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Brightness Falls from the Air

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They have gathered now on Damiem and are about to witness the last rising of a manmade nova. They are 16 humans in a distant world about to be enveloped by an eruption of violence--horror and murder oddly complemented by a bizarre unforgiving love. But justice is not all that's about to be found. Judgment is coming and the 16 unsuspecting ones are on the threshold of the murdered star.

382 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1985

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About the author

James Tiptree Jr.

225 books516 followers
"James Tiptree Jr." was born Alice Bradley in Chicago in 1915. Her mother was the writer Mary Hastings Bradley; her father, Herbert, was a lawyer and explorer. Throughout her childhood she traveled with her parents, mostly to Africa, but also to India and Southeast Asia. Her early work was as an artist and art critic. During World War II she enlisted in the Army and became the first American female photointelligence officer. In Germany after the war, she met and married her commanding officer, Huntington D. Sheldon. In the early 1950s, both Sheldons joined the then-new CIA; he made it his career, but she resigned in 1955, went back to college, and earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychology.

At about this same time, Alli Sheldon started writing science fiction. She wrote four stories and sent them off to four different science fiction magazines. She did not want to publish under her real name, because of her CIA and academic ties, and she intended to use a new pseudonym for each group of stories until some sold. They started selling immediately, and only the first pseudonym—"Tiptree" from a jar of jelly, "James" because she felt editors would be more receptive to a male writer, and "Jr." for fun—was needed. (A second pseudonym, "Raccoona Sheldon," came along later, so she could have a female persona.)

Tiptree quickly became one of the most respected writers in the field, winning the Hugo Award for The Girl Who was Plugged In and Houston, Houston, Do You Read?, and the Nebula Award for "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death" and Houston, Houston. Raccoona won the Nebula for "The Screwfly Solution," and Tiptree won the World Fantasy Award for the collection Tales from the Quintana Roo.

The Tiptree fiction reflects Alli Sheldon's interests and concerns throughout her life: the alien among us (a role she portrayed in her childhood travels), the health of the planet, the quality of perception, the role of women, love, death, and humanity's place in a vast, cold universe. The Otherwise Award (formerly the Tiptree Award) has celebrated science fiction that "expands and explores gender roles" since 1991.

Alice Sheldon died in 1987 by her own hand. Writing in her first book about the suicide of Hart Crane, she said succinctly: "Poets extrapolate."

Julie Phillips wrote her biography, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon

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5 stars
224 (22%)
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328 (32%)
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289 (28%)
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121 (12%)
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43 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 120 reviews
Profile Image for Ian.
407 reviews81 followers
April 22, 2023
This is a very odd book.
Full review tomorrow.
James Tiptree Jr. (whose real name was Alice Sheldon) has for years been one of my favorite science fiction authors. Her work, mostly short stories, was edgy, often grim, unromantic and highly imaginative. And she almost always had something to say. This book, one of her two novel length works, is something else.

First off, it's a full blown space opera, complete with interstellar wars; science fiction style royalty; a space patrol; mysterious aliens and a "Federation." I'm not sure if Tiptree is writing a parody of the genre or if she's saying "if this is what you want, here it is." I suspect there's some tongue in cheek because of her use of terms like "spacers" and having cabin boys and cabin girls on space ships. She just seems to be laying it on too thickly.

The novel is set on a remote planet (on the "rim of space"-there seem to be more than a few nods to A. Bertram Chandler in the book) where a group of humans are gathering to watch the spectacular effects of a nova wave front. The nova is the remains of a star that was "murdered" by humans, in an act of war that wiped out an intelligent race. The planet is also the site of historic atrocities against the native, avian race, who were cruelly exploited in the production of an incredibly valuable drug/liquor. Secrets abound among the group and of course dark deeds are soon under way.

One of the things I've admired about Tiptree was her effective and unaffected prose. In this book the dialogue is flowery and melodramatic. The main villain speaks in a mincing and contrived fashion that immediately brings to mind Dr. Evil, from the Austin Powers movies. You want to scream at the oblivious heroes "Of course he's up to no good! Listen to him talk!"

