"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."
In March of 1972, James Tipree Jr. published a short story, “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side”. The story was nominated for the Locus, Nebula, and even the Hugo in 1972. It’s a stylized and cautionary alien contact story. I liked the way it was written, always dancing around details, revealing just enough to spark imagination, but never enough to paint a clear picture. IMO, Tiptree goes a little far with the indirect dialog, causing me to reread passages to piece together what was said. The best thing about the story is the unsettling and dismaying feel Tiptree creates when the station engineer tells his story about a depraved descent into “alien” addiction. Picture a tourist losing themselves (and their money) in a Thailand opium drug and sex den, ‘cept with aliens. Tiptree is a bit blunt with the broader theme, more or less hitting us over the head with it. Still, it’s an excellent short, with strong atmosphere and a ‘can’t look away’ plot.
You know this is an early edition (possibly the first edition of the first Tiptree publication?!) when the foreword just describes the author as a mysterious unknown, messing up the one concrete detail provided by following the misdirection of the male pseudonym.
Anyway, this seems pretty excellent. Total aliens-and-technology sci-fi but kicks off in high gear with an unusual vividness and originality. Plus the opening story compares human fetishization (sexual or not) of alien contact with cargo cults, so we're already on pretty interesting and unusual social/anthropological/erotic ground right out the gates. Later, a pretty harsh account of a reversal of power structures, where some more of Tiptree's (well-chosen) axes to grind begin to glint in the twilight.
I was having a conversation the other day, where another reader said she couldn't read these because they were too sci-fi, meaning too confusingly alien to really immerse in. And I realized that my problem writing I deem too sci-fi is that it's not confusing enough ie too straightforward either as scientific concept or as adventure story (the ordinary poles). Tiptree's strength, often is in nonlinear storytelling and a delirious withholding of contextual information, plunging the reader breathlessly into fantastical scenarios that she may only begin to grasp by the last word. It's quite amazing, deftly controlled, rather experimental, and to me, entirely gripping.
And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side (1972) Aforementioned fetishization of extreme otherness. Kind of desperate and tragic in its way, even.
The Snows Are Melted, the Snows Are Gone (1969) Arguably frivolous, but the more frivolous Tiptrees are still marvelous playgrounds of sheer invention. The utter lack of context for this bizarre procedural of entrapment (by an armless girl and a wolf working in tandem) is of course far more gripping than any specific explanation could be, investing the whole with fierce momentum.
The Peacefulness of Vivyan (1971) A tangled story of paranoia and betrayal, tangled mostly by its being elegantly filtered through a very limited viewpoint, oddly sympathetic despite its manipulation from outside.
*Mamma Come Home (1968) Here, one of Tiptree's typically likeable glib male mouthpieces gets turned to greater gender political ends. Pulls no punches, both in violently disturbing the status quo, while indicating that the full disturbance here already is the status quo, and then restoring equilibrium via conceptually-troubling technique that further feeds the unsettling conceptual heart here. All delivered nonetheless by very relatable characters. After reading Malberg's alienations for a bit, Tiptree's warmth, even when being dazzlingly smart and serious, is impressive. She can make the wildest conceptions convincing just by ensuring that they're human. Not surprising, perhaps, from a psychologist.
Help (1968) Sequel to the previous, working in the same way to repurpose alien visitors as a spotlight on the ways humans already treat eachother in groups. Where the last was about gender, this is all religion. Not in an allegorical way, just straight up about how religion operates in history and (possible) future.
*Painwise (1972) Like "Snows Are Melted" above, here's another out of total left-field. I won't spoil the weirdness of the voyage by saying a thing, besides that this is sheer invention, and still with (somehow) relateability, and quite a lot of pathos. I read a whole book of old Harlen Ellison stories just before this one, and he could only wish for this kind of deftness of imagination. Seriously.
*Faithful to Thee, Terra, in Our Fashion (1969) Oh, here again. I LOVE how Tiptree just dumps us headlong into these premises, and by the time we figure them out and try to catch our breaths we're buried in gripping plot, and then stumble into some kind of deep tragedy out of nowhere. This one is just insanely dense, too.
The Man Doors Said Hello To (1970) Arguably zany... but extremely entertaining and actually funny. While I'm comparing wildly, this nearly as much fun as John Sladek's totally manic "The Secret of the Old Pudding" which may be Sladek's finest, whereas this is more of a light intermission or aside.
The Man Who Walked Home (1972) Bizarre take on time travel spans hundreds of years of post-apocalyptic history as an instigating event converges very very slowly with the plot. Time perception / scale / out-of-syncedness all captured very very uniquely
Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket (1972) Another alternative time-travel variant, forges a human (and tragic) connection in spite of itself.
I'll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool Is Empty (1971) More or less a parable. I expect a bit more nuance from Tiptree at this point, but it's a dagger-toothed satiric fable nonetheless.
*I'm Too Big but I Love to Play (1970) I started trying to read this on no sleep and it didn't make the slightest sense. Now that I've read it with more complete attention, some of the connections are still a bit perplexing, but it's all holding more (splendidly, inventively) together. An experiment in perspective turned investigation of the human condition turned historical reimagining.
