Dec 6, 2015

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree Jr.

I had never heard of this author when this collection of his short stories popped up on a "best of sci fi" list I read a couple of years ago. I bought a copy and it sat on my shelf, thick and blue, until I decided to bite the bullet and try it. What an impressive, surprising, incredible piece of work. James Tiptree Jr. was the nom de plume of Alice B. Sheldon, who started writing science fiction short stories under that name in the late 1960s. Her luminous stories soon took home awards and she developed a large, devoted fan base with whom she corresponded quite freely, despite never being seen in public. Her writing was known for its philosophical, cynically tinged hard sci fi with beautiful titles and not an inconsiderable amount of feminism. Her career remained strong after she was revealed to be a woman, but a life-long struggle with depression ended in her suicide.

These stories are nearly indescribable. Terribly imaginative, one can easily see the influence they have had on future science fiction writers. I was reminded of "Station Eleven" at the very first story, "The Last Flight of Doctor Ain." Her writing is almost too good to bear; paragraphs of solid, wrenching emotion pull strenuously at the heart and soul and you are almost too afraid to read on while simultaneously devouring every page as quickly as possible. Tiptree's cynicism towards humanity, especially men, is laid bare on the page, the inevitable nature of our animal spirits striving vainly to reach some sort of greater height but always falling just short. What an incredible talent, what an amazing writer.

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