Out of Everywhere

A James Tiptree Jr. Critique

One down…

So, I finished Byte Beautiful, finally. It was only eight stories, but it just took forever for me to finally get around to reading “I’ll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool is Empty.” It was a bit disappointing that the story wasn’t really that good either. I always want the last stories in collections to be good, but sometimes the order is picked randomly and you can’t always win. I read a Stephen King short story collection last year (Nightmares and Dreamscapes, I believe it was) and he said in the intro that he’d chosen the order of his stories in his last collection by assigning them each a number or royal from a suit of cards in a deck (since he had 13 stories) and then shuffled them and drew them and that was the order. I don’t know how other people do it, and I know it’s not a universal thing. Sometimes the order is picked purposefully and sometimes it’s not. Anyway. Since I finished a book, I thought I’d give an overview. “With Delicate mad Hands” was a great opening, aforementioned super long title was a not so great ending. Overall, I rated the whole book a 3.375 (or 3 ⅜) with the majority being 4 out of 5 stars, which is pretty good. I think my favorite story was “The Man Who Walked Home,” with “Your Faces,  O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light” coming in a close second. The story I obviously liked the least was “The Peacefulness of Vivyan,” with the only 2 star rating. I understand it’s point, I just didn’t like the way it was done. It had one story that you cannot find in any other collection (“Excursion Fare), but the three best stories (including “With Delicate Mad Hands”) can all be found in Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, which is still in print, and you should go buy, cause it’s a great collection. As for Byte Beautiful, it’s better than good, as my rating says, but not a must-have unless you’re a Tiptree fan like me and you want all the books for the sake of having all the books.

February 17, 2012 Posted by | Collecting, Personal | , , , , , | 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

“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

New Books!

So I just picked up a couple of packages from the mail and copy center. Two of them are new (very old) Tiptree books. The first is Byte Beautiful. It’s kind of fun to have the actual, physical book that I just reviewed a story from in the last post. The book isn’t in great shape. It’s hardcover, so it’s more durable, but the spine is way out of whack, which has made the front cover push forward, and the back push back. This makes the spine almost at a forty degree angle so it’s visible when the book lies flat. It’s also an old library book, so it’s got a stamp in the front, and one of those card holders in the back. Oh well. None of the pages are highlighted, bent, or ripped, so I’d call that a success.

 

The other one is Warm Worlds and Otherwise. The cover art is lovely old seventies science fiction art. And the book itself is perfect. It looks like it hadn’t even been opened. Also, props to seller bujoldfan on Amazon.com for shipping it in a padded envelope and between two pieces of cardboard so it wouldn’t get bent out of shape. I can’t wait to read these two, especially the new stories I’ve never read.

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Collecting, Personal | , , , , | 2 Comments

“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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