Birth of a Salesman (1968) Tiptree has this amazing ability to write dizzying alien governmental/bureaucratic agencies from within. It doesn't sound like it could possibly be as much fun as it is, but here, as in "Faithful to Thee, Terra" there's just an incredible amount of exotic anthropological detail, humor, and cryptic plotting jammed into such a tight space.
*Mother in the Sky with Diamonds (1971) This may push Tiptree's flirtations with plunging the reader directly into the confusingly alien to the furthest extent seen here. Set in a future where corporate space rock colonization seems driven by symbiosis with martian algae in biological pods, our protagonist attempts to hide a space freighter from the pre-biologic era (which he misses, a lone lifeline to the reader here). I had to re-read the beginning once I was further in to actually process it completely, and it's still full of the only-partially-explained, but it's all quite a dazzling performance overall.
Beam Us Home (1969) A somewhat more normative easing out around a very human problem.
Compared with literary fiction, the science fiction back catalogue has suffered badly over the years, with many classics from the field out of print. Gollancz has thankfully made inroads into these missing titles with their excellent (if mostly ebook) Gateway series. Now, Penguin has decided to bring back some of the greats too, in a handsome new series (if rather oddly formatted - they're unusually small books, perhaps to make them fatter, as we're less used now to the sensible length that books were in the past).
It was brave of Penguin to include a collection of short stories as one of their launch titles for this new set of reprints. Short stories are arguably the definitive format for SF - one where it beats most other genres hands down (it's really difficult, for example, to make a detective short story work) - and I'm yet to speak to anyone who doesn't enjoy short stories. Yet in the publishing world, collections of short stories are often considered to be a waste of paper. Certainly this collection ought to be republished, because it's a cracker.
In reality Alice Sheldon, James Tiptree Junior (who started writing when the prejudices of the time meant you sold more copies with a male author), packs in a real mix of stories. Some have a 60s/70s feel - dark, dystopian and with more explicit sexual content than earlier work - others feel more at home in the 50s - wisecracking, fast moving and with a humorous undertone even if the topic is deadly serious.
Amongst those with the 50s vibe are a couple of excellent stories (Mama Come Home and Help) where Earth is effectively on the receiving end of the kind of alien incursions that historical human empires made on what became their colonies - in this case, defeated by the cleverness of the central character. Another, Faithful to Thee, Terra, In Our Fashion - one of the most memorable - starts off as the humorous attempt of the human race marshall to keep the peace on Raceworld, but takes an unexpected twist when we discover why he and his colleagues are there. The more modern feeling stories range from a sweet short story that's probably more fantasy than SF (The Man Doors Said Hello To) to a moving post apocalyptic tale in The Snows are Melted, The Snows are Gone.
Although some of the 70s-feeling stories had a more balanced approach, it's fair to say that the 50s-feeling content was surprisingly sexist given a female writer (presumably because it was felt necessary to write this way to fit in). This is at its gentlest with a clever time travel story, but in a couple of other examples feels a little out of place to a present-day reader (for example when we get a line where the protagonist describes a female character entering as 'A kitten in an aqua lab coat tottled through the door' - okay for P. G. Wodehouse, but not here).
They didn't all come together for me. There's one, for example (I'm Too Big but I Love to Play) featuring a vast alien creature that is learning through sort of becoming humans that felt too much like hard work. However, the vast majority are instantly great, and there's a good range available.
Overall, this is a truly classic SF short story collection and a strong opening for the series.
What a fascinating life! The author was a high ranked officer during WWII, worked for the CIA in the 50s, went back to school, achieved a bachelor of arts, and achieved a doctorate in psychology in the 60s. Unsure, what to do with it, she started publishing 1968 under her pen-name and was soon rewarded with SF's most important awards - Hugo and Nebula Awards for her shorter works.
James Tiptree, Jr. was praised as the male voice of feminism back in the 70s before fandom blew up the cover and exposed female writer Alice Sheldon behind this pen-name. This was after the first time, this collection was published - in another edition from 1975, I have a funny afterword by Dozois describing the hunt for Tiptree and speculating about the person. The collection was originally published by Ace Books 1973. It is once again brought to light in the new "Penguin Classics" series scheduled at 6.8.2020.
The stories in this collection are all Science Fiction stories covering a range of subgenres like time travels, post-apocalyptic, first contact, or psychedelic topics. It is a testimony of its time just after the pulp fiction decades.
Tiptree is strongest when working in the shorter form - she published novels as well, but those weren't as well received as her short works. There are a couple of gems in this collection which I recommend checking out:
And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side The Man Who Walked Home I didn't find any masterwork in this collection (though others praise the first story as such), but most were enjoyable.
Tiptree's unique literary voice is visibly developing, and I found a couple of stories in this collection that don't transfer well into our time.
