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

“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

   

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