the mid-1960s, more and more women were writing science fiction and
fantasy. Not only were woman authors more common, but they were
writing quality stuff. By the start of the 1970s, many, if not most,
of the notable new voices in science fiction were women. The singular
exception seemed to be James Tiptree, Jr.
of Tiptree’s correspondents had ever met Tiptree in the flesh but
all the evidence said Tiptree was a man. Not just a man. To quote
Harlan Ellison “[Kate] Wilhelm
is the woman to beat this year, but Tiptree is the man."
1977, misplaced candour allowed Tiptree’s fans to uncover what
Tiptree had so carefully concealed for a decade: the person behind
the pen name was Alice Sheldon, youthful adventurer, artist,
intelligence officer, and researcher. The
was in fact a woman.
always knew I would include a Tiptree story in this series. Which
Tiptree? That was determined by my desire to cover Joanna Russ’
story “When It Changed”. Tiptree’s 1976 “Houston, Houston, Do
You Read” can be read as an answer to the same question Russ posed
in her story: how does one react to the reappearance of an
unnecessary, unwanted social element? Tiptree was not Russ and her
answer is very different.
Houston, Do You Read” is available in the collection
Smoke Rose Up Forever.
interested in the author for whom the Tiptree
was named would be well advised to read Julie Phillips’ James
Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon.
Discuss this post over at Dreamwidth.
one had a long, boring warm up. It took quite a while to get to the
point and if I hadn't been doing this for James I would have lost
interest about four pages in. Once it got around to the interesting
bits it was good, the story picked up steam and moved along at a
can really tell with this that it is written by someone who has never
actually been inside a man's head but has heard about what it's like.
There are recognizable bits, but it's off in subtle ways. This must
be what it is like for any women who read female characters written
the end I feel kind of bad for Lorrimer. He's kind of right, in that
every man has thoughts that need repressing. That's just something
that comes with the package in my experience. All men learn growing
up that the initial emotional response is absolutely not to be
trusted or acted on. Taking away absolutely all inhibition like they
did with that drug is as bad as slipping them a rage-inducing drug,
because rage just happens over the normal course of events. I
actually have a hard time believing that women don't also have
dangerous impulses. Tiptree probably knows better than me, if she
says women never feel violent urges who am I to argue. While he's not
the meathead rapist type or the paternalistic religious
fundamentalist type, Lorrimer still buys into the whole masculinity
setup with his talk of alphas and betas. He's pretty far down the
road to Nice Guy™ territory, sounding like a moderate 4chan poster
complete with a treasured
story of childhood humiliation.
it's sad that they killed the men rather than just let them live out
their lives on Earth being roundly ignored, I think the civilization
depicted will do just fine. It'll move slowly, but they've got time.
After getting caught in a solar flare, the men should have been dead
anyway. The whole episode was a bonus after-the-credits scene to
story turned out to be pretty interesting – once I figured out what
it was actually about. I thought it would be another “space is big
and lonely and scary” story, and was already preparing myself to
speed read through
it, only half paying attention. As it turns out, this is the other
type of story we seem to be reading again and again, but it's a type
of story that I find much more interesting. It's the “all/most men
have been wiped out” storyline, where we explore how women handle
I actually talk about the story and the “all men are wiped out”
plotline, I do want to mention something that really annoyed me in
this story: how long it took me to figure out how the story was
being told. Houston, Houston seemed to have flashbacks within
flashbacks, wrapped up in weird (made up?) technology and jargon that
didn't make any sense. But I suspect that if I'm going to continue to
read Science Fiction and Fantasy, I will have to do so through a fog
of confusion as new, half-imagined technology is vaguely explained
sort of in stories. But the poorly explained technology is not a
story complaint, it's a genre complaint. Anyways.
