Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr.
Man is an animal whose dreams come true and kill him.
— from “On the Last Afternoon”
One of my goals this year was to start reading books that have won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, which is presented for stories that explore aspects of gender, primarily in SciFi and Fantasy. Since I was reading these award winners, I figured I should also read some of the work by the author after whom the award is named. James Tiptree, Jr. is a pseudonym for Alice Bradley Sheldon (and had a second pen name, Raccoona Sheldon), who wrote hard science fiction for years without readers knowing she was a woman.
Tiptree is a perfect namesake for this award because so many of her own stories explore gender and sexuality in challenging and innovative ways. These stories are intelligent, sometimes challenging, and often bleak.
“The Screwfly Solution,” which is one of the best short stories I’ve read in years, involves increasing numbers of attacks by men against women. Bits of news clips, letters, and diary entries are placed alongside the main narrative of a man trying to make it home to his wife and daughter amid the mounting chaos. The ending is fatalistic and powerful, haunting.
In “The Women Men Don’t See” a journalist on a trip into Mexico takes a flight on a small plane with a mother and daughter, whom he finds unsettlingly independent and not fitting into his expectations of how women should be. I can’t say much more about the story without giving too much away, but the exploration of gender roles becomes increasingly explicit.
“With Delicate Mad Hands” is the story of a woman with a facial deformity who has lived her entire life unloved by her fellow human beings who mock and abuse her. She perseveres through an inner secret drive to leave Earth’s solar system behind her, and she achieves this one day by stealing a ship and steering it solo to the stars. There is so much more to the story than that short description, but I don’t want to say anymore. Although as dark as any other of Tiptree’s stories, this was also sweet and romantic.
Another subset of stories explore sexual behavior through alien bodies and include stories such as “Love is the Plan the Plan is Death,” “On the Last Afternoon,” and “A Momentary Taste of Being.” The alien-ness of these creatures or beings is startling and often destructive to human existence.
Other stories reflect on moral complexities of human society. “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain,” for example presents bits and pieces of Doctor Ain’s last flight told through the points of view of the people who meet him along his journey (again, this tells too little, but it really is a thrilling story). In “We Who Stole the Dream” an alien race enacts a revolt against humanity which holds them captive, breaking free from slavery and suffering, only to find that the home they are returning to is not the dream-come-true they expected.
Although I didn’t necessarily love every story, reading this brick-thick collection was a fantastic experience. Tiptree was an amazing writer, a master of the genre. Her work is a must read for any science fiction fan.
The 2013 Rhysling Anthology
Edited by John C. Mannone
This is not really a review, because this anthology contains one of my poems. (I received my contributor’s copy two years ago and it’s taken me that long to getting around to actually reading it.)
The anthology, published by the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), comprises works nominated for the Rhysling Awards, which recognizes the best speculative poems published in the previous year. Below are the winners; I’ve included links to poems or poets, where I could find them.
Winners in the Short Poem Category:
First Place: “The Cat Star” by Terry A. Garey
Second Place: “Futurity’s Shoelaces” by Marge Simon
Third Place: “Sister Philomela Heard the Voices of Angels” by Megan Arkenberg
Winners in the Long Poem Category:
First Place: “Into Flight” by Andrew Robert Sutton
Second Place: “String Theory” by John Philip Johnson
Third Place (tie): “The Time Traveler’s Weekend” by Adele Gardner and
“The Necromantic Wine” by Wade German
In related news, I’ve decided to join the SFPA. In a large part this was to receive copies of the various publications as they come out, because I love speculative poetry, as well as to be able to participate in future voting when the time comes.