If you've got Tiptree's renowned collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, then this is a very good complementary collection, overlapping in only two stories (
The Snows Are Melted, the Snows Are Gone
The Man Who Walked Home
If you're tending more toward the pulpier and comical side of life, then this is the Tiptree collection fitting your taste. If you prefer darker works with stronger feministic voice (like me), then go for
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
1 • ★★★★☆ • And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side • 1972 • SF short story • review 14 • ★★+☆☆☆ • The Snows Are Melted, the Snows Are Gone • 1969 • Post-apocalyptic short story • review 32 • ★★☆☆☆ • The Peacefulness of Vivyan • 1971 • SF short story • review 53 • ★★★☆☆ • Mamma Come Home • 1968 • First Contact SF novelette • review 84 • ★★☆☆☆ • Help • 1968 • First Contact SF novelette • review 115 • ★★★☆☆ • Painwise • 1972 • Psychedelic SF novelette • review 143 • ★★★☆☆ • Faithful to Thee, Terra, in Our Fashion • 1969 • SF novelette • review 183 • ★★★☆☆ • The Man Doors Said Hello To • 1970 • Psychedelic short story • review 193 • ★★★★☆ • The Man Who Walked Home • 1972 • Time travel short story • backwards time travel • review 216 • ★+☆☆☆☆ • Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket • 1972 • Time travel short story • review 241 • ★★☆☆☆ • I'll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool Is Empty • 1971 • Planetary SF short story • review 260 • ★★★☆☆ • I'm Too Big but I Love to Play • 1970 • First contact novelette • review 285 • ★★★☆☆ • Birth of a Salesman • 1968 • SF short story • review 306 • ★★+☆☆☆ • Mother in the Sky with Diamonds • 1971 • Psychedelic SF novelette • review 343 • ★★★+☆☆ • Beam Us Home • 1969 • SF short story • review
Like so much of the science fiction from this era (the 1960s and ’70s) Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home is a diverse and imaginative collection of stories. If there is a theme tying all fifteen together, perhaps it’s simply that there’s nothing special, nothing unusual, about planet Earth—it’s the entire Universe that’s nuts. ‘Tiptree’ (Alice Bradley Sheldon) had hit the ground running, selling her first few short stories almost before the ink was dry, and from the ones here I can see why magazine editors snapped them up. The writing itself is terrific: razor-sharp, it rattles along, often funny, comic-book fast but absolutely sure-footed, not a word out of place. The ideas aren’t bad either, and here are just a few:
• Sex with aliens as like an addictive drug, and humans as the helpless sex-junkies of the Galaxy: ‘…some Sirians had come in. That was my first look at Sirians in the flesh, if that’s the word. God knows I’d memorised every news shot, but I wasn’t prepared. That tallness, that cruel thinness. That appalling alien arrogance. Ivory-blue, these were. Two males in immaculate metallic gear. Then I saw there was a female with them. An ivory-indigo exquisite with a permanent faint smile on those bone-hard lips…’ • There are two stories in which we humans are more like seventeenth-century South-Sea Islanders, peering out to sea, uncomprehending, as a four-master looms into view on the horizon—except that, here, it’s a starship of course. First to arrive are traders after ore on the Moon (or are they really after something more ominous?) The second ship, a few years later, turns out to be full of missionaries instead, bringing to Earth their dotty alien religion. • There’s a satire about the nature of civilisation: ‘progress’ is fine (particularly, for instance, if it stops people dropping babies down wells to appease their gods); but, beyond that, what is it all for? • There are several stories about the pull of home, about being stranded or lost and trying to find your way back. For example, out at the centre of a kilometer-wide crater in what was formerly Idaho, on the exact same spot and at precisely the same time each year, something—a ‘monster’—appears for a few moments. Superstitions grow up around it, and elaborate rituals; people travel hundreds of miles to see it and make offerings. As the centuries go by though, and with the arrival of a more scientific outlook, there’s a slow dawning of understanding as to who this ‘monster’ is and what is happening to him. Just brilliant.
Alice Sheldon led a fairly extraordinary life herself, and among her many and varied accomplishments was a doctorate in experimental psychology. My guess is that, with this in her background and with her SF-author’s hat on too, she spent more than a little time ruminating on the word ‘alienation’. It’s another theme here: a sense of wrongness, of not belonging, of never feeling quite at home in this world—and the wish that a giant hand (or spaceship more like) will come down out of the sky some day and yank you out of all this…or beam you up. But that’s just a childish fantasy, wishful thinking. This feeling of wrongness is everywhere: no matter where you go in this Alice-in-Wonderland Universe, you always feel ten thousand light-years from home.
4.3⭐ I read this in the late '70's not long after the anthology was published. It's had a lasting impact to this day. The author's brilliant imagination, clear clean style and her pragmatic and unromantic view of life and the universe was something new and exciting in my experience of science fiction. Still is. I very much wish she had written more. I'm going to have to track it down for a reread. -30-
While there are other worthy stories in this collection, the standout, and AMAZING story reviewed here is And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side Copy online: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fic... [reprint]
Really, I could try a summary, but just go read the thing, OK? A sample:
“Christ, I can see her now. The first thing that hit me was discrepancy. She was a nothing—but terrific. Transfigured. Oozing it, radiating it.
