Out of Everywhere

A James Tiptree Jr. Critique

“And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” Review

“And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” © 1971 by James Tiptree, Jr.

First appears in Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home

Also appears in Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

While, for the most part, I really like the titles of Tiptree’s stories, they do get a bit tedious to always type out. (The only title that is possible more tedious to type out is The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but that is neither here nor there.) Unlike the last story (which I am going to refrain from typing out) I can actually see how the title of the story pertains to the plot, which is about sex drives and aliens and society, and a whole slush of things like that.

Spoilers. So, the story starts off with a news reporter who’s managed to get himself onto a international (inter-planetal?) space station because he wants to get some shots of aliens. He meets a human man there and wants to ask him some questions, but then the man goes off on his own story about how he met his first aliens in a bar, and how humans are inexplicably attracted to the different with a desire to impregnate it, and that humans always go seeking sex from the aliens, even the ones who reproduce in completely different ways from humans. He says it has ruined him because he cannot even look at regular humans anymore, and that since most of the species are not compatible with humans, people will die trying to sleep with them. However, the story ends with the reporter not taking in any of it, and instead rushing off to the crowd he can see heading to dinner that includes aliens.

The writing style was what I found particularly interesting more so than the story itself. It almost reads like a news story, where reporters don’t tend to quote themselves, but will summarize the questions they have. This story did that a bit, since it was mostly a story around a monologue/conversation. The narration, first person, would say something like “One of the early GR casualties, I thought,” (Ten Thousand 2) and the man responds to the though, which shows the narrator clearly said it out loud, just didn’t convey that to the reader. And while the narrator never seems to truncate any of the man’s testimony, whenever he gets a chance to get his narration in, it’s always to poke fun at him or degrade him in some way. So the English major in me likes to go “Ha! Untrustworthy narrator!” As for the title, I feel it applies to the man in the story, not the narrator, which is interesting cause the story and the title are in first person, but the speaker is a different person for each. The title is the man’s realization of the situation humanity is in, which the narrator has not yet realized. The other thing I found noteworthy about this story is the mention of Stars’ Tears, and that’s only cause I’ ma huge nerd. It’s only the briefest of mentions, as it often is when the story is not actually about Stars’ Tears. It is noteworthy because the Stars’ Tears universe, as I like to call it, is Tiptree’s favorite. There are so many “future earth” stories that take place in this universe, and you always know it’s this universe because of the mention of Stars’ Tears. I like it so much because it’s the universe of my favorite story, “We Who Stole the Dream” and of Brightness Falls from the Sky. However, I am going to come back to Stars’ Tears when I talk about those stories.

Overall, 3 out of 5 stars. I liked the story most of all for the Stars’ Tears reference, but it wasn’t bad.

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February 20, 2012 Posted by | Books, Hard Science Fiction, Her Smoke Rose Up forever, Review, Society, Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!” Review

“Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light” Copyright © 1976 by Alice B. Sheldon

First published in Out of the Everywhere

Also appears in Byte Beautiful and Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

Wow, what a depressing story. I mean, I’m used to these kinds of stories, having just graduated from an all women’s college, but that doesn’t make them any less hard. As you may have guessed, this is a story about a woman who eventually gets attacked. And, of course, because she is a woman, she cannot just be attacked, but must also be raped, which is one major difference between men and women. Men are so rarely attacked in a sexual manor, and yet the majority of assaults on women are sex-driven. It is dangerous for a woman to wander around a bad area at night not just because she may be attacked and killed, but because she may be attacked, raped, and killed. (However, suggesting that women should take out health insurance for that, as if it’s an eventuality and not a possibility, is ridiculous! But I’m not going to go into politics, even if many of Tiptree’s stories are political.) The main point is not the final attack, however, but a larger topic of oppression against women, particularly psychologically and with various hysterical “treatments.”

