Out of Everywhere

A James Tiptree Jr. Critique

“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

   

%d bloggers like this: