Out of Everywhere

A James Tiptree Jr. Critique

“Painwise” Review

“Painwise” © 1971 James Tiptree, Jr.

Appeared in Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home
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Wooo. It has been a long time since I’ve updated this blog. It’s always been in the back of my mind, though. TTLYFH sits on the top of my pile of books on my bedside table (which happens to be five books deep, not to mention the ARC I have to finish at some point and the pleasure reading book I have. …And a knitting guide I want to finish reading. The point is, I am in the middle of a lot of books.) I’ve also drifted a lot from adult science fiction. I rediscovered YA, particularly fantasy, last year and spent my time making my way through various YA series. To reboot my attempts to do reviews of all 69 of Tiptree’s short stories, her collected essays and poetry, and her two novels, I’m glad “Painwise” was next in the book.

My first thought upon reading most of these stories is,” I don’t know what to make of this, but…” Proof that most of these stories need at least a second, and perhaps a third reading. In most cases, you just will not understand what is happening until at least half way through the story. “Painwise” is definitely one of those stories that benefits from a second reading. Having been stuck in YA land for a while, it was almost annoying to get back into the thick stories and prose that Tiptree loves. However, when I finished, I put down the book, went and made cookies, and then came back and reread the story. It is still a bit thick, but it makes much more sense.

The story starts in media res, which just adds to the initial confusion. It literally jumps right into the title of the story with “He was wise in the ways of pain. He had to be, for he felt none” (118, Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home). The human man, who remains unnamed for the rest of the story, had his nerves reattached to something other than pain receptors by scientists sometime before the beginning of the story. What I gathered from rereading it was that he was then sent off to explore habitable planets in a single-man, mostly automated spacecraft, called the “scouter.” The reason he was altered to not feel pain is due to the inherent danger of his mission. The first page of the story lists several ways he has been tortured by alien races upon landing on their planets. Instead of feeling pain, he sees flashes of color. He has also been altered to be somewhat indestructible. Every time he is injured, the scouter picks him up and the boditech puts his back together. The boditech is a separate semi-organic computer that is trusted with making sure he lives and gives a report upon returning from each planet. Understandably, the fact that he can feel no pain and is on a seemingly endless journey begins to drive the man insane, which is where the story picks up.  He realizes he can get the boditech to speak to him if he claims to be injured and then starts purposefully injuring himself in really gruesome ways, especially whenever he is dropped off on a new planet. He tries to teach the boditech that he will stop injuring himself if she (yes, she) talks to him. He names her Amanda, and falls in love with her in his own twisted, Stockholm way. His main purpose is to convince her to turn the scouter back towards Earth, because he does wheedle out of her that they are overdue for the signal that should have called them home. He has no idea what he will return to, but above all else, he wants to go home. The scouter’s main computer takes over “Amanda,” and forces him to resume his mission until an alien psi-force invades the ship and destroys it, teleporting him inside their own ship, which is some kind of organic shell-pod. Inside he meets the three aliens that psychically move the ship: a golden bushbaby, a psychedelically colored butterfly creature named Ragglebomb that may or may not be one of the Dameii from the numerous Stars’ Tears stories (I will have to come back to you on that), and a black boa named Muscle. They are all three empaths, and slightly telepathic. Ragglebomb is also psychic and is the one who moves the craft though space. Their mission? To eat as many delicacies from as many worlds as possible. The problem is that while they are shielded within their ship, once they go out onto a world, they feel all the pain and suffering that is natural of any living thing. You can see why they picked up this human man who does not feel pain. As powerful empaths, he is the ultimate balm for them. They send him down onto the worlds they find to pick up delectable foods for them. So he basically is on the same kind of mission he was on as before. And once again, it starts to drive him insane. They tell him they are on course for Earth, be he eventually learns they do not know where it is, having never been there. The man falls into despair and refuses to eat, thinking he will never see Earth again, or at the very least, it will take thousands of years if he truly is undying. A passing comment the Bushbaby makes catches his attention because he thinks it could have only come from Earth. So he begs them to go back to whatever planet Bushbaby gleaned it from. He cannot get out of the pod fast enough once they land, and the moment he is on the ground, his body erupts in the strongest, most crippling sensation he has ever felt. Having never felt anything like it before, the empaths must explain that it is pain he is feeling. They are also in agony since they are still connected to him. He realizes that his pain receptors were tuned away from feeling pain at bodily harm and instead tuned to feel pain at the very environment of Earth, proof that whoever sent him on his mission ever intended for him to return. He starts to crawl back to the pod to escape the searing  pain so they can leave, and just before he climbs in, he thinks about how he can continue on forever, never feeling pain with these aliens, or he can suffer for however long he has left on his own Earth. He chooses the pain and Earth and sends them away.

