Author:James Tiptree Jnr.
James Tiptree Junior – real name Alice Sheldon, had such an extraordinary life, working for Army Intelligence and the CIA; careers in both painting and writing; that who she was and how she wrote is in danger of overshadowing what she wrote. This collection is a great reminder of her unique tone, and her pivotal place in sci-fi history, linking the fifties magazine style with the new wave of the sixties. Which is a way of saying that the stories here are quite diverse, and while some still pack an almighty punch others have dated.
The ones that work least successfully are a group of stories in which hard-bitten but whip-smart professionals deal with alien invasions, fixes on the galaxy’s gambling world, and the travails of trans galactic parcel deliveries. ‘Birth of A Salesman’ and ‘Faithful to Thee…’ projects a fifties world of club cars, trilbys, FedEx and PanAm into the far future. These aim for satire but too often descend into whimsy.
Then there’s a group of stories where she much more successfully flips the conventions: Beam Us Home takes the stranger in a strange land story and – as Michael Faber’s Under the Skin would do twenty years later – makes us the strangers seen through a single visitor’s eyes. Mamma Come Home has fun with gender conventions in a post-apocalypse world. The unclassifiable Painwise starts off as with a lonely explorer in a spaceship, and ends up in tragic sexual fantasy.
Finally there are a handful of stories that deserve a place in any best-ofs. ‘And I Awoke…; takes apart the idea of the ‘primal urge’ – exploring how men’s fascination with having sex with the other and the exotic would be only intensified among the stars. ‘I’m too Big But I Love to Play’ may be the best-ever star being story; ‘Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket’ wrings some devastating pathos out of the ‘younger self’ time travel trope; and ‘The Man Who Walked Home’ recalls nothing so much as La Jetee rewritten from the perspective of those who encounter the time traveller.
Sheldon has a reputation which is only growing and this chance to revisit her early short stories in a smart Penguin volume is extremely welcome. Review copy provided by Netgalley.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
PKD, Jose Farmer, Brunner and other scifi writers of the seventies – as in music was it the most creative decade for scifi writing too? Discuss.
One thing you’ve learned
yes she really got her pen name from a jam jar label