I’m starting this review with 2 quotes I like about the American writer Alice Sheldon (1915–1987) who wrote speculative fiction under the pen name James Tiptree, Jr.:
“It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing.” — Robert Silverberg
“What her work brought to the genre was a blend of lyricism and inventiveness, as if some lyric poet had rewritten a number of clever SF standards and then passed them on to a psychoanalyst for final polish.” — Brian Aldiss
When I was looking for recommendations of quality sci-fi books written by women, Admiral Ironbombs suggested any of Tiptree’s short-story collections. This was the first published collection of her short stories. It was published in 1973, the year of my birth and the reason why I chose to read this collection first. There are fifteen stories collected here, all of which are worth reading. Even the weaker tales have something special that separates them from similar fare of the same period.
With most of these intriguing tales the reader is dropped into a fully-formed world without any explanation. Tiptree excels at showing rather than telling, which could put some readers off. That would be a shame because these short stories are brimming with imagination, ideas and some unforgettable imagery. Here are some brief thoughts on the stories that really stood out for me.
“And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” (1972)
Could this be the “real” final frontier that we, as a species, are searching for? The lure of the unknown spliced with primal sexual desire. Who can say how we would react to our first glimpse of another species from another world?
“Mamma Come Home” (1968)
A satirical alien invasion story in which the aliens look very familiar. Tiptree has fun flipping gender roles, as well as dropping hints from human history about what the aliens’ mission may be.
A pilot who cannot feel pain is on a mission exploring planet after planet. He attempts to relieve his loneliness by befriending his ship’s computer.
“The Man Who Walked Home” (1972)
A time-travel mystery tale spanning hundreds of years in which an unexplained sighting is briefly glimpsed at the same spot year after year.
“I’m Too Big But I Love to Play” (1970)
An alien intelligence attempts to imitate human life but finds it more difficult than expected.
“Beam Us Home” (1969)
The boy who always seemed distant at school imagines he is an alien observing the inhabitants of Earth. We follow his path as he grows up and joins the air force. Contains a nice, knowing nod to the original Star Trek series.
This is a fascinating collection of science fiction short stories full of big ideas, beautiful prose, a witty, knowing sense of humour as well as a palpable sexuality. Many of these tales deserve a second or third reading, not just for clarification but also for pure enjoyment. Recommended for anyone seeking passage to the stars and beyond;)