“The next thing was I had a horrifying hard-on just looking at her.
“I scrooched over so my tunic hid it, and my spilled drink trickled down, making everything worse. She pawed vaguely at the spill, muttering.
“I just stared at her trying to figure out what had hit me. An ordinary figure, a soft avidness in the face. Eyes heavy, satiated-looking. She was totally sexualized. I remember her throat pulsed. She had one hand up touching her scarf, which had slipped off her shoulder. I saw angry bruises there. That really tore it, I understood at once those bruises had some sexual meaning.
“She was looking past my head with her face like a radar dish. Then she made an ‘ahhhhh’ sound that had nothing to do with me and grabbed my forearm as if it were a railing. One of the men behind her laughed. The woman said, ‘Excuse me,’ in a ridiculous voice and slipped out behind me. I wheeled around after her, nearly upsetting my football friend, and saw that some Sirians had come in.
“That was my first look at Sirians in the flesh, if that’s the word. God knows I’d memorized every news shot, but I wasn’t prepared. That tallness, that cruel thinness. That appalling alien arrogance. Ivory-blue, these were. Two males in immaculate metallic gear. Then I saw there was a female with them. An ivory-indigo exquisite with a permanent faint smile on those bone-hard lips. ... "
The first collection of Tiptree stories is a varied mix but does show why people were excited about this new writer at the time, as the stories are inventive and well-constructed, coming obviously from someone who might still be finding their voice but had already mastered most of the elements of craft. Here’s my take on each:
**** And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side (1972) *** The Snows Are Melted, the Snows Are Gone (1969) *** The Peacefulness of Vivyan (1971) *** Mamma Come Home (1968) *** Help (1968) ***** Painwise (1972) *** Faithful to Thee, Terra, in Our Fashion (1969) *** The Man Doors Said Hello To (1970) ***** The Man Who Walked Home (1972) *** Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket (1972) *** I'll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool Is Empty (1971) ** I'm Too Big but I Love to Play (1970) *** Birth of a Salesman (1968) **** Mother in the Sky with Diamonds (1971) *** Beam Us Home (1969)
“And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” — Given her experience as a child going to Africa and seeing colonization first-hand, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that so many of Tiptree’s stories use that as an analogy for what might happen when humans finally make contact with aliens. In some of her stories, humans are ascendant; in others, like this one, humans are the Polynesians agog at the large European ships that just anchored offshore. Into that mix for this story, Tiptree adds a speculative physiological/psychological component—that is, humans being absolutely fascinated with the other to the point of dysfunction. She even takes it further than just curiousity or wonder, but sexually that’s divorced from procreation but subsumed in a pleasure principle we don’t even understand. While the setting recalls earlier SF, the theme and subject matter here indicates where Tiptree was heading, and later realized, in stories like “The Women Men Don’t See.”
“The Snows are Melted, the Snows are Gone” — A post-apocalypse story where two groups of people are left—mutants who retain the intelligence of the past, but are damaged in many ways, and humans who have been reduced to prehistoric conditions, hardly more than cave men. But there’s a need for the two groups to merge. The story doesn’t make this scenario easy to understand; instead, it focuses on the action taking place with the reader have to piece together exactly why this is necessary. I find it tiring, as I have little tolerance for post-apocalypse stories, although I appreciate the upending of the typical tropes.
“The Peacefulness of Vivyan” — A far future SF tale of human empire and subterfuge. The double-agent plot here reminds us of Tiptree’s CIA ties and ability to connect how people can be used for something they aren’t even aware of. This is still an early tale and the structure, with its framing device, works to enable the reveal of Vivyan’s specialness.
“The Mother Ship” — Also known as “Mamma Come Home,” this is an early Tiptree story in which the main characters are CIA operatives, in this case dealing with a first contact where the aliens look just like female humans, who are larger than their male counterparts (over 8-foot) and dominate/rule over them. The reasoning for that, and the resulting issues, provide most of the plot, as the characters strive to solve those mysteries. The shocking thing here is three instances of rape: one in the past, one in the present, and one simulated to preserve the future (to say more would give away the story). While none is vividly described, Tiptree leaning heavily on implications and brief details, they are disturbing, made even more so by their function in the plot itself. Compared to the earlier story, “Birth of a Salesman,” this story is downright shocking in its method and manner, a hybrid of the 1950s and what would be tested more and more in the 1970s.
“Pupa Knows Best” aka “Help" — A sequel to “The Mother Ship,” featuring the same cast of CIA characters Tiptree based on her own experience in the agency. The style is the same, too, a kind of breathless pulp fiction interlaced with plausible scientific and bureaucratic details. And, like the previous story, this one also casts Earth in a primitive state compared to the aliens, except this time the ones who visit are extraterrestrial missionaries and view humans as heathens to be converted, or else. As an avid fan of religion in SF, I enjoyed this one even though I had it figured out fairly early, as Tiptree brings about the parallels of colonization where humans are on the short end of the stick.