Story spoilers. Anyway, this story starts with an unnamed woman, who only calls herself “a Sister,” capital “S,” walking along a seemingly abandoned elevated freeway, claiming to be a courier who travels by foot along the deserted roads and highways of an apparently post-apocalyptic world, or at least of a world that has had a major decrease in population and a major change in society. She talks about other Sisters she’s met along the road, and her journey west to deliver mail. In a scene shift, we are suddenly in the present with a woman explaining to a police officer how she picked up a hitch-hiking woman who seemed to be stoned because she was so happy and spoke very strangely of Sisters and Mothers, and seeing light in their faces. This pattern continues with the woman walking through the, in her mind, deserted streets of abandoned Chicago, while the present switches always happen in the future, with people speaking of having seen her, after she passed, and always talking about how strange she acted, calling everyone, even men, Sisters. Eventually, in one of the “present” moments, at a hospital, a psychologist explains how she escaped from the hospital, and lives in a delusional world where everybody is kind to her, making her trusting of everyone, and thus an easier target. Throughout the story, there is also mention of various treatments she has undergone, such as shock therapy, which, in her world, give her headaches and hallucinations. Her parents, after a woman gives them a tip about having seen her on the street that night, later talk about how she started going bad, and was unable to recognize her own baby, making it seem like she had some kind of severe post-postpartum depression, which has made her lose her connection with reality. The final “present” moment is when the same officer is questioning another officer who was on a stake-out in the area and saw the woman pass, followed by four men, but did not do anything to stop them, claiming she was two blocks away when the woman was actually attacked, and that she could not leave her stake-out for one girl being foolish. Of course, this foreshadows the ending from the woman’s point of view of dogs following her. She thinks she can scare them away by saying “Boo!” but they attack anyway, “rearing up weirdly, just like people!” (Byte 111). She still thinks this is an attack of wild dogs when they tear off her clothes around her stomach, thinking dogs rip out peoples’ guts. However, she thinks she sees people coming, and is not afraid because she thinks they will carry her mail the rest of the way to Des Moins when she dies.

Yeah. Depressing, right? And I don’t know if it’s more depressing or not that she doesn’t even realize she is being raped, only feeling “agony [cut] into her crotch and entrails” (112). It is also sad because it seems the system has ruined her with brutal treatment and lack of consideration. The psychologist is not concerned she has escaped, and only tells the police to call her once they’ve checked the morgue. Even her parents are only concerned so far as to blame her husband for her going wrong, and to wonder why she couldn’t handle it when other wonder could. Her “hallucinations” that accompany the headaches seem to be flashes of reality, which she rejects as wrong. She does not want to live in reality because it is there that she was not free. Clearly, this story has awoken anger in me, but not at the story, at the system. If we were living in better times, perhaps I would look at this as only a story with a sad ending, however, the political climate we’re in now (yes, sorry, going to go into politics, can’t help it) is one of a sexist attacks against women. This is not just in terms of the absurd fight against abortion, but also from the lack of funding for Planned Parenthood, eliminating birth control and health exams for thousands of women, and from the political battles around rape laws in various states. One wants to call victims “accusers,” which plays into this “blame the victim” mentality that is disgustingly the norm when it comes to main-stream views of rape. Another wants abortion to not be covered under health insurance in cases of incest or rape, unless a woman takes out a separate policy for those two possibilities. I’m sorry, but you want women to plan to not only be raped, but be raped by a family member? Getting a flat tire is not nearly as traumatic, you asshole, nor would it cost you so much monetarily and mentally. And you have life insurance because you will eventually die. Are you saying women should eventually be raped?

Whew… I’m okay now that that’s off my chest. And no, I am not being some crazy feminist bitch who is looking too deeply into this. These things are attacks against women, and women’s rights. And they all tie back to what I said before. Men are attacked. Women are raped. It is impossible for men to pull the image of “sex” away from women. Therefore, even in politics, they must attack us sexually.

Anyway… As for the story itself, separate from all the emotions it stirred, I thought it was good. Craft-wise, I liked that it was this continuous stream of her walking through the city, broken up by these moments of reality, and that the reality was actually in the future, with people looking back on having talked with her or having seen her that night. It helped keep her delusional world separate from the real one because we never saw her speak with anyone, only think back on having spoken with them. Overall, 4 out of 5 stars. I can’t really tell you why not five, but I think it has to do with the sad ending. Clearly this thirty-five year old story is still relevant, sadly, to what women deal with, being screwed by the system. Too bad it’s not online like some of the others, otherwise I would recommend trying to read it.