One element some readers found off putting was the inclusion of the character of an interstellar pornographer with a heart of gold. And not just any pornographer but a child pornographer; his troupe of performers are all described as being well under the age of 18. I think what Tiptree is doing here is extrapolating the adult film industry of the '80s into the future, as already it was increasingly focused on the young and nubile. The character's home planet of "Gridworld" is clearly a caricature of Hollywood, where aspiring young people are consumed and destroyed at a fearsome rate and where it's perfectly legal to sign anyone over the age of five to a binding contract. When an iron jawed captain of the space patrol remarks it might be time to shut down Gridworld through a boycott, our producer/pornographer (who secretly longs to make documentaries) glibly says "It's been tried," and goes on to explain the rest of the universe simply demands the content. It seems like satire to me.

Whatever Tiptree was trying to do her florid dialogue, and over the top melodrama got in the way, imo. My main problem with the book, I suppose, was my expectation of the author. I kept wondering where James Tiptree Jr. was. I dithered between 2 and 3 stars for a long time but I realized anyone else would have gotten 3 stars for the space opera weirdness. For Tiptree it was a two star book, but I gave her the benefit of being "anyone else." -30-
Profile Image for Duane Poncy.
Author 6 books6 followers
December 4, 2013
I never thought I would be giving a two-star review to anything by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon). I love everything I have previously read by her. Much of the writing in this book is amazing, the suspense often riveting, and the concept behind it was potentially brilliant, but it was tremendously flawed, in my view. The cloyingly sentimental dialogue was at stark contrast to the chilling thematic material. The sweet, kind-hearted, heroic child porn producer, for instance -- I'm not being prudish or self-righteous here, I understand that our morality is relative, and that bad guys can have good qualities, etc. -- is just over the top; and the fairy-tale ending seems at odds with the horror of genocide this book is addressing. I can rationalize that a seventy year old (Sheldon's age when this was published, two years before her death) from an older generation, might be somewhat sentimental and melodramatic, although I haven't really seen this in her other work, and it spoiled the book for me.
Profile Image for Christy.
Author 5 books400 followers
June 3, 2009
I had a hard time deciding how to rate this book. On the whole, it's probably only three stars. It's not as consistently compelling or well-written as Tiptree's short stories and novellas and the plot is sometimes contrived. But there are some scenes that are five-star scenes, in which the emotion and the writing transcend the rest of the book.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,045 followers
June 9, 2010
I've read several books that won the Tiptree Award:
(Candas Jane Dorsey - Black Wine,
Elizabeth Hand - Waking The Moon,
Nicola Griffith - Ammonite
Maureen F. McHugh - China Mountain Zhang
Ursula K. Le Guin - The Left Hand of Darkness -
all books I'd highly recommend!)

but somehow, I'd never read a book by Tiptree (Alice Sheldon), only a short story or two.
So I picked up this book, which the cover says is her 'greatest novel.'

I guess the hype got to me, because I was a little disappointed - it wasn't a bad book, but I'd say ALL of the previously-mentioned books were better. 'Brightness Falls From the Air' doesn't even particularly discuss gender issues! (not that a good book needs to, but considering that that's what the author's known for, I was expecting it.)

On a planet known as Damiem, a small hostel/research outpost staffed only by 3 team members is in charge both of providing hospitality to tourists and guarding the native aliens, the beautiful and delicate Dameii, who were previously the victims of human mercenaries who tortured them for their bodily secretions - a rare pleasure-inducing drug, to humans.
A dozen or so tourists arrive to watch a unique phenomenon - the light of a star that has been induced to nova in a terrible interstellar war is passing Damiem, showering the planet with bizarre radiation and causing strange effects such as time-flurries.

But perhaps not all the tourists are on the up-and-up - are some of them in cahoots, in a plan to again, torture and exploit the Dameii?
The action plays out pretty much like a typical ensemble mystery, but one where it's less of a mystery than usual who the bad guys might be.
The characters are a diverse bunch... a rich woman and her paralyzed sister, a young prince, an Aquaman, a movie director and his team of four porn stars, an elderly doctor.... etc.