"Painwise" — A cornucopia of both imagery and action, starting from the beginning of describing the Earth scouter and the human who had been re-engineered to feel no pain. But something has gone wrong, and the scout expedition feels like forever, and the human rebels (as they almost always do) until the story turns really weird. This was prime 70s science fiction, the kind of thing Harlan Ellison and Roger Zelazny were good at, but Tiptree could master it just the same, if not better. It’s psychedelic, almost, in its intensity—the endless words and images keep piling on, and yet, underneath it all, is the point of it: life without pain is no life. Recommended.
“Faithful to Thee, Terra, In Our Fashion” — Many of Tiptree’s early stories share similarity with other author’s, showing how she was learning to write SF by emulating those authors and stories she had read in the magazines and admired. This story, in particular, resembles the short stories of Philip K. Dick. There’s a manic quality to it, fitting for a tale in which the humans oversee a whole world created for aliens across the galaxy to race against each other. It’s also endlessly inventive, dashing off unique aliens one after another in quick succession. The ending, however, isn’t as negative as some later Tiptree, but the loss is still there: in this case, the destruction of an entire planet.
“The Man Doors Said Hello To” — A sweet little fantasy story in the style of, well, a much earlier style than 1970—something like C.M. Kornbluth or even James Thurber might have written. It works because of the unreliability of the narrator who spends most of the story being drunk. Nothing earth-shattering here, just an unusual character who comes and goes in the space of an evening, changing the lives left behind.
“The Man Who Walked Home” — This story mirrors many another post-apocalypse tale of worldwide destruction and the rebuilding afterwards. But this is, at heart, a time paradox story, and that’s where the power and meaning are: for what is presented here is no mere apocalypse, caused by a moment in the past, but an upcoming apocalypse from the future, one made unintentionally, and yet preordained for all of that. Like Tiptree’s best stories, this is about death and about consequences, where actions taken affect the person taking them as well as all of those around them.
“Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket” — An audacious time travel story in that it deals frankly with sex, both in the fantasy world of the protagonist and in the culmination of the time travel paradox. Stylistically, it resembles Robert A. Heinlein more than somewhat—Loolie could have stepped out of Time Enough for Love, with Dov being one of Heinlein’s traditional generalist heroes able to extract himself from situations with two brain cells. Even the setting—the far future with the wealthy family where things don’t go quite right, even recalls Jubal Harshaw or D.D. Harriman. But the ending—that’s all Tiptree. A Heinlein story would have had a more upbeat ending, not the bittersweet one presented here.
“I’ll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool is Empty”. — Another early, light-hearted story, basically upending the Star Trek Prime Directive. Cammerling is a young man with too much time on his hands and a new spaceship from his parents and he finds himself on a backwoods planet and proceeds to enlighten them more than somewhat. Eventually, his mom feels he’s been away too long and sends someone for him, but by then he’s imparted essential Terran development values to the planet, followed up years later by the question, “What do we do next?” What does it all mean? It’s a question for anyone living. What is the purpose of life? In this case, perhaps it’s just to spread those good ol’ Terran values.
“I’m Too Big But I Love to Play”— This one didn’t work for me. It basically posits an extraterrestrial entity that is vast and unknowable—think a cloud of energy—that is used to being alone in the Universe, then stumbles across the Earth and discovers beings that communicate non-entropically, and decides to become one, with somewhat mixed results. I suspect the framing device is a reference to JFK, but that just makes the story pathetic, rather than empathetic.
"Birth of a Salesman" — Tiptree’s first story, published in 1968, is a throwback to the 1950s, with its casual misogyny, its limited description and focus on dialogue, the plethora of strange aliens, and the general plot. What Tiptree brought to the form, however, was an experience with bureaucracy, the minutiae of logistics, and an ability to keep the pace moving. There’s nothing earth-shattering here, no poetry in it, just an amusing story of shipping and receiving where each transit point might have issues with the product being transferred.
“Mother in the Sky with Diamonds” — If I had read this story anonymously, I would have pegged it as a Bruce Sterling story, or at least something written by one of the cyberpunks in the 80s rather than by Tiptree in the early 70s. It’s a far future where corporations control habitats, supposedly insuring them but actually looking for any loophole to take the minerals or the rights back to resell—a corporation is only in the business of making money, right? Into this mix we have our protagonist, a safety inspector, who’s cheating the company as well to cover his find: an old spaceship and its last occupant. To say any more gives the story away, as there’s meaning in the title. It’s not a perfect story, but it truly presaged the style to come.
"Beam Us Home" — A wish-fulfillment fantasy of a young boy turned man who never felt at home on Earth, believing that he had been assigned this duty as an observer and that his real home was on the U.S.S. Enterprise among the stars. Like many of Tiptree’s stories, the alienation felt by the character is highly detailed and realistic, as is the depiction of war and its depredations. The ending here is not as ambiguous as it might be, although there’s a question about its reality.