June 9, 2011 Posted by | Books, Byte Beautiful, Death, Feminism, Her Smoke Rose Up forever, Out of the Everywhere, Review, Soft Science Fiction | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Man Who Walked Home” Review

“The Man Who Walked Home” Copyright © 1972 by James Tiptree, Jr.

First published in Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home

Also appears in Byte Beautiful and Her Smoke Rose Up Forever


First of all, let me say that I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get back to this. I was busy with finishing up my final semester of college. But now that that’s done, I’m going to try to do at least one story a week. Anyway, as for the story, this is one of those interesting sci fi stories that deals with time and ideas around time travel and timelines. As I have been watching Doctor Who, especially the current season, I found I was really interested in this story. It plays on the same idea of timelines running in opposite directions, in other words, one person’s past is another’s future and vice versa. However, in the case of this story, it is more like one person’s time traveling experience is the world’s future and his past. I had read this story several years ago and remember being either very confused or not caring for it much. So I don’t know if Doctor Who has changed my opinion, or if perhaps I just didn’t get it then and understand it more now, which leads to me liking it better.

Spoilers. The story starts with a jumbled block of italicized text about falling and how the man needs to get home, needs to walk home. Then the story moves onto a very sparse fast-forward, beginning somewhere in the present to describe a catastrophe that atomizes a factory and changes the global climate and kills a lot of people, etc. The sparse is the jumps in time with descriptions of what happens, such as the movement of new hunter-gatherer groups of people to the crater of the explosion some years later, and the towns that grow up and came down on that site. All this revolves around this yearly reappearance of “the monster,” who, as each year passes, looks more and more like a man falling. This continues until we get to the fifth century after the catastrophe, in which the fast-forward is stopped and characters are actually given names. Here we learn about John Delgano apparently attempted to step for a moment into the future on the same day as the catastrophe, and current scientists believed his return is what caused it. We see him appear briefly again for a few seconds, like every year, and each goes off with his theory. The story ends with a chunk of italics again, this time with more detail and sense, but still with the same first person drive to walk home.

At the beginning of the story, when there were the first indications this was a man appearing for  brief seconds, it reminded me of Watchmen. If anyone had read the comic or seen the movie, then you know how Dr. Manhattan first reforms himself, starting as a neural system, then a skeleton, then muscles, etc. And he keeps reappearing for only a brief flash. While similar, these are not the same. John (also Dr. Manhattan’s real name) Delgano does change with each reappearance, but only minimally because each appearance the further back he goes, from the future he stepped into, is a few seconds into his personal future. However, the questions are never fully answered of what happened in the future to make him return so quickly, nor what happens when he returns to his present to cause the catastrophe. The point of the story is not to answer these questions, but I believe it is to explore the theory of time travel, the same as Doctor Who does, albeit on a somewhat simpler and lighter note.

While the story is somewhat hard to follow, especially as it begins with a block of text rambling, I still found it fascinating, and a much better read the second time around. Therefore, 4 out of 5 stars. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good and worth the read.

June 2, 2011 Posted by | Books, Byte Beautiful, Death, Hard Science Fiction, Her Smoke Rose Up forever, Review, Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“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.

February 26, 2011 Posted by | Books, Byte Beautiful, Death, Hard Science Fiction, Her Smoke Rose Up forever, Review, Warm Worlds and Otherwise | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Women Men Don’t See” Review

“The Women Men Don’t See” (Copyright © 1973 by Mercury Press, Inc., for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December, 1973)

First Published in Warm Worlds and Otherwise – (cover art is from this story)

Also appears in Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

This is the other story we read for my Science Fiction Literature class. And like “With Delicate Mad Hands,” I had already read this story in HSRUF. Also like with With Delicate Mad Hands,” I was disappointed when I saw we’d be reading this story because I remembered not liking it the first time I read it. However, I did not reread this story and suddenly like it. I still didn’t like it. After having a class discussion about it, I can appreciate what the story is doing, but I still don’t like it. My main problem with it is that it is a story told by a male character who is societally sexist, who encounters female characters he doesn’t like. This makes this a story about characters who are unlikable to the narrator, told by an unlikable character. There are no likable characters. And I have a problem with this. It is exactly the reason I don’t like Wuthering Heights. How can I sympathize with characters who I despise? While I don’t hate these two nearly as much as I hate Catherine and Heathcliff, it still has the same problem.

Spoilers up ahead. You have been warned. The story starts with the narrator pointing out his “manliness” by talking about “serious fishing” and how he is not like the normal American tourists. It is supposed to be satiric and obnoxious. This is one of Tiptree’s stories that takes place in “modern” times (i.e. the seventies). It is set in Mexico, because I think Tiptree went there once, or lived there. Many of her “modern times” stories at least partially take place in Mexico or around it. The Tales of the Quintana Roo is all about stories that take place in Quintana Roo, which is a state of Mexico, on the Eastern part of the Yucatan peninsula. This one even mentions Quintana Roo, as the characters pass over it in a small, private plane. The Man (he has a name, but it doesn’t matter to the story) is trying to get to his fishing and two women (a mother and a college-age daughter) are trying to get to Chetumal. They get caught in a storm in a small plane, but the pilot manages to land them on a sandbar along a coast of jungle. The mother and the Man head to the coast in a attempt to find fresh water and get stuck over night. All is fine and normal until the Science Fiction comes blasting in. That night, some aliens come to investigate their camp, and the next morning the woman barters with them to take them back to the sandbar and then take her and her daughter with them off Earth while the Man freaks out.

The details aren’t really important, because it is not the story that is important. Here, the symbols are very important. Again, the male character is the symbol of society. He is not overwhelmingly sexist, as the captain in “With Delicate Mad Hands” is, but he is still a product of his society. He feels women should feel helpless or threatened by a man. He wants to be the valiant protector. He wants to be desirable to the women because he is A Man. So when the women a) do not go into hysterics when they crash, b) show no interest in him, and c) end up helping him because he breaks his leg freaking out about the aliens, his world sort of gets turned around. Also, there is a subplot about the fact that the mother isn’t married, and comes from a long line of women who would go on vacation, find a hot guy, sleep with him, get pregnant, and go back with a baby. (Her daughter’s biological father is Swedish. She leaves her daughter alone with the pilot so that she can get pregnant and continue the tradition.) This completely blows the Man’s mind. He can’t comprehend women not needing men — the women men don’t see. In the end, the women are bored with Earth, and its never-changing social sexism, so they go off with the aliens. Here are characters who feel “alienated” and connect with the “aliens” more so than with humans. In this way, the “alienated” character becomes the “alien” character. The Man cannot comprehend the women to the extent that they become alien to him, even as much as the real, satellite dish-headed aliens are (check out the cover of WWaO — the cover art is from this story).

Overall, this story gets a 2 out of 5 from me. I appreciate what it is trying to do with the alienation=alien concept, but it still has the problem of dually unlikable characters, which is something I personally don’t enjoy. I need to find a 5 star story to do next, otherwise you all will think Tiptree writes crap. I promise you, there is a reason she is my favorite author.

P.S. You can read this story online! Just click here.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | Books, Feminism, Her Smoke Rose Up forever, Review, Soft Science Fiction, Warm Worlds and Otherwise | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“With Delicate Mad Hands” Review

My first story review! Exciting! Why this one? It’s one of the ones we read for my Sci Fi Literature class. Onward…

“With Delicate Mad Hands” (Copyright © 1981 by James Tiptree, Jr.)

First published in: Out of the Everywhere

Out of the Everywhere cover

Also appears in: Byte Beautiful and Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

So I had read this story before, way back when I read HSRUF at the end of high school. I vaguely remember my first impression of this story was dislike, but I didn’t remember anything else of my reaction. When I learned that of all the stories Tiptree wrote, one of the two we would read for this class was “With Delicate Mad Hands,” I was a bit disappointed. However, I went to look at my online pdf through my school’s library website, just to see how many pages it would be to print and found myself reading over the first few sentences. That turned into reading the first few pages, and finally that turned into reading the whole story, all 53 pages of it. As far as short stories go, this is a pretty long one. It floats somewhere in that uncertain territory between a long short story and a short novella. I would say the main downside to this story lies in its length. There are a few pages of exposition, followed by about five pages of an intense action sequence, including a fight to the death, reminiscent of a slasher movie in which the monster keeps coming back to life. The next ten pages involve drifting through space and following a voice. The final resolution takes up the last third of the story, with the really important stuff in only the last few pages. It is a very slow ending, and takes a very long time to get there. In my opinion, it almost has the feel of a backwards plot development. Quick rising action, a fight and climax, slow, long falling action, and a gentle resolution. The story would be very good if it didn’t take so long to get to its point.

Putting aside the length, because I did read it all in one sitting, regardless, let’s look at the actual story. I am going to go in-depth to the plot, so if you don’t want it spoiled, don’t read the rest. It begins with quite a powerful attention grabber: “Carol Page, or CP as she was usually known, was an expert at being unloved” (Byte Beautiful, 1). Her features are described as “…entirely spoiled and dominated by a huge, fleshy, obscenely pugged nose.” This becomes a theme in the story, especially as CP comes to stand for “Cold Pig” due to her nose and her attitude. By the third page, the sexism of the society, which is a very prominent motif in Tiptree’s writing, appears. A manager in charge of assigning space crew to missions says about women, “And to these tinderboxes you want to add an even reasonably attractive woman, sonny? We know the men do better with a female along, not only for physiological needs but for a low-status, noncompetitive servant and rudimentary mother figure. What we do not need is a female who could incite competition or any hint of tension for her services. …on board a long flight, what we need sexually is a human waste can” (3). What this rather two-dimensional, symbolic character tells us is that in this “futuristic” society, women are used primarily for a) housekeeping, and b) sex. While they can travel in space with the men, they can only do so if they clean up after the men and open their legs to them. This is very important to set up so early, because it appears in a more physical form when the Captain of a small research mission around Uranus rapes CP, and then tells her to make him a sandwich after. Of course, she gets her revenge by poisoning his food and dumping all the air out of the ship so he will suffocate.  While this is not only murder, but mutiny, it is justifiable because of the violence inflicted on her, and because what she kills is not just the captain, but the sexist system he represents. In this view, it is not so much mutiny, but rebellion, which is a much more sympathetic cause.

Wasn’t that exciting? Full of sexism and rebelling against the oppressing society. It could be a complete story on its own, and it is only a third of the story. The next third is spent stealing the ship (after dumping the captain’s body) and drifting out of the solar system towards the unknown. This is the part of the story which becomes tedious. Since, technically, nothing does happen, it moves very slowly. The pace picks up again when CP catches a telepathic link and follows it to a planet without a sun to orbit. It provides its own light and heat from massive amounts of radiation that literally make the planet glow. After a rough crash scene, CP meets some of the natives and discovers they speak primarily telepathically and come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. One last alien (or would she be the alien since she is on their planet? –Aulnian, then) comes and turns out to be the telepathic voice that she heard her whole life and who guided her to this planet. They have a brief Romeo and Juliet romance as they are two incompatible species and she cannot leave the spacecraft due to the radiation. Eventually her air runs out she goes to spend her last few days with Cavaná, her alien lover, and slowly dies from radiation poisoning.

The really interesting part is the last four pages, when the narrative switches from a close third on CP, and moves to a slightly more distant third of several other people on the planet. The view is entirely un-human, and Tiptree does a good job of conveying the sense that the narration is actually written by a native of this planet. This is also when we see the “ideal.” On this planet, people can choose their genders, showing the absolute equality between them. CP rebels against, and partially defeats the sexist society she comes from, and escapes to an ideal society for the battered woman. However, it is a society that is so foreign to humans that it is radioactive and kills her.

Overall, I give it 3 out of 5 stars. It is a good story, though very dark, and worth reading through at least once. The main problem I had with it was the length and the fact that the most exciting action happens at the beginning.

February 13, 2011 Posted by | Books, Byte Beautiful, Feminism, Her Smoke Rose Up forever, Out of the Everywhere, Review, Soft Science Fiction | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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