There are a couple of annoying failures of logic in the plot. For instance, why would someone in a coma not physically age? (They would!) And how, on the other hand, could someone who was induced to age preternaturally quickly hide it through an act of will? (They couldn't!)

Overall, an entertaining sci-fi adventure, but not really a classic for the ages...
Profile Image for Callibso.
689 reviews18 followers
December 2, 2018
Ich hatte etwas gewartet mit dem zweiten - und letzten - Tiptree (Alice B. Sheldon) Roman, denn ich weiß, dass ich danach praktisch nichts für mich Neues mehr von Tiptree lesen kann und das finde ich sehr schade. Dieser Roman bildet den Abschluss der lobenswerten Tiptree Werkausgabe im Septime Verlag und er erscheint überhaupt zum ersten Mal in deutscher Übersetzung. Das Gesamtwerk ist jetzt in insgesamt zehn Bänden verfügbar, die Kurzgeschichten in sieben Bänden, die zwei Romane und ein Band mit Essays, Briefe und Lyrik. Dazu kommt noch die ausgezeichnete Tiptree-Biographie von Julie Phillips. Das Buch ist sehr schön gestaltet, mit Lesebändchen, mehreren Zeichnungen und einem Glossar.

Eine Gruppe von Menschen reist zu einer Forschungsstation auf dem Planeten Damien, um dort das Vorbeiziehen einer Novafront zu beobachten, die Strahlungs- und Teilchenschauer, die vor etlichen Jahren von der Nova ausgestoßen wurden und nun Damien erreichen. Der Planet ist eigentlich für Besucher gesperrt, leben auf ihm doch engelgleiche Wesen, denen von Menschen Schreckliches angetan wurde und die nun beschützt werden sollen. Auch die Nova geht auf ein menschliches Verbrechen zurück, wie sich irgendwann herausstellen wird. Die Gruppe der Besucher ist interessant zusammengestellt, viele verbergen ihre wahren Motive, es sind Verbrecher darunter und Konflikte mit der Stammbesatzung sind vorprogrammiert. Tiptree lässt sich sehr sehr viel Zeit für die Einführung der Figuren, es werden länglich Freundlichkeiten ausgetauscht und man bereitet sich ausgiebig auf das Himmelsschauspiel vor, das gepflegt bei gutem Essen und Trinken beobachtet werden soll.

Die komplette Handlung des Romans spielt an einem Damientag, der etwa 32 Stunden umfasst. Wie ein Countdown zählen die Kapitel die Stunden bis zum Eintreffen der Novafront herunter und mit dem Höhepunkt der Novastrahlung beginnt auch der Höhepunkt des Romans, die Masken fallen und die wahren Hintergründe werden deutlich.

Alles spielt sich in einem eng begrenzten Raum ab: in verschiedenen Zimmern der Station und auf der Veranda davor, davon gibt es sogar eine Zeichnung am Anfang des Buches. Auf mich wirkte der Aufbau wie ein klassisches Theaterstück, wie der gelungene Versuch eine Einheit von Ort, Zeit und Handlung herzustellen.

Wenn man sich auf das langsame Tempo einlässt, macht der Roman Spaß. Für mich hatte er seine stärksten Szenen in der Mitte, wenn ein Alien überraschend angreift (das verrät schon die Kapitelüberschrift), es Zeitgestöber gibt und manches mehr. In den folgenden Auseinandersetzungen gibt es mehr Tote, als ich erwartet hatte, aber auch Tiptrees Kurzgeschichten enden ja oft mit dem Tod.

Vieles fand ich allerdings nicht schlüssig: einerseits lädt man eine Gruppe von sehr jungen Schauspielern ein, einen Pornofilm(!) während der Nova zu drehen (das dramatische Himmelsschauspiel soll die Szenen aufwerten), andererseits reagieren alle dann furchtbar verklemmt darauf. Die Wächter des Planeten handeln ziemlich dilettantisch und furchtbar zögerlich. Ich hätte mir auch noch mehr Weltenbau gewünscht, mehr Ideen, mehr Neues einfach.

