I can say is, well, she’s made an excellent impression on me.

    Comment by A. Spencer | November 15, 2011 | Reply

  2. I agree with A. Spencer; this is one of my favorite Tiptree stories. The “alien-ness” of the story is precisely what makes it so good. The sense of futility is built-in; not every SF story must be an adventure, or end well. We as humans can relate to it on some level, though; after all, many of the things we do are automatic, instinctual and unavoidable!

    Comment by Andrés F. | December 26, 2012 | Reply

  3. This has probably become my most favourite science fiction story.

    Comment by Tito | December 7, 2013 | Reply

  4. Coming to this discussion very late because, to my shame, I’ve only just discovered Tiptree! Wanted to add that I also find it hard to convey how much I’m enjoying her work. (Okay, ‘enjoy’ may not be quite the right word; I’m having to take regular breaks, as I find many of her stories dreadfully depressing – nevertheless these are among the most lyrical, thought provoking stories I’ve ever read!)

    Hard to choose a favourite, but LitPtPiD is definitely a strong contender. Not only do I love the masterful way Tiptree’s prose leads me to empathise with a totally alien species, but also, at the end, I shed tears not only for brave Moggadeet (who is ultimately subsumed by the Plan he tries so hard to resist) but also for we humans who, try as we might, will also eventually succumb to Nature’s Plan.

    What a writer Tiptree/Sheldon was, and thank you so much for this fascinating post! -Nx

    Comment by Neta | September 17, 2014 | Reply


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