I figured out what was going on, I enjoyed the story – pieces of
information were revealed throughout, and the story continued
twisting and turning until I finally figured out what the story was
about – a future world without men. We got to hear about worlds
without men in When It Changed, A Rose for Ecclesiastes, to an
extent, in the dolphin story (except the women were smart dolphins).
As with A Rose for Ecclesiastes, this
is a man-free story written by a man. Does the author's gender change
how the manless women carry on?
finishing the story (which seemed to have a lot more contempt for
men than most men would have), I googled “Does James Tiptree Hate
Women?” The results of my google search provided me with the final
twist I experienced in reading Houston, Houston. This twist was
twisty enough that it made me laugh out loud at my computer in
surprise. It turns out that James Tiptree is actually a pseudonym for
Alice Bradley Sheldon – who is, in fact, female. Well of course she
reading the first page or two, I wrote down that I expected one of
two things to happen:
have veered dramatically off course, or
has happened to Earth (mass death or Planet of the Apes plot twist)
it so happened, I was pretty close. One of the troubles with reading
fiction from the recent past is the plethora of clichés. Concepts
and plot twists that were original at the time have sometimes been
followed by an explosion of the same trope. This story suffers a bit
from being an original cliché. Granted, I didn’t catch on as
quickly as I could have about the clones, which had a nice subtle
trail of clues leading up to that revelation.
story continues some trends seen in the last couple stories:
loneliness and dangers of space travel? Check.
to second-wave feminism? Check.
story felt very dated to a particular time. Not necessarily a bad
thing, since the story involved time travel from the … 1960s? 70s?
80s? 90s? The math is weird since Earth’s human population was 8
billion in the “past” of the story, but our current world
population in 2017 is closer to 7 billion.
main character Lorimer thinks in body types like mesomorphs. That’s
a dated reference to somatotypes.
I remember learning about ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph in
elementary school, but I don’t know if they still do that. Were
somatotypes even taken seriously when this story was published?
anxious about his lower status as a nerd instead of a jock. That was
weird. That’s not the case these days, and I went to a very nerdy
public school. The criteria for popular people at my high school were
president of a club or a member of a student council
on a varsity sports team
most popular students did all of those, or all of those except for
varsity sports. Of course, I’ve seen media where nerds are bullied
and jocks get all the advantages. It’s just strange to me. It may
be an American/Canadian divide. Canadian post-secondary institutions
don’t have full-ride scholarships, and coaches don’t get paid
absurd amounts of money. I also live in a very nerdy city with lots
of tech companies, so my opinion is biased based on that part of my
exclamations of “Houston” and “Do You Read” are iconic to the
Apollo missions. To me, these space missions are fairly distant.
People of my parents’ generation would go on and on about the
Apollo missions when I was a kid, and I would just think “Well, of
course people went to the moon. How could they not?”
that I’m older, I understand how difficult and risky those missions
were. Now, space exploration and current excitement is focused on
sending humans to Mars. It doesn’t seem likely to happen soon, so
that feels like a distant future to me right now. I might be old and
not as excitable by the time people get to Mars, and I might never
really understand that collective suspense and sense of
accomplishment that comes from a big event in space.
didn’t believe the story’s characters were realistic. Or
Lorimer’s perspective is very unreliable. Or they are supposed to
be bad at being astronauts.
kind of terrible manager doesn’t give the right data to the tech
people so they can make the right calculations? (cue hollow laughter)
seriously, this is a life-or-death situation. It’s neither the time
nor place to play social power politics. You are all going to die
because your leader is actively against accurate math. (cue more
also waste hours panicking. I found that the most unrealistic. The
longer they wait and veer off course, the more likely they are to
die. They must have checklists and emergency procedures. We have
loads of recordings of pilots during terrible accidents, and they
always sound unnervingly calm. That’s because they’re trained on
emergency procedures over and over again. When an emergency happens,
the automatic reaction should be to go through procedures.
of the few purposefully funny lines was that the future technology
was “Not like science fiction”. It reminded me that the stories
so far have been extremely serious. I like a bit of comedy, and these
older stories in general strike a very serious tone. That’s usually
the way for writing “literature”, but I would enjoy some of these
stories more if there was an occasional chuckle.
interrupt this regularly scheduled review for a Rape Fantasy
this true for men or for people who aren’t me? I don’t know how
common it is for other people or for men to want to rape. A fair
amount of porn scenarios have little or no consent going on, so I
guess this is considered normal? It seemed jarring, but maybe the
rape fantasy was meant to have that effect. It seemed almost
gratuitous, but maybe it’s in the story to demonstrate to male
readers the ugliness of rape. Or to demonstrate the terrible nature
of males. I don’t really know.
the story, it seems that the future crew does this to provide a
real-life reminder and current video documentation of the terrible
nature of males from the past. I don’t think it’s okay to inject
the past crew with disinihibitors since the power dynamic is unequal:
the past crew is at the mercy of the future crew. The future crew
treat the past crew as lesser and sub-human.
perhaps that’s the point. We still treat women as lesser, subhuman
and less capable in our society today. I know it’s tiring to be
treated that way. Humans are individuals. We’re not all the same.
But that doesn’t make discrimination and stereotypes ‘okay’: it
makes assumptions annoying and dangerous.
now back to our Regularly Scheduled Misogyny--
horreur! A future where everyone just works on what needs to be done
instead of competing with each other. How terrible! (Heavy sarcasm)
male crew from the past denounce the technology of the future. The
ship is too simple. Yeah, let’s ignore the fact they’ve perfected
waste recycling and are self-sustaining with on-board hydroponics. Or
the fact that they rescued you all no problem. The past crew is also
critical that “The marvels of the future seem so far to consist
mainly of ingenious modifications.” Seriously? That’s the
definition of invention. There’s a mythos that a single inventor
creates things out of thin air. Of course they don’t. People needed
to work on fiber-optic cables before we had today’s widespread
high-speed internet access. Electricity and wires came before light
bulbs. I don’t mean to say that it’s a linear progression, but
invention rarely comes out of nowhere.
is very condescending about only having one new chess opening. I only
know a little about chess, but I do know that not that many moves are
possible, mathematically speaking. Once past the beginner stage,
chess is a complex dance of memorization within the limits of the
game. Chess seems like such a dated game: it’s touted as the
pinnacle of logic, but computers now have enough processing power to
simply cycle through all possible moves in real-time. Even with my
limited knowledge of chess, Lorimer’s attitude towards improvements
in chess was very strange to me. Today’s version of the chess
computer anxiety is AlphaGo,
the first computer to beat a professional human player at Go.
Artificial intelligence must not have been an anxiety at the time. If
this story was written today, Lorimer would have played chess against
whole story reminded me strongly of When It Changed, except this is
from the perspective of the men in space. When comparing these two
stories, the male and female perspectives are both antagonistic. In
both cases, the main character identifies with their own gender and
sees the opposing sex as extremely dangerous and out to kill their
own group. Is this what most people thought in the 70s about gender
(or not so interestingly), there’s really no thought given to Andy.
Lorimer just thinks of Andy as an androgynous female. Trans and
intersex people weren’t commonly discussed and accepted at that
point, but it’s become a more common topic of discussion these
days. To today’s reader, this part of the story is one of the most
interesting ideas, but it’s hardly discussed at all. Trans people
are a hot button issue among some people these days – namely,
people who have strong opinions about how strangers live their lives
to the point of policing if people can expel their waste in a stall
next to people who have the same genital shape and gender identity. I
don’t know about you, but I think about the person the next stall
over as little as possible when I’m in a public washroom.
this story was ... interesting. I wouldn’t rate it as one of my
favourites, but it definitely engaged me. To read it now, this story
is very problematic. But it definitely got me thinking. And if
there’s anything science fiction is supposed to do, it’s supposed
to make you think, right?