Not the strongest Tiptree short fiction collection overall, but there are several all-timers in here (most notably the alien chaser story "And I Awoke and Found Me Here On the Cold Hill's Side", the tragic character study "The Peacefulness of Vivyan", and the innovative erotic horror "Painwise"). Even for Tiptree, this is a very space opera-focused collection, and the weaker stories are mostly so because they get bogged down in a surfeit of goofy golden age sci-fi tropes and nonsense technobabble, or because they are among Tiptree's amusing but kind of sophomoric and retrograde attempts at writing purely comedic fiction (think, about on the level of a mid-tier FUTURAMA episode crossed with an equally mid-tier 1940s screwball comedy). Or both. Still, all the pieces in this volume have something to recommend them, even if it's only Tiptree's consistently strong prose and formidable imagination, and the best really are some of the best.
I’d never read James Tiptree, Jr before, but I knew the legend – that “Tiptree” was a brilliant SF writer who was also completely anonymous until “he’ was finally outed as Alice B. Sheldon, who used a male pen name for the simple reason that SF was generally thought to be a man’s game. Most of her work is out of print, so when I came across this at a second-hand bookstore, I jumped at the chance. It’s her first book, a collection of previously published short stories that cover a lot of ground – space opera, time travel, alien invasions, alien sex, aliens mimicking humans, a world dedicated to alien racing, and heaps of satire including a day in the life of a government-run office that arranges shipping of products to alien worlds and a bored rich kid who spends the summer whipping some well-intentioned cultural imperialism on a primitive warfaring planet. Not every story worked for me, but the ones that did were brilliant. What's also striking is the wide variety of imagination here – Tiptree/Sheldon didn’t limit herself to a particular subgenre of SF, and no idea seems too out-there for her to play with. I’d love to read more if anyone cares to start reprinting more of her work.
Un nombre para redescubrir. Detrás de este seudónimo se esconde una escritora capaz, inteligente y muy divertida cuando da rienda suelta a sus locuras. Pero en algunos de sus relatos la carga de filosofía, o lo que pretenda ser, es tan fuerte que acaban por cansarme.
Si tengo que quedarme con un relato recomendaré uno de los últimos: la agencia que se encarga de comprobar que los productos enviados a través de las estaciones espaciales son seguras para todos los alienígenas. Quizás algún día la realidad se parezca a eso.
Sometimes I am almost nostalgic for a the days of the science fiction magazines, which arrived fresh each month with several brand-new imaginative stories that spread across the universe — something I didn’t even experience firsthand. But I’ve caught the wave from things like that Deep Space Nine episode “Far Beyond the Stars” where Captain Sisko was transported back in time to a sci-fi magazine called Incredible Tales in 1950s New York City. What becomes super clear in that episode is that science fiction, even though it was unbound by the limitations of time and space, was sometimes limited by the imaginations of the editors and writers about social change. This is, of course, why the Robert Heinlein stories, for just one example, aren’t super imaginative on that front. It’s hard for a post-War white man to really consider the lives and experiences of others.
Enter James Tiptree Jr., who it was later discovered, was actually Alice Bradley Sheldon. This book was Tiptee’s first collection of short stories. They were all published in other outlets first, but those print magazines are long out of print. As is, it turns out, this book. I had to buy it from a used bookstore through the magic of the internet (something that may have astonished Sheldon back when she was alive).
This collection is a perfectly delightful collection of science fiction short stories. They range from average to great, and if you picked up believing this book was written by your run-of-the-mill white science fiction writer, you might think they were typical, with perhaps a bit of a smarter take on some notions about gender for the 1960s. Knowing that these stories were actually written by a woman, however, you pick up on a lot more winks and nods that you might not otherwise.
One of the truly outstanding pieces of work in this book is “Painwise,” a short story that focuses on a man who is morphed through time and space, shedding his ability to feel pain. The result, of course, is not wonderful, and you’re left with more of a sense of melancholy than you perhaps expected at the outset. This is, noticeably, Tiptree/Sheldon’s perspective. She has a great way of giving you that grim ending, where the either the reader or the character suddenly realizes the setup is not what you or they thought it was. (And after reading her Wikipedia page, I’m now dying to read “The Women Men Don’t See,” which appears to be an early entry in the #banmen genre.)
The legacy of Tiptree is now well known. She was discovered to be a woman in 1977, a decade after a successful writing career began. Today, there is an award in her name for science fiction for those who offer up interesting portrayals of gender in science fiction.
It’s not always worth exploring the original work of a person who revolutionized an industry, but this one certainly was.
Ten Thousand Light Years From Home is a collection of wondrous short Sci-Fi/speculative fiction stories, telling tales of the far future throughout the universe.
No two stories are the same regarding characters or location, yet some thematic aspects do overarch, in particular the interactions between a future human race and other intelligent life forms.
Alice Sheldon managed to create completely distinct emotional journeys in each story - none of which exceed 40 pages - which is an impressive feat in and of itself. Some stories focus more on hard Sci-fi, analysing alien-human politics, whereas others simply tell of a gripping adventure on a distant world.
