Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
      The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1
James Tiptree, Jr.
      edited by Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Debbie Notkin, and Jeffrey D. Smith
Tachyon Publications, 522 pages
      Tachyon Publications, 320 pages

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1
James Tiptree, Jr.
Alice Bradley Sheldon was born in 1915 in Chicago, Illinois. She joined the United States Army in 1942. At the end of the war, she married Huntington Sheldon, and in 1946, she was discharged from the Army after reaching the rank of Major. The same year, she published a piece called "The Lucky Ones" in The New Yorker. In 1952, she went to work for the fledgling CIA for 3 years. She received a B.A. in 1959 from American University and her doctorate at George Washington University in 1967. With the inspiration of a jar of marmalade, she adopted the pseudonym of "James Tiptree, Jr." and she began to write. In 1973, her first book, a collection titled Ten Thousand Light Years from Home, was published by Ace Books. In 1987, she passed away.

ISFDB Bibliography

The James Tiptree, Jr. Award
In February of 1991, Pat Murphy announced the creation of The James Tiptree, Jr. Award, an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender. She created the award in collaboration with author Karen Joy Fowler. The award is named for Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr.

The James Tiptree, Jr. Award Website
SF Site Review: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Matthew Cheney

If you were a science fiction reader in 1987, you probably remember where you were when you heard the news that an elderly ex-employee of the Pentagon and CIA, a woman named Alice Sheldon, had shot her ailing husband and then herself. If you were a science fiction reader then, you probably knew that Alice Sheldon had written two novels and more than fifty short stories under the names Raccoona Sheldon and, most famously, James Tiptree, Jr.

It was months after the event that I first read about it, in Analog magazine, and I still remember what the black-outlined block of the obituary looked like, because I stared at it for probably ten minutes, trying to get the words to make some sense. Analog was an appropriate source for the news, because it was that magazine and its legendary editor, John W. Campbell, Jr., who first published Tiptree, though her subsequent work would reveal an attitude Campbell despised, a lack of faith in the ability of pluckiness to move mankind toward ever-greater realms of progress.

Tiptree and Campbell, the two juniors, both have awards named for them now. In the introduction to The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1, Pat Murphy writes: "In 1991, four years after Alice Sheldon's death, Karen Fowler and I created the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. We did it to make trouble. To shake things up. To make people examine the fiction they read a little more carefully. And to honor the woman who startled the science fiction world by making people suddenly rethink their assumptions about what women and men could do."

The Tiptree is not an ordinary SF award; it has a specific, even ideological purpose -- a juried award for, as Murphy says, "a short story or novel which explores and expands gender roles in speculative fiction." The results have been surprising, infuriating, perplexing, and often marvelous.

The title of the new collection is misleading, because this is not the first collection to result from the Tiptree Award -- that would be 1999's Flying Cups and Saucers, a book that is now out of print and difficult to find. Tachyon Publications, the publisher of the new book, might have done well to reprint the earlier volume with added stories from after 1998, because the new anthology is so oddly edited that it is more of a curiosity than a representation of the award (though perhaps subsequent volumes will fix this).

The challenge to any editor of a Tiptree volume is that the jury is free to give the award to whatever sort of fiction they want, of whatever length, and however many they choose. Thus, the award for 2003 went to Matt Ruff's novel Set This House in Order, with ten novels and stories included on a "short list" of works deserving honor (not, the editors make clear, "losers"), and a "long list" of seventeen other books and stories. This is quite different from 2001, when the winner was the novel The Kappa Child by Hiromi Goto and the four works on the short list were also novels (and there was no long list). And then there are all the "Retrospective Award Winners" and "Retrospective Award Short List."

