Out of Everywhere

A James Tiptree Jr. Critique

“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?)

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

“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

   

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