It is often the case that science fiction short stories lead to confusion more than anything else, due to the (lack of) introduction of terms, places, species, etc. Where an epic such as Dune can take pages and pages describing planets, people, and relationships, a 20 pages tale cannot spend any. Sheldon, however, manages to replace this confusion with wonder. Rather than frustratedly trying to puzzle out what was going on, I found myself contently furthering the stories long after I had finished reading, building the worlds as I imagined them, rather than wanting more detail to her version.
Sheldon's prose is similarly an appropriate middle ground between the poetry of hard traditional science fiction and the simplicity of that for younger modern audiences. Although an occasional sentence had to be reread, it generally managed to be gripping without being overly convoluted.
I immensely enjoyed reading this collection as a whole, and find that each story has amazing re-reading capacity. In fact I would recommend reading most if not all of them a second time over. The Peacefulness of Vivyan is particularly striking when read a second time with a better understanding of the context (it also happens to be my favourite story in the collection, being both heart-wrenching and politically intriguing).
I would recommend anyone with a slight interest in speculative fiction or Sci-Fi to pick this collection up when it is re-released in the near future. It's perfect for reading all the way through, or to use as an occasional pallette cleanser between other longer works.
It took me a long time to read Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home, partly because my life is really busy right now and I haven't had as much time to read as I'd like, but also because I took my time with each of the fifteen stories in this first anthology of "James Tiptree, Jr.'s" (Alice Sheldon's) works, in the same way a wine connoisseur savors a fine wine and drinks it slowly. After I wrote that previous sentence, I thought of Harlan Ellison's collection Strange Wine, in which he used fine wines as a metaphor for his short stories and led to the title of his anthology. Tiptree's stories represent the best that science fiction can be--they are thought-provoking, well-written, and their tone and style are astonishingly varied.
On a purely personal note, this collection includes the first Tiptree story I ever read, "Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket," which, when I was fifteen years old, struck me not only as feverishly sexy, but also as a devilish take on time travel paradoxes. And the first time I read "The Man Who Walked Home," I was floored by the poignancy of a man caught in the grip of cosmic forces, who is determined to (literally) walk home.
For anyone who has never read Alice Sheldon/ James Tiptree Jr.'s work, Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home is not just a good introduction, but a good example of a writer at the height of her power, which I conjecture is because Sheldon started publishing fiction relatively late in life. Whatever the reasons, it is a collection no connoisseur of SF should miss.
First off, absolute treasure of a find in a charity shop on the isle of Mull- mid seventies edition of this book. Secondly; Tiptree is an absolute master, although this collection definitely contains some less than stellar entries. It is packed full with her trademark abrasive language and ideas; I feel like my mind is being expanded somewhat against my will when I read Tiptree, and it's great; the ideas forcing their way in and rattling around the inside of my cranium at somewhere near the speed of sound, sparking off each other and whatever else was already in there. Her short stories do fantastic jobs of crafting fully realised worlds (and in some cases universes) in really minimal word-counts- the glimpses we get are very often tantalising, but they equally get across everything they want to. Short, sharp, precision stabs of incredible wit, social awareness and anger.
Some favourites include: The Man Who Walked Home; Mother In The Sky With Diamonds; I'm Too Big But I Love To Play Less good: The Man Doors Said Hello to (too bonkers even for me); Faithful To Thee, Oh Terra, In Our Fashion & Birth of a Salesmen, only because they are doing very very similar things and the redundancy is a shame
This one really did blow me away. Just a couple of weeks ago I read the Analog 6 anthology from 1968, a rather staid collection of stories in the classic sf mode. Most (though not quite all) of this 1973 collection are tremendous, many of them somewhat subversive - particularly on gender issues, this at a time when the author was still believed to be a man (and is referred to in the masculine in Harry Harrison's introduction. The one that particularly lingers with me is "The Man Who Walked Home", which I had forgotten was by Tiptree - the one about the time traveller who appears on the spot of his own demise once a year. There's also a rather atypical time travel romance, "Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket", and the Hugo-winning "Painwise" which I didn't remember having read before. A really excellent anthology - I think I prefer it to the later Star Songs of an Old Primate which I also enjoyed a couple of years back.
"Ten Thousand Light-Years From Home" is a collection of sci-fi stories written by James Tiptree Jr. - who was actually a woman called Alice Sheldon (in case you didn't know). Most of the stories are like (I imagine) weird drug-fueled dreams, and the over-all feeling is just of plain weirdness (which is fun). There are some real gems in this collection, but I won't name them. You'll need to pick up a copy and find them for yourself. Pure entertainment is to be found here.
My thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for an advance copy to review. This review is entirely my own, unbiased, opinion.
In this 1976 Gregg Press reprint edition, Tiptree's 1973 novel is introduced by Harry Harrison. The edition has an additional introduction an essay by editor Gardner Dosois on "The Great Tiptree Hunt" analyzing the bits of information known at the time that indicate just who "he" might be.