Es ist sicherlich ein lesenswerter Roman, aber er zeigt dennoch, dass Tiptrees Stärke bei den Kurzgeschichten lag.
Profile Image for AndrewP.
1,434 reviews33 followers
January 11, 2023
Tiptree is best known for her short stories and I have read several in collections over the years. The novels are less well known and not so highly rated. I think this book is consistent with this overall opinion.
Some of this book I enjoyed, and some of it not so much. My overall impression is that Tiptree is making a lot of points here but they are buried in a lackluster mishmash of made up science and unrealistic character interactions. There is a serious lack of internal consistency that also had me shaking my head at some points. The overall story is okay if you can maintain your suspension of disbelief.

After thinking about this for a few days I'm revising my rating down to 2 stars. For me there was a lot wrong with this book .
Profile Image for Trike.
1,524 reviews162 followers
January 7, 2023
Having only previously read Tiptree’s shorter work, I wish I hadn’t read this, as it utterly destroys any respect I had for her. Yes, “her”: James Tiptree Jr. was a male pen name for Alice Sheldon.

I’ve read a number of her stories over the years, including the famous “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” and liked them well enough. But this novel, one of the last things she wrote, I don’t know how on Earth this made it to publication.

First off, the dialogue is ludicrous. It’s in an ersatz 1930s screwball comedy vein, and I find it impossible that anyone would talk this way. For instance, everyone exclaims “Goodo!” all the time. You can practically see a bad regional actor trying to imitate Jimmy Stewart, punctuating every sentence by slapping his hands together and shouting, “Hoo boy!”

Second, the story only holds together by the barest of threads, and the “time bubbles” or whatever they’re called are incredibly inconsistent. Their duration and magnitude and what people can do when caught in them depend entirely on the demands of the story. They work as pure deus ex machina problem solvers. Very unsatisfactory.

It’s also incredibly grimdark, with two things punching you in the face: extreme torture and kiddie porn. And the primary victim of the torture is a child.

The torture is characterized as oh my goodness this is very bad but the kiddie porn is absolutely celebrated. The pornographer is a hero of the story and everyone accepts that this is perfectly reasonable. There are no parallels drawn between the exploitation of children and the exploitation of the aliens. It seems that Sheldon is saying that it’s perfectly fine to rape kids as long as they aren’t being cut up to make drugs.

What the actual fuck? How was this defended to the editor? How did the editor defend this to the publisher? How did no one push back on this once the book was released? Mind-boggling.

I did a deep dive into Sheldon’s life story and I came away with the belief that she was fundamentally screwed up. Beyond her being bisexual in an era when society didn’t approve of that, but something deep down, eventually leading her to the murder of her bedridden husband and then killing herself. I get the impulse for euthanasia for someone suffering, but murder-suicide is dysfunction, pure and simple.

That’s why I think the kiddie porn was something that she was into. Unlike the torture, there is literally zero pushback from anyone in the story about this. We meet several people from different cultures, including an alien species, and no one has a care that they are using children in a manner which might traumatize them. Given that Sheldon’s first public notice was winning an award for a nude self-portrait she painted when she 17, I suspect that she was sexually abused as a child and internalized that. One of the things I volunteer for is to record survivor stories at an abuse shelter, and Sheldon’s behavior definitely fits the pattern.

