Out of Everywhere

A James Tiptree Jr. Critique

“Mamma Come Home” Review

“Mamma Come Home” © 1968 James Tiptree, Jr.

Appeared in Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home

This one is a near-future alien first-encounter story. It combines a few of Tiptree’s favorite things: female-dominance, impending doom, and sexual power plays. Other than that, I don’t really know what to make of it. The prevalent theme, through all the gender power plays, seems to be that history repeats itself.

As for the story, basically this alien ship comes to earth and it’s full of very human-looking women except for the fact that they’re nearly twice as tall as human men. There’s a lot of technical jibber-jabber that goes back and forth about where they come from and what they want, and etc. Also, the first person narrator works for the CIA, so you can see where Tiptree’s experiences are coming out. (For those of you that don’t know, Alice Sheldon worked for the CIA before she retired and started writing science fiction.) It wasn’t hit-you-over-the-head obvious personal experiences like some of Stephen King’s author characters can be, but there was a lot of technical CIA jargon going on; I suppose to set the atmosphere. It turns out the reason these Cappellans (from a system near Cappella) look so human is that they are the ancestor race of Earth humans. Cappellan men are the same size as Earth men, but Cappellan women go through a second growth-spurt to reach over 8-feet tall. However, long ago, there was a mutation that caused the women to only have the first growth spurt. So they rounded up these mutants and sent them off to distant planets, like Earth. They never bothered to check on Earth until a group was mining ore near the solar system. I like that as an explanation for why “aliens” can look human, because so oftentimes in science fiction they just do. Like in early episodes of Doctor Who. Anyway, that’s just explanation. They point is, they treat their men like sex slaves, and are actually running out of them, so getting a whole new lot of exotic Earth-men slaves would bring in way more money than ore. And to make sure the natives don’t get vicious while they’re shipping the first batch off, they are going to wrap the sun in some kind of exhaust from their ship which will create an ice age on earth so no technological advances can be made. Scary, right? However, the big minds at the CIA come up with a tape that shows a monstrous robot attacking their “home world,” and they use one of their own women who looks very similar to the Cappellans. The monster robot is taken right out of fifties scifi movies, including the damsel who gets her clothes ripped off. Apparently it works, and sends the Cappellans home in a hurry before they can gunk up the sun. So Earth men win the day.

What’s odd about this story isn’t so much that the men “win,” but that the earth wins. Usually those two don’t coincide. Throughout the story, there is repeated mention of history, and showing all the warning signs of the Cappellans plans, such as how the Europeans/Americans came to Africa to steal people and make them into slaves, and when the Europeans first landed on Hawaii, and how harems don’t like new sex slaves (integral to their plan was getting the male Cappellan technician to run their “footage”). I find it interesting that this is a theme in this story, and then, once again, the men win by a bigger show of rape and male dominance. And that is what scares off the Cappellans. The woman who looks very much like a Cappellan was also gang-banged before she was recruited by the CIA as a living weapon. And she had to reenact a “rape” scene for the sake of saving the earth. The raped is once again raped. It’s all circular history.

Don’t get me wrong, while reading it, I was rooting with the main character that they’d come up with a good plan to save the earth. I find it interesting that in many of Tiptree’s stories where women have formed a kind of “female-only” utopia, there is something wrong that doesn’t really allow the society to flourish. Oftentimes, there is no war, but then there is some kind of mutation, or genetic defect like in “The Snows are Melted, the Snows are Gone,” or they find difficulty in reproducing. What does that say about society? Men are more violent, but without that violence, society will become stagnant? I’m not really that knowledgeable about Sociology, so I can’t really tell you without thinking on it more.

However, I will tell you, I found this story intriguing, partly for it’s plot and set-up, and partly for the implications of their “victory.” Over, I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

July 9, 2012 Posted by | Books, Feminism, Near Future, Review, Society, Soft Science Fiction, Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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.

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

“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

   

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