Reviews: James Tiptree, Jr. Award

Turn around and you’re tiny, Turn around and you’re grown

Larque on the Wing — Nancy Springer

Holy crap, it has been over a year since I wrote my last Tiptree Award review.

Nancy Springer’s standalone contemporary fantasy Larque on the Wing shared the 1994 Tiptree Award with Le Guin’s “The Matter of Segri.”

An outsider might say that artist Larque Harootunian is by many measures a success. She runs a thriving craft business; she’s married with children. Her marriage is somewhat unconventional, but it’s still within her comfort (or at least toleration) zone. The only notable off-notes in her outwardly successful life are the memories that haunt her.

Granted, almost everyone is haunted by the ghosts of their past …but what would be metaphor for anyone else is literal truth for Larque.

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Apartness

The Matter of Seggri — Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin’s 1994 novelette The Matter of Seggri won the 1994 Tiptree, an honour it shared with Nancy Springer’s Larque on the Wing. It was an interesting year for Le Guin and the Tiptree: her A Fisherman of the Inland Sea and “Forgiveness Day” both made the 1994 short list. For some reason ISFDB classifies inclusion in the short list as a nomination, probably because they don’t understand how the Tiptree process works.


The Matter of Seggri takes place in Le Guin’s Hainish setting. Perhaps some background would help. As you know, about a million years ago



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Unfamiliar familiar

Lagoon — Nnedi Okorafor

You might be expecting a review of the 1993 Tiptree winner but since I reviewed that book, Ammonite, last year, that’s not going to happen. Or alternatively, already happened last year. Instead, have one of the more notable books from the 2014 Tiptree Honor List.

2014’s Lagoon puts a familiar situation—first contact with aliens—in a setting that is likely unfamiliar to most readers of the book. Having (presumably) given the Earth a good lookover, the aliens in Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon pass over such standard venues for first contact as the UN building in New York City, the National Mall in Washington, or even a particularly large front yard in America’s Midwest.

Instead, their ship sets down off the African coast, near Nigeria’s sprawling metropolis, Lagos.



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We are only free when we slip through the cracks.

China Mountain Zhang — Maureen F. McHugh

The great thing about being one of the early winners of an award is that it’s easy to be the first something. Maureen McHugh’s 1992 China Mountain Zhang may not have won the very first Tiptree Award, but it is the first book to win a Tiptree without sharing that victory with another novel. It also won a Lambda, was nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula and came in first in Locus’ Best First Novel.

It’s also has a more challenging structure than the previous winners (A Woman of the Iron People and White Queen), which were relatively straightforward narratives. CMZ is an elaborate interweaving of several narratives, which touch each other only tangentially.

With the Great Cleansing Wind relegated to an embarrassing memory of well-intended but disastrous political excess, 22nd Century Americans like Zhang can forget about politics and focus on their careers and personal lives. Zhang has advantages that many other Americans lack, the most obvious of which is that although Zhang is mixed race, he can pass for Chinese. This is very useful in a world dominated by sometimes xenophobic Chinese.

But life is not perfect for would-be engineer Zhang, for reasons not immediately obvious to those around him.


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The Other Winner of the First Tiptree Award

The White Queen — Gwyneth Jones
Aleutian Trilogy, book 1

Gwyneth Jones’ 1991 The White Queen is one of the two novels that won the first James Tiptree Jr. Award ever. Unlike the other winner (A Woman of the Iron People), I have not heard much about The White Queen, and have not been looking for a copy of it for decades. Having read it, I find myself unenthusiastic.

2038’s socialist revolution in America is big news, especially for Americans, but for journalist Johnny Guglioli it offers very little hope of an end to his exile in Africa. Johnny is, according to top American authorities, a carrier of a particularly nasty (although apparently not especially contagious) retrovirus disease and despite his claims that the diagnosis is a politically motivated sham, the new government is no more likely to let Johnny back into the US than the one it replaced.

What might earn Johnny a chance at a reassessment is to become the celebrity du jour. What better route to that than to interview Aleutians? Who, despite their misleading name, are the very first aliens to visit the Earth1.

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Puckish Whimsy!

Beauty Queens — Libba Bray

Yesterday I said

I may or may not also review some of the works that made it onto the (Tiptree) Honor Lists and the Long Lists; the limiting factors are time, my puckish whimsy, and whether or not anyone sees fit to sponsor those reviews.


It turns out another factor is “James wrote this review before deciding to do the Tiptree Reviews and does not care to sit on it for a year.” Also, puckish whimsy!

It’s completely unfair to the books I review but … I must admit that how favourably I react to a book can depend a lot on the circumstances in which I encounter it. Case in point: Libba Bray’s 2011 novel Beauty Queens.

The novel opens with fifty contestants plus ancillary personnel on their way to the Miss Dream Teen beauty contest. Fear not that you will have to keep a bewildering array of names straight: the plane crashes on page three. Of the fifty contestants, thirteen [1] survive. Of their chaperons and other support personnel, none survive. A baker’s dozen of contestants are lost on a deserted island, far from help, left to their own devices, with only the wreckage of the plane and the skills they brought with them to help them survive.

Did I say “deserted island”? Make that “seemingly deserted island.”


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The First Tiptree Award Winner Review

A Woman of the Iron People — Eleanor Arnason

Eleanor Arnason’s 1991 A Woman of the Iron People was one of the two winners of the very first James Tiptree, Jr. Award. It also won the inaugural Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and came in third in the 1992 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Even in the Before Times, when computers were coal-fired and USENET still ruled the interwebs, A Woman of the Iron People got very good word of mouth … so it has been a considerable source of irritation to me that despite decades of bookstore browsing, I had never seen a copy of the hardcover or the split paperback versions (of which more later).

Huzzah for Open Road Media, which offers a very affordably priced edition! Huzzah for my various electronic devices, which allow me to read said edition!

Despite some very impressive efforts, humanity has failed to transform Earth into an anoxic, lifeless desolation (which says a lot for Earth, given the rampant resource plunder and widespread pollution in the backstory). Moreover, a surprisingly sensible humanity has spent centuries trying to undo the damage it did in the 20th century. About a century before the book begins, humans even managed to build and then send a sub-light starship to Sigma Draconis. This sun-like star is not too far from good old Sol on a galactic scale; but it is unimaginably far on a human scale … which is why it took a starship travelling at a good fraction of the speed of light more than a century to reach its destination.

Like the sun, Sigma Draconis has an Earth-like companion world, and like Earth, that world has intelligent inhabitants. Humanity’s first interstellar voyage is also going to be its first contact with aliens.

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