It’s baffling to me that something this poorly written and, frankly, repulsive, ever saw the light of day.
Profile Image for Umberto Rossi.
Author 21 books40 followers
February 9, 2014
Alice Sheldon (vero nome di James Tiptree Jr.) è nota per i suoi meravigliosi racconti, ma ha al suo attivo almeno un romanzo veramente notevole, di space opera sofisticata, come questo (tradotto in Italia come E sarà la luce, titolo non solo infedele ma del tutto fuorviante). Romanzo complesso, solo apparentemente un fanta-thriller ambientato su un mondo lontano dove una comitiva di turisti si raduna per assistere all'esplosione di una stella; la trama, che inizia con tonalità da commedia, si rovescia improvvisamente in una storia di tensione e orrori crescenti, e non molla la presa del lettore fino all'ultimissima pagina. Dietro la suspense (considerevole) della vicenda, i temi cari alla Sheldon: la morte, innanzitutto, i rapporti tra i sessi, la violenza, la dominazione coloniale, il male. E se si tiene conto che il romanzo esce nel 1985, due anni prima della morte dell'autrice, non si può non leggerlo come un vero e proprio testamento. Di non comune profondità e complessità dietro la superficie da fanta-thriller.
Profile Image for Stephen Richter.
772 reviews23 followers
January 13, 2023
Writing style never clicked with me. For a book written in 1985 it felt like 1965. Nothing worse than sitting in your favorite cafe and reading a bad book, wishing it was something else. So, I gave up and moved to something else.
Profile Image for Gary Fisher.
51 reviews20 followers
January 10, 2023
After starting this book I assumed it was written in the 50s or 60. It feels like a “golden age” first book by a young writer who hasn’t yet found their voice, and yet it was written in 1985 near the end of Tiptree’s career.

It features the most incompetent “guardians” in the galaxy. Overly flowery language. Plot complications galore. Too many “hey, I just realized I have this improbably lethal device!” moments.

I counted three climaxes and yet it… kept… on… going…

I’m pretty sure I read some of Tiptree’s tales in my youth, but in my mind they didn’t live up to Heinlein, Sturgeon, Clarke, Asimov, Pohl, Andre Norton, etc. This novel doesn’t change my mind.

At least it was short. Ish. Maybe I’ll read something from Scalzi next to clear my palate.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Squirrel.
291 reviews9 followers
November 1, 2018
I don't think that I would recommend this book to friends who are not into the history of science fiction. It's more of a useful artifact for pointing how we got to now rather than being a good read in and of itself. The novel is interesting from a historical perspective because so many people thought the work was written by a man when it was written by a woman. (For what it's worth I can tell the difference, mostly because even now a large number of male writers fail to make their main female characters as compelling and human as Tiptree does.)

I don't usually read other reviews in the middle of reading a book because they color how I read the book. Unusually I read the reviews of this book and how people described it as tragic/a real downer. And halfway through the book, that definitely made me think that Tiptree would kill off all of the characters in the book and the bad guys would win and there would be a massive genocide. While people die in this book, and it is not a shiny happy work, it isn't the bloodbath I feared.

But jeez, otherwise this is like white feminism the sci fi novel. Like the Damieii (humanoid people descended from insects) definitely are treated as an exotic tribe of subhumans and have human "guardians" to "protect" them from being exploited by human beings. Those same guardians are astounded when the Damieii, at the end of the novel, wish to go into business for themselves and don't want to keep living their subsistence life. Like heaven forbid that they might want something like plumbing rather than to keep to their "traditional" lives and to have some personal autonomy. So this book had a very anthropological feel which doesn't really stand up in 2018.

That said, it's a science fiction book that handles sex work in a more nuanced and sympathetic way than many other that I've read. And has a fairly nuanced main female character. There's just so much good science fiction coming out now that I can't justify other people spending the time to read this book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
620 reviews29 followers
August 13, 2014
A very detailed and deliberately paced sci fi adventure focused on (often failed) efforts to prevent, overcome, and make reparations for the worst human depredations. Exploitation as a dynamic permeates every aspect of the story, and is examined through the interpersonal, interspecies, financial, political, and professional relationships. Sheldon/Tiptree emphasizes that targets of exploitation may be unaware, resistant, naive, or entirely complicit, depending on their circumstances and the social, political, and economic structures in which they function. It's worth noting that though this pervasive theme remains timely and important, the novel itself feels musty and the characters seem, for the most part, lifted from cheap romance novels. And though she was ahead of her time in including gay characters and women in positions of responsibility, the women here are, perhaps realistically, but disappointingly and almost universally, among the most exploited characters of all.
Profile Image for Kara.
671 reviews318 followers
December 21, 2018
I've read Alice Sheldon's (pseudonym: James Tiptree Jr.) short stories and found them haunting. They've stayed with me for a long time. The one that I most often think about is "We Who Stole the Dream." I picked up this book not knowing it was part of the same universe.