Unfortunately, the four editors of this first-but-second anthology of Tiptree honorees have responded to the challenges of creating a Tiptree anthology by being (seemingly) haphazard. Most of the book is structured like one of the annual Nebula Award anthologies, with an excerpt from Set This House in Order and the complete texts of all of the short fiction on the 2003 short list. Like the Nebula volumes, there's also some non-fiction: Joanna Russ on "Tiptree and History" (putting Sheldon/Tiptree within a feminist and gay liberation context), Suzee McKee Charnas on "Judging the Tiptree," Ursula K. LeGuin on "Genre: A Word Only the French Could Love," and Sheldon's own essay on being revealed as Tiptree, "Everything But the Signature is Me."

And then there's Kelly Link's 1997 Tiptree-winning story, "Travels with the Snow Queen." And a translation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen." These complement Kara Dalkey's 2003 story "The Lady of the Ice Garden," which is another take on the Snow Queen tale. Link's story is exquisite, but... why not complement, say, Geoff Ryman's "Birth Days" with Eleanor Arnason's 2002 short-listed story "Knapsack Poems," another tale of biology and sexual identity? After all, one other story from the 2002 short list, Karen Joy Fowler's "What I Didn't See" is included. Fowler's is, actually, the story most demanding a companion -- Tiptree's own "The Women Men Don't See," which was one of the inspirations for "What I Didn't See." Including some of Tiptree's fiction would have created a nice sense of lineage.

One of the pleasures of the Tiptree award is the variety of tastes demonstrated over the years by the different juries, and the world would benefit quite a bit from an anthology that demonstrated that sort of variety, rather than simply privileging one jury's selections and tossing in a couple of old favorites. As it is now, the editors seem to be snubbing previous winners and juries -- they could have at least included 2002's winner, "Stories for Men" by John Kessel and 1998's "Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation" by Raphael Carter.

A capricious Tiptree anthology is certainly better than none at all, however, and the book's publication in conjunction with Tachyon's reprinting of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, originally published by Arkham House in 1990, gives us a chance to reflect not only on the Tiptree award stories themselves, but on their relation to Tiptree's own fiction. Ruth Nestvold's "Looking for Lace", for instance, feels superficially like one of Tiptree's masterpieces, "A Momentary Taste of Being" in its concern for the everyday details and processes of interstellar colonization. Tiptree's story actually feels more modern, despite having been published twenty-eight years earlier, because of its breadth of vision and uncompromising biological fatalism -- it's a story that would have horrified John W. Campbell, while Nestvold's story is more like an updated version of H. Beam Piper's "Omnilingual" or Lloyd Biggle's "Monument" (published by Campbell in 1957 and 1962, respectively).

Geoff Ryman's "Birth Days" could easily have come from Tiptree's pen -- it echoes everything from "The Last Flight of Dr. Ain" to "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" in its speculations and conclusions -- while Carol Emshwiller's "Boys" is as fine and disturbing a story as Tiptree's "Screwfly Solution" (and doesn't nearly ruin itself, as Tiptree's story does, with a silly final sentence).

The new edition of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever contains the same stories as the Arkham House edition, but lacks John Clute's introduction and Andrew Smith's illustrations. It replaces the former with an informative and thoughtful introduction by Michael Swanwick, and Smith's bland interiors are no match for John Picacio's beautiful cover on the Tachyon edition.

While certainly any Tiptree devotee might quibble with the selection of stories (I've long wished "The Psychologist Who Wouldn't Do Awful Things to Rats" was included, and not just because I love the title), this is undoubtedly the best introduction to Tiptree's work that exists, and has long deserved an affordable paperback reprint, as Tachyon has given it. In his original introduction (which is a bit more like a review, complete with quibbles), John Clute called the book "one of the two or three most significant collections of short science fiction ever published." The passage of time has not rendered this judgment any less accurate.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever fully demonstrates what a fine and varied writer Tiptree was, a writer whose stories truly deserve the too-frequently-applied label of "uncompromising vision." Alice Sheldon once said, "I've always been bugged by writers who neglect to think things through, to work up the whole scene, with those vital 'trivial' factors which actually cost so much effort and can make or break grand themes." Neglecting to think things through is not a charge that could be made against her -- the majority of her stories take their conclusions as far as possible, which more often than not means death, and sometimes the utter destruction of more than just the protagonist.