Holy Galaxy, he yelped – I thought Tiptree was supposed to be a good writer. A jewel in science fiction’s crown. But, for Solsake, much of this short story collection is written in pulp fiction style – outrageously dated even in the 1960s. Maybe the author thought that’s how sf should be written, after glancing through an old copy of Startling Stories. If it’s supposed to be a pastiche, he grunted, it serves no discernible purpose and rapidly becomes tiresome.
The stories are, for the most part, equally ungainly. ‘And I awoke and found me here on the cold hill’s side’ explores humanity’s impulse to have sex with aliens – driven by our “long drive to find and impregnate the stranger.” This is, apparently, “a cargo-cult of the soul”. We are all like “the poor damned Polynesians.” And other non-sequiturs. La Belle Dame sans Merci attracted the knight because she appeared “full beautiful”, not because she appeared alien. Science fiction has always been overfond of explanations, but Tiptree’s tend to be half-witted and better left unspoken.
I could go on, his own voice chattered, but it’s depressing. 10,000 light-years from home – and all I discovered were disappointing stories crudely told.
Aliens have made contact with Earth, hundreds of different aliens. Our main character, a reporter who's made it off Earth, searches for someone to interview and hopes to get a glimpse of an alien, any alien. However, the first man to agree to an interview (of sorts) has nothing positive to say about humanity's new extraterrestrial allies.
Hmm, this was interesting and the writing was good, though my suspension of disbelief took a hard hit when the explanation of what's happening to humanity was presented. Why? That's a spoiler.
As someone who grew up on this stuff, I do enjoy going back to New-Wave era science fiction every now and again, and Tiptree, one of two pen names for Alice Sheldon, is some of the best of what that genre can achieve in the format. As a modern reader looking back, it's important to remember the trends of the genre at the time - reliance on clever or twist endings and often some kind of pessimistic or satirical perspective in particular - which Tiptree used plenty. A few stories really fall into traps based on half-hearted, poorly supported reveals within the last two pages. But the language shines throughout, especially in its ability to convey abstraction in varying contexts. The good stories are often REALLY good, and display some inventive pacing and plotting.
I want to note two stories: "Mamma come home" and "Help" - both of which are early examples of what has come to be known as a "discrimiflip" device, in which one takes one existing sort of oppression and flips the axis as part of the science fiction or fantastical element. Here we see it flipped against men and against humans as the target of a violent missionary campaign, respectively. The second story is less strong, and incidentally seems to take the trope more seriously, while "Mamma come home" narrated by a casually misogynist character created by a female writer putting on a male voice for her work, is easier to read as a satire. Both are strongly preferable to most modern uses of this "-flip" trope, which ignore the many other ways Science Fiction has evolved to be able to talk about real world dynamics with sensitivity.
This edition of this book should be burned--no TOC, no break between stories (was that a new story title or did someone just shout?), and probably a typo every 10 pages. I've read OCR'ed ebooks copied at a slant in more coherent condition. And an unremovable cardboard cigarette ad in the middle to boot (thank god the 70's are over!). I thought the first 7 stories were terrible. Without the first ~160-170 pages I would have rated the collection 4 stars or above--the rest were pretty enjoyable! Dated, and frequently sexist (which seems odd, considering the author), but generally touching and imaginative. "Touching" is probably an appropriate description, because there was an overwhelming focus on sex.
I'm not opposed to reading more of this author, but I don't know how to make sure I read works more like the end of this collection than the beginning... they were all originally published 1968-72... perhaps look for works published by 'Ultimate Publishing Co. Inc.'?
James Tiptree jr. var ju som bekant egentligen en kvinna vid namn Alice Sheldon, vilket nog bara är relevant i och med att förordet till den här utgåvan skrevs innan det var allmänt känt. Men lite kul är det också. Robert Silverberg kommer nog aldrig få sluta höra om hur han skrev att Tiptrees stil var maskulin utan tvekan. Skriva var hon riktigt bra på, utan tvekan, och det är inte för inte hon är bland de mest respekterade från sin tid. Bra prosa och bitvis riktigt udda - på ett bra sätt - noveller som trots en lite seg start i och med de två sammanlänkade novellerna som var de sämsta i samlingen och ganska ointressanta. Tiptree 'är nog som bäst där hon bara kör på och låter premissen bara fara hej vilt, som i "I'm Too Big but I Love to Play", "Painwise" och den satiriska "I'll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool Is Empty". Stark novellsamling, återigen. (less)
I loved "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" and "Tales of the Quintana Roo" but many of the stories in this collection came up short, at least for me. I didn't check the chronology, but the common view is that "Tiptree" was much less inspired and productive after his/her exposure, and I'm betting that some or all of these stories came from that period. There were a few good ones, but if you like HSRUF, I recommend you quit there. But if you like the stories, don't fail to read her biography.
One third of this anthology is really good, one third is okay, and the remaining third is crap. I think I was more enamored with the mystery that was James Tiptree (Alice Sheldon) than I was her stories. The writing reminded me of Ian Banks, but at some point Banks explains what he's writing, and I felt Tiptree just left you with a feeling of what the fuck.