Out of Everywhere

A James Tiptree Jr. Critique

“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.

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

“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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