Out of Everywhere

A James Tiptree Jr. Critique

“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.

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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

“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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