Funny enough, “Pain” by Three Days Grace just came on as I was writing this. Actually, their two points dovetail here: “I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all.” While repetition can certainly drive someone insane, as pain is the main subject of the story, it is the lack of an ability to feel pain that ultimately drives the man crazy. And he would rather embrace this pain than live forever in reasonable comfort, feeling nothing. Pain has been described in many different stories as being one of those things that is a sign of being alive, and while that is not openly stated here, I believe that is the point of the story. After all, what is life without pain? How can one experience happiness without knowing suffering? It is also interesting that the lack of pain becomes its own form of torture for this man, as opposed to the more physical bodily harms he goes through at the beginning.

After rereading this story and thinking about it a bit, I decided 5 out of 5 stars. I really liked it, and it really got me thinking about what exactly pain is. I had a very emotional reaction to the end of the story, especially the second time once I knew what was happening. And the good thing is it’s available for free online here! Now go read it.

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March 10, 2013 Posted by | Books, Death, Hard Science Fiction, Review, Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Help” Review

“Help” © 1968 James Tiptree, Jr.

Appeared in Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home

This story is a direct sequel to “Mamma Come Home.” I wish I had known that, because I would have read both at the same time. It deals with the same Earth and the same characters, but different themes than the previous story. “Mamma Come Home” was about feminism and sexual power plays whereas “Help” is about religions. But they’re both about one group of people dominating another.

So this takes place a little while after the Cappellans from the previous story have high-tailed it back to their system. The same CIA team is now considered experts on aliens because of their plan that saved the world and their communication with the aliens in the previous story. Suddenly, a new ship with a new type of alien (resembling a blue T-Rex) shows up on the moon and observes what the Cappellans left behind. They set up some massive satellites with writing on them around the earth and then leave just as quickly. Everyone is freaked out for a while. And then another type of alien comes, melts the floating Rosetta stones, and actually lands on the planet. This time they’re small, yellow bug-like aliens from Cygnus, who happen to be deeply religious. Their religion is based around the “Great Pupa.” Like butterflies, this is a metamorphosis race that starts as cocoons and then hatch into the yellow bug creatures they appear to the humans as. There is the belief in a second metamorphosis that will give them wings. The only Cygnian that’s actually gone through this is the Great Pupa, and only after people wrapped him in acid-soaked cloths to kill him. He arose reborn as a winged-Cygnian. Sound familiar? Tiptree plays with how a Catholic man reacts to finding out about this. He thinks it is proof of Christianity elsewhere in the universe. All the big religious powers take the Cygnians around to show off their cathedrals, and temples, and mosques. However, after seeing it, the Cygnians start destroying the human places of worship and start preaching the religion of the Great Pupa. Once again, we get another history parallel from our narrator about how missionaries viewed tribes in Africa when they started preaching Christianity to them. They view the original religions as savage and refuse to see the similarities. Then, another Cygnian ship lands on earth, but this one holds red Cygnians instead of yellow. Apparently they’re a different sect and the two start duking it out over what religion earthlings will convert to. After a bit of this, the blue dinosaurs come back (remember them from the beginning?) and chase both types of Cygnians away. Apparently they’re a galactic police (Judoons, anyone?) and what the Cygnians were doing was illegal. For a moment, earth breathes a sigh of relieve, then our main characters remember what happened to the non-Western world when after missionaries came. There’s a parallel to Viet Nam in there as well. It’s dark and foreboding. A calm before a storm.

Basically, the earth is screwed. It seems the people in this story are going to always have to deal with aliens coming and trying to do something to them because they will always have less power. Though I do like anything that turns the Jesus myth (I want to make that “myth” is big, bold, italicized, underlined screaming caps) on its head. Or what people have done in the name of the Jesus myth. It’s also a warning. Christianity is a dominant religion now, but other religions have been dominant in the past. There is always some more powerful crusader waiting to change your culture around. 4 out of 5 stars. Like the last story, it was a little hard to follow, but I liked using the same setting for a different theme.