Again and again, Tiptree suggests that heterosexual relationships are a dangerous trap, one that brings out the most destructive (and self-destructive) tendencies in people, particularly men. In "The Screwfly Solution," a scientist says, "A potential difficulty for our species has always been implicit in the close linkage between the behavioral expression of aggression/predation and sexual reproduction in the male." This "potential difficulty" goes beyond potentiality and into pure aggression in one story after another -- think of the misogyny of some of the characters in "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" or the viciousness of Captain Meich toward Carol Page in "With Delicate Mad Hands" or the way brutal sex with male humans deforms the Joilani characters in "We Who Stole The Dream." Even when it is not violent, sex is inextricably linked to death, as in the story whose title could be appropriate for most of Tiptree's work, "Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death."

The misogyny of male characters in Tiptree's work is ferocious and horrible, but it is seldom simply a bad personality trait. Rather, Tiptree's men are biologically fated to love women in ways that hurt them, and to love them for the wrong reasons, and to hate them because they love them.

Though the characters often seem caught in the savagery of biological determinism, they are not generally just pawns of fate. The nobility of humanity, Tiptree seems to be saying, is in its fight against the more brutal aspects of its inner nature. In "The Screwfly Solution," Alan fights against the bloodlust and tries desperately to save his wife and daughter from himself. The women who have founded what may be a kind of utopia in "Houston, Houston, Do You Read" are, nonetheless, shown to be shortsighted in declaring themselves to be the entire human race, because their definition does not have room for a good, admittedly flawed man like Lorimer -- just as Lorimer appreciated too late the "women to whom men were not simply -- irrelevant", women such as his wife Ginny, who he took for granted and, in some ways, did not see.

Utopia is approached in what may be Tiptree's most perfect story, "Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled with Light!" Here, utopia is pure generosity, and pure generosity is the province of the insane. This story's subtle weaving of reality and delusion, its commentary on living in the real world while a world of fantasy gives more sustenance and explanation, makes it an older, less whimsical cousin to Kelly Link's Tiptree-winning "Travels with the Snow Queen," a story that is equally assured and beautiful in its use of language as is Tiptree's own. As Link rivals Tiptree, "Your Faces..." rivals some of Virginia Woolf's writing in its use of interior monologue, the poetry of misplaced thoughts.

The title story of the collection is nearly as perfect as "Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled with Light!" It was written originally for Final Stage, an anthology edited by Edward L. Ferman and Barry N. Malzberg where authors were given a topic that seemed appropriate to them and asked to write a story bringing that topic as far as it could possibly go. Tiptree, naturally, got the topic of Doomsday. "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" is not just a doomsday story in the sense of ending the world -- it does that, in its own way, but it ends other worlds, too, worlds of love and worlds of science, worlds of time and desire and memory. And yet it isn't nihilistic -- it is, actually, deeply humane, because while it is, yes, a story of doomsday, it is also a story of immortality, of time forever looping back on itself. It is a story about not just a sense of wonder, but the energy of wonder, the power of wonder to reshape the universe with engines of joy.

In terms of subject matter, Tiptree might have been the bleakest, most morbid American writer to gain popularity with science fiction. But in terms of tone, style, and attitude, Tiptree was a deeply humane writer, one who believed uncynically in the noble possibilities of human inventiveness, of striving against inevitable entropy. Her work is sad and fatalistic, but it is also transcendent and visionary. Like love and death or men and women, Tiptree's tragedies cannot be separated from her humanity; without each other they are meaningless.

Copyright © 2005 Matthew Cheney

Matthew Cheney teaches at the New Hampton School and has published in English Journal,, Ideomancer, and Locus, among other places. He writes regularly about science fiction on his weblog, The Mumpsimus.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide