U Waterloo’s Dana Porter Arts Library is home to the B. P. Nichol Library of Science Fiction; that’s something I have known for years and something I keep meaning to exploit. The Nichol library is part of their rare book collection; in order to use it I would have to spend a day reading and writing in the rare book room (which I knew well when I worked there). OK, but which book to sample first?
James Tiptree, Jr.’s 1975 Warm Worlds and Otherwise collects some of Tiptree’s earlier works (although not as many as another collection, Ten Thousand Light Years from Home, which is also discussed in this collection’s extraordinary introduction). My copy of Warm Worlds vanished decades ago, but I remember it fondly.
I also remember its introduction, one that should be a lesson to us all.
Who Is Tiptree, What Is He? • (1974) • essay by Robert Silverberg
Accomplished author Robert Silverberg, who begun as a living dynamo of forgettable pulp SF and then reinvented himself as a far more ambitious, far more significant SF author, provides an overview and appreciation of Tiptree’s career from 1968 to 1974. As were so many in those days, he becomes obsessed with the person behind the name, a name that very well might be a pseudonym. But Tiptree covered their tracks too well.
Ah, poor Robert Silverberg. It’s inevitable that any review of this book is going to dwell on his firm assertion that speculations that Tiptree was a woman were unfounded, that there was something “ineluctably masculine” about Tiptree’s writing. He was adamant: just as no woman could have written the works of Hemingway, so too no woman could write Tiptree’s SF. The moral here is that it is best to refrain from committing gross errors in public (no 3 AM tweets); if you MUST embarrass yourself, avoid crafting memorable quotes such as “ineluctably masculine.” Silverberg may have got the wrong end of the stick as far as Tiptree herself is concerned, but it’s clear he liked her fiction. It’s an essay worth tracking down.
All the Kinds of Yes • (1972) • novelette
An alien wearing human shape turns to Earth for refuge. But Earth is more than the wild, empty world the galactic archives described.
This is a first contact story of the sort where things go very well until they go terribly wrong (in large part because things went so well at first, rather than in spite of them going well). It reminds me of Tiptree’s 1985 novella The Only Neat Thing to Do.
“The Milk of Paradise” • (1972) • short story
Timor yearned to return to the paradise of his youth, lost when a human scout brought a lethal disease to his alien world. Unlike most people who want to return to the world of their youth, for Timor return is a matter of recovering the lost coordinates and meeting a sufficiently ruthless scout…
1972’s “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” touches on similar themes of hopeless obsession. If I didn’t have the publication dates here in front of me, I would have guessed that this was a much earlier work; it’s that much less polished. Oh, but it was published in Again, Dangerous Visions. How long was that in preparation?
And I Have Come Upon This Place by Lost Ways • (1972) • novelette
A self-loathing scientist ventures out on a journey of wondrous discovery.
Tiptree being Tiptree, it is a one-way journey and the odds of scientific publication seem poor.
“The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” • (1969) • short story
Doctor Ain knows how to save the Earth and kind-hearted man that he is, he is determined to share the secret with the whole human race.
“Let me turn to James Tiptree, Jr. for solace,” said nobody, ever.
“Amberjack” • (1972) • short story
What Amberjack and ‘Rue had might not have been love, but whatever it was, it was worth coveting.
See comment above, in spades.
“Through a Lass Darkly” • (1972) • short story
Can a helpful older man bridge the cultural divide between himself and a much, much younger woman? He’s certainly going to try.
This is weirdly relevant to the Young People Read Old SF project….
The Girl Who Was Plugged In • (1973) • novelette
The girl was trapped in a hideous body; science offered her a dazzling alternative, one that would allow her to promote commerce! But love ruins everything.
You know how these days people try to pretend they think ugly people are just as good as pretty people? There’s not a hint of that here, not from anyone.
“The Night-blooming Saurian” • (1970) • short story
All that’s needed to save the funding for the time travel team is giving one idiot senator the chance to shoot a brontosaurus. Pity that the team can only access a period that is eighty million years too late for brontosauri. But they have a cunning plan….
“Idiots with rifles and a yen to kill dinosaurs” is a rich little genre all to itself.
The Women Men Don’t See • (1973) • novelette
An explorer (male) and his team (a mother and daughter) set out to explore the wilds of Central America. The explorer is discomfited when the women take this opportunity to reject the strictures of a male-dominated society. This is unnatural! How can this be possible?
You might think that I would find this story depressing, but I see a silver lining. At least in this story the mother and daughter are offered a choice. They have agency. Their choice may not turn out quite as expected, but at least it’s no worse a life than they would face back home.
“Fault” • (1968) • short story
A moment’s careless cruelty has justified a harsh punishment. The culprit is turned over to the aliens for retribution. Oddly enough, the aliens hand him back to his crewmates, seemingly unchanged.
“Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death” • (1973) • short story
Can true love overcome biological imperatives? Or are we all deluded puppets dancing on nature’s cruel strings?
This story was written by James Tiptree, Jr. so the answer to that question may have been overdetermined….
On the Last Afternoon • (1972) • novelette
The human castaways assumed that the convenient clearing in which they started their colony was due to a tornado. Bad assumption. The truth is something much, much worse. The only chance for the colony: a desperate father bargaining with an enigmatic alien.
Surprise! There’s a happy ending. Humanity survives. Just, you know, not on this planet.
What a splendid choice for Christmas! So full of fellowship and good cheer!
Worth a look if you can find a copy. I try to provide links to the books I review here but as far as I can tell Warm Worlds and Otherwise has been out of print longer than the median human has been alive. In fact , for an author as significant as Tiptree, a surprisingly small fraction of her work is in print at this time. I would like to say I was surprised but I am not.