(Here’s a tidbit for you: “Mamma Come Home” was originally published as “The Mother Ship,” and “Help” was originally published as “Pupa Knows Best.” Now what does that say about the roles of men and women in society that the “mother” story was about sex and the “father” story was about religion?)

August 26, 2012 Posted by | Books, Death, Near Future, Religion, Review, Soft Science Fiction, Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home, War | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Snows are Melted, the Snows are Gone” Review

“The Snows are Melted, the Snows are Gone” © 1969 James Tiptree, Jr.

Appeared inTen Thousand Light-Years from Home

So… another long title, but that’s nothing new. It’s taken me a while to get around to reading more Tiptree, and then this story only took me about ten minutes to read. It was very short, and nothing much really happened in it. There’s a girl with no arms, and a wolf, and a naked guy. Really, that’s about it. Okay, but honestly, let’s get into it.

What’s there to spoil? Well, the story starts with this armless girl and her wolf companion, who seem to have some kind of advanced, albeit post-apocalyptic-ruined technology, like radios and military rations and such. They find this tribe of seemingly more primitive people and managed to lure away one of the big men by having her strip and then run off. (The wolf helps her strip and get her clothes back on. It’s a very intelligent wolf.) Eventually, someone else comes who is a “boy” but seems very effeminate (“Houston, Houston, Do You Copy?” anyone?), and has no legs (duh duh dun!) and helps get the guy onto a truck bed, saying things like “There’s your Y-chromosome.” which implies this is in a future world where most men have died, hence why they have to capture one. It also seems post-apocalyptic because the narrator makes a point of stating that when it gets warm there are no insects, and the story ends by stating this used to be Ethiopia.

This means that as soon as winter is gone, as the title states, bugs should be swarming, however, something has happened to this world to not only kill off men, or make them sterile, but to kill off insects. We don’t ever find out what happened or what exactly is lost and what not. It’s one of Tiptree’s vague stories, that tries to make a point through round about ways. There’s some point in there about humanity and procreation and the endurance of women, etc, but it’s not very clear. I might have some sudden realization to the meaning later, but for now, that’s about all I can process.

2 out of 5 stars, because it’s not that it’s an awful story, it’s just a bit boring. At least it’s short.

April 14, 2012 Posted by | Books, Death, Feminism, Review, Soft Science Fiction, Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“I’ll Be Waiting for You when the Swimming Pool is Empty” Review

“I’ll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool is Empty” copyright © 1971 by James Tiptree, Jr.

Originally published in Ten-Thousand Light Years from Home

Also published in Byte Beautiful

So, it’s been months since I’ve updated this, mostly because I thought no one was reading it, so it didn’t really give me any motivation to continue. (I also read something like ten books in those months, with the majority of those being YA books, which didn’t really put me in the mood for Hard political science fiction.) But I finally got around to reading the last story is Byte Beautiful, which, after “Excursion Fare” is a little baby of a story. I think I finished it in ten minutes. It’s one of those stories that make me wonder more about how the order of the stories was chosen for the book than the actual story itself. This book begins with “With Delicate Mad Hands,” a very long, mostly feminist, close-to-our-time story, whereas this one does not really have any feminist themes (which is rare for Tiptree) and even seems to mock it at one part, and it is set far, far in the future. It’s story about the future and evolution of society, particularly as it is influenced by an outside, advanced force.

Anyway, spoilers (but in a non River Song coy whisper way, in a literal way). The beginning doesn’t spend a lot of time describing the main character, past that he is “a nice Terran boy” (Byte 166). He comes from an “Earth” that is far advanced and has moved past the point of wars and has more of a free-love vibe. Oh yeah, you can tell this was written in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Anyway, every Terran gets to go off on a little trip of his or her own as a rite of passage kind of thing. So this boy decides to go to a very remote area of space, to a planet that is still agrarian, and warlike. He comes down in the middle of a battle and tries to talk the very vicious warlords into ending the war, which they eventually agree to because they are afraid of his advanced weapon, like the shield around his ship that can vaporize any threats it detects. He then tries to move their civilization towards industrialization and show them the fallacy of their current religious beliefs, which involve sacrificing babies and such. And since he has a much longer life-span than this planet, he is around for a couple of their generations to see the massive changes he makes, especially when he starts his own school (started with the offspring of a massive orgy he has with women sent to kill him, but that’s something else entirely). Eventually, he gets called back home and leaves them something so they can communicate with him, and a while later, they contact him and tell him they’ve fixed up the planet so that it’s all nice and not warlike anymore, and what should they do next. He tells them to build space ships and spread the knowledge around to other planets. Years later, they send a message again that they’ve done that and fixed all the planets they could find and what should they do next, but they get no response. It doesn’t say, but the assumption is that the Terran died.