The book is paced a little strangely: lots of action in bursts then kind of nothing for long periods of time. The beginning is harrowing: you know something is going to happen but you don't know when or how. There's this sense of dread, and it really bothered me. I found this hard to read but in a good way.

There are so many really cool SF concepts, but it also grapples with large philosophical issues. I loved it.
Profile Image for Antonio Fanelli.
915 reviews138 followers
May 2, 2018
E' tutto un circoncidere di coincidenze circostanti; hai voglia a sospendere la credulità: qui bisogna proprio sopprimerla.
Peccato: la trama era interessante.
Profile Image for j.
163 reviews
December 27, 2021
Basically overblown and ridiculous, but Tiptree plays with the sentimentality of melodrama enough for much of it to feel at least intentional. The set-up is compelling, the characterization effective, balancing the post-modern mystery novel / space opera mash-up without feeling too cute or cloyingly clever. But the last third is mostly tedious and sappy nonetheless, save the last few pages which are a sort of desperate and beautiful prose poem of the dying. Knowing Tiptree's bio we can assume this novel was composed following the forming of her and her husband's suicide pact, so there is a kind of staggering weight to the last wheezed words of a dying woman being a desperate message to, among other things, run away.
Profile Image for Ryan.
134 reviews1 follower
April 25, 2023
It's definitely an odd read. It feels dated considering it was written in the 80s. Most of the characters are bizarre in one of those "this is a science fiction book so every character has to have an odd quirk based on their planet of origin" types of ways. The overall plot would seem decent in an outline but hits some absurdities that can only be explained with some wild coincidences. That said, what was turning into one of the most average reading experiences of my life was heightened a bit by some truly great moments tucked away.

Makes me want to give Tiptree another go as I think she would potentially be better in short stories.
Profile Image for Vicky.
61 reviews7 followers
January 6, 2012
I TRIED to like this book (I love SciFi, and I always want to read SciFi by female authors), but there were just too many subplots and too many characters--any of the subplots (the murdered star, the drug distilled from the Damaeii, Cory's memory wipe, the rescued-children porn stars)could have made a good novel on its own, but combining them into one was just too much! I made it half-way through, and then tried to skim from there, but even still, I could now force myself to continue.
Profile Image for Jen.
168 reviews13 followers
December 16, 2019
The writing was a bit clunky and dated, for that I would give it 3 stars, but the story was so unique and weird and moving I had to bump it up. I've never read anything like it. Definitely will be checking out much more Tiptree.
Profile Image for Briar Page.
Author 26 books92 followers
July 14, 2019
A space opera suspense thriller fairy tale rendered in language both lovely and charmingly pulpy. I'd never read a Tiptree novel before (she wrote only two, this one and the earlier UP THE WALLS OF THE WORLD), and while BRIGHTNESS FALLS FROM THE AIR can't hold a candle to her very best short stories and novellas, it's definitely on par with your "average" Tiptree story (that is, still Really Enjoyable, well written, and thought provoking, with some uncomfortable subtext about sex and death).

I liked the Agatha Christie-ish setup transposed to a retro sci-fi setting, the conceit of having most of the novel take place over a single afternoon, evening, and night (with the entire book spanning around two days), and the ways in which Tiptree plays with audience expectations for and feelings about the cast of initially broadly drawn, trope-y/archetypal genre fiction characters. The creeping paranoia over several chapters in which neither the reader nor the POV characters can be sure whether another group of characters are sinister agents of destruction or the harmless, hapless eccentrics they appear to be is REALLY well done; ditto the depiction of what I suppose I have to call self-gaslighting. (a la "But he's so NICE, everybody else thinks he's nice, how can I be suspicious of him, I must be crazy, or else I'm the meanest person in the world, surely I didn't see/hear what I thought I saw/heard..." Yikes, but how many of us have been there, right??)