I… don’t really know what to say about this story. I mean, I can sort of see where it’s going, with going in and changing a society to be like your own, in your own image, as it were. Or perhaps, it’s a bit of a reflection on religion, based on the Christian ideology. God creates the people in his image, and then continues to point them in the direction he wants (the Flood story, Moses, Jesus, etc.). And after all this direction, the people have come to rely on it, so when it suddenly disappears, the people don’t know what to do because they were not allowed to develop society on their own. But I’m just throwing out ideas. I’m not entirely sure what her meaning was with this story. Though I would love to know the thought process that went into the title. I’ve puzzled over that a bit, and I can’t come up with a good answer for how it relates to the story, except that maybe the emptiness of a pool, as a symbol of the end of summer, could be equated to the loss of direction, the end of childhood. But it’s a bit of a stretch.

Overall, 3 out of 5 stars. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either, or at least, I can’t really figure out the point to the story, so it doesn’t mean much to me.

February 15, 2012 Posted by | Books, Byte Beautiful, Death, Hard Science Fiction, Review, Society, Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home, War | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Excursion Fare” Review

“Excursion Fare” copyright © 1981 by James Tiptree, Jr.

Published in Byte Beautiful

I’m used to Tiptree’s stories being on the shorter side. This is one is over thirty pages long, which means I didn’t read it all in one sitting. And since I got distracted by life at several points while reading this story, I don’t have as crisp a memory of how it goes. However, I don’t think the whole build up and plot that happens in the first 20-25 pages is really important to the story. This is another one that builds set-up just to get to the point being made at the end. Which is a reflection on humanity and choices, namely the choice to die free or live caged. I think it’s interesting because it feels very real to me, the way it ends and the way the ultimatum is set up.

As for the plot, it goes something like this: these two young explorer types are trying to play Jules Verne, however their hot air balloon gets caught in a freak storm somewhere in the North Atlantic. Just as they think they’re about to die, a cruise ship picks them up. Turns out this is a hospitality cruise, which is a ship specifically for people who are dying with a 0% recovery chance. There are a few odd things about it, such as where it gets the money to do all this, and the fact that the doctors have no qualms about non-FDA approved treatments (which have actually made some patients last longer), but nothing major. Once the explorers recover a bit, they talk about their adventure, preparing, etc. One night, while fooling around in a hallway, they stumble into a secret room and find aliens. Turns out human doctors aren’t the only ones experimenting with treatments on this boat. These are alien medical students. However, the explorers are caught and told no one can know about the alien interference on this planet. They are told they will dock in one week, and the two of them have until them to determine how they want to die, because they cannot be alive when they reach port. The interesting thing is that it’s not malicious. The head alien offers them the easiest death and when exactly they’d like to die, plus any food they want. All in all, he’s actually very compassionate about it, just unmovable on his decision. This is one of the parts that feels so real to me. I’m so used to the evil villian “Then you will die…” sinister vibe, that is entirely over-dramatic. (You know, “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”) But this isn’t like that. The head alien is upset they have found the secret, but he understand how it happened, and so bears the explorers no ill will, he just knows they can never leave the ship. As a last ditch effort, they start talking about how the aliens they stumbled upon seemed really interested in them, and maybe they could stay on as healthy test subjects, since all the other humans except the crew are on their death beds. The head alien tells them he will consider and give them an answer in the morning. The last few pages are them contemplating if they would rather die than live caged as test rats, especially because the head alien was most interested in their “fertility.” They talk a lot about how dying would be a “clean goodbye,” however, they finally decide that they would be more disappointing in themselves for “just giving up.” The verdict comes back that they can stay as test subjects, and they are content with that.

I feel they choice is also more realistic to the human condition than other glorified sci-fi/war movies that we see. Humans have a natural instinct to survive at all costs. So only when the situation is very, very dire is death actually preferable, such as after weeks of torture. In this case, what they give up is their freedom, because they can never leave the ship, and their privacy, because their lives will most likely be monitored 24/7 by these alien medical students. While it does sound like it could be bad, it’s still an existence verse none at all. It is only after living like this, if it becomes too unbearable, that they might choose death, but I don’t think they would before they have experience it. So that’s why it feels realistic to me. However, the story ends just after the final decision, so the reader does not know how it turns out for these two, and that is the point. It is not so much about the end result as the choice, and the decision making that goes into that choice.