The ending of this novel is both probably the most upbeat and happy in anything I've ever read by Tiptree-- most of the "good" characters survive, those who die get to die more or less happy, a lot of people end up getting exactly what they've spent the book wanting most via improbable coincidences and twists of fate-- and also disturbing, tinged with inescapable melancholy and even horror. Considering when this novel was written, it's hard not to read parts of it as grappling with the author's own fears of aging and death, of her husband's dependence on her and his illness, etc. (Relatedly, Tiptree's body of work has always, consistently, sent me very strong, clear A PERSON WHO SUFFERED FROM RECURRING EPISODES OF SEVERE DEPRESSION WROTE THIS vibes; maybe that's part of why I like it so much!)
Profile Image for Juushika.
1,561 reviews167 followers
June 25, 2019
A diverse group of tourists arrive on a distant, vulnerable planet to witness the aftereffects of a nova. Tiptree wrote so much and such fantastic short fiction; but long fiction is a different beast, and those same skills don't necessarily apply. The opening is slowed by character introductions; the resolution is too long and too detailed, while the more interesting and Tiptree-trademark themes (like thematic illness/disability, death drives, death with dignity vs. life with disability) are left relatively unaddressed. Meanwhile, the middle bulk of the book is an extended anti-heist/howdunit, too localized against the sweeping themes of genocide and reparation, excruciatingly paced: characters know they're in a precarious situation, suspect danger, and do nothing to help themselves or even self-sabotage--and then struggle against everything that can go wrong going wrong until they're rescued by unearned and/or poorly paced resolutions. It still feels like Tiptree, vivid and stylized, pulpy but grim, with atypical depictions of gender and gendered social roles and consistent themes of death. But it's not as provoking or dense--or strong--as her short fiction.
Profile Image for Wayne McCoy.
3,954 reviews25 followers
February 6, 2023
'Brightness Falls from the Air' by James Tiptree Jr. was the January pick for my online book club.

16 people gather on the planet Damiem for various reasons, some known, some hidden and some nefarious, for a chance to view an astronomical event. The planet is also host to an exploited native species.

There were things I really liked about this story and things I did not. There is some difficult subject matter that goes unexplained and is left to the reader to interpret. There is also a certain aged prose style that makes the story overdramatic at times. I wanted to like this more and, frankly, didn't.
Profile Image for Marco Landi.
310 reviews16 followers
March 24, 2023
Abbandonato... Libro inutile..
A mio parere è assurdo aver perso del tempo a scriverlo!
Profile Image for Pippa.
Author 2 books24 followers
March 9, 2017
Just found my review of this book.

A really original book. This is an absolutely genuine big gift. The two main plot strands are well woven together, and the whole is deeply thoughtful. I'd rate this not far behind 'Brave New World', although it does have occasional stodgy moments, and verges on the silly once (?) Very very good though.
Profile Image for Heather.
972 reviews27 followers
August 19, 2016
A confusing mess of a plot full of soap opera revelations every twenty minutes, but mostly a really fun read. The soap opera ridiculousness did distract badly from the horrors going on, often in the background. This novel has some truly great thematic material, but the writing felt like a teenager's melodramatic first draft.
Profile Image for Craig.
671 reviews16 followers
May 16, 2020
I read maybe 30%. This has none of the intensity or character development of the author's short stories. In my view, the story was structurally flawed. A super fragile alien race is viewed by tourists whose stupid behavior cannot be controlled by a couple of tour guides. Just didn't work for me. Tiptree's short stories are of the highest quality, but this novel is something else.
35 reviews
February 5, 2023
Interesting alien setting, and likable characters. Mysteries play out nicely and satisfying. However - is written in present tense, which is awkward. That combined with an overwhelming amount of dialog made it read like a movie script. Pacing was uneven - pages of people chatting and not moving the plot along, then zooming through tersely written action. A different good story, but a hard read.
Profile Image for Bev.
2,953 reviews265 followers
May 13, 2011
One of my all-time favourite science fiction novels by one of my all-time favorite authors. It's been a long time since I read it, but I remember loving it. I should go back and reread so I can give a proper review.
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