Overall, I would say 4 out of 5 stars. It’s a bit long, so there are parts that are less interesting, but I feel the overall message and point makes up for the length. I think it’s a bit of a shame this was only ever published in Byte Beautiful. I wonder why. Anyway, it doesn’t seem to be a popular one, but it is good.

August 28, 2011 Posted by | Books, Byte Beautiful, Death, Review, Soft Science Fiction | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Peacefulness of Vivyan” Review

“The Peacefulness of Vivyan” copyright © 1971 by James Tiptree, Jr.

First appeared in Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home

Also appears in in Byte Beautiful

This story is… interesting. This is the type of science fiction story that throws a lot of alien terms and technology at you at the beginning, and then you have to play catch-up the rest of the story. The problem with this method in a short story, as opposed to a novel, is that there isn’t really room to play catch-up. Short stories are about being concise, not throwing around extra words, which is a bit what this story does. the good thing is that by the end, you realize the point isn’t to try and play catch-up and know what all the words mean, and how this planet differs from our own, but that it’s just about war and human atrocities. The downside to this, of course, is that the reader puts so much effort into trying to understand the beginning, and then it does not pertain to the point of the story at all.

I’ll stop being vague now. Story spoilers. Basically, the story starts by following this media man who is going to a planet that had recently been at war with Terra (the common name for Earth is sci fi) to interview the head of this “rebellion” or army or whatever you want to call them. However, the reader doesn’t know this at the beginning, or at least, I didn’t. All I understood was that this newsman was blindfolded and lead into underground alcoves of an alien planet. There, while he waits for his interviewee, he meets a man who smiles a lot and shows him a fossil before wandering off. A woman who works for the leader tells the newsman that he is Vivyan, and then the story goes into a close third to Vivyan. We learn he is very good with biology, especially marine biology, and that he can rattle of names of plants and animals, and that he always tries to stay happy and “peaceful.” Get the title yet? Anyway, as a boy, he meets a man whom he only calls “the brown man.” Later, on this new world from the beginning of the story, he meets the man again. Vivyan always talks about needing to speak with his friend at each planet he goes to. As he goes to do this, the natives of the planet (some kind of seals) take him to one of their underground caves and present him to the “brown man,” whose name we learn is Cox. He then tries to make Vivyan remember how he grew up on this mystery third planet that warred against Terra and lost. It turns out Vivyan was a prince of that planet, but had then been brainwashed by the Terrans to forget and then work for them as a spy, although he doesn’t even realize it. He just thinks of it as “telling his friend.” Some fighting happens and Vivyan escapes to talk to his friend again. After the battle is over, they find him and bring him back. Cut back to the present. Cox is the man the newsman is going to interview, and he was also a prince of this third planet, thus Vivyan’s older brother. The woman says they believe Vivyan has some kind of mental retardation, so he could be a spy without knowing what he was doing, and that made him more dangerous because he seems trustworthy. The story closes with them listening as Vivyan talks to a rock and reports all the information they had just been discussing.

So there you have it. The peacefulness of Vivyan is his mental disorder, which made him a great spy, so much so that he doesn’t even realize the people he spied for destroyed his family and his planet. It’s just about war and the awful things people do. And once that it clear, it is hard to accept, because the majority of the story is spent in a close third person around Vivyan, so the reader has come to like him because he seems so peaceful and happy. It is sad to see how he’s been twisted into hurting his own family. His “peacefulness” is a way to forget his past and horrible things he saw when he was five. And it turns out to be a negative thing because that’s how the Terrans control him, thus the irony of the title.

Overall, I give this one 2 out of 5 stars. It is really difficult to follow and only clears up a little bit once you realize the terms and names don’t matter much to the story. However, all the extra fluff is unnecessary, and just adds to the crap in the way of realizing the point. Also, the only Tiptree collection it was published in was Byte Beautiful, so that has to say something.

July 1, 2011 Posted by | Books, Byte Beautiful, Death, Hard Science Fiction, Review, Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home, War | , , , , | 3 Comments

“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

“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.

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

   

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