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Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
James Tiptree, Jr.
Tachyon Publications, 522 pages

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
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.

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SF Site Review: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

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A review by Greg L. Johnson

Should an artist's life be kept separate from his or her work? Alice Bradley Sheldon thought it important enough at the beginning of her writing career that she used the name James Tiptree Jr. as a pseudonym and a P.O. box as an address in order to keep the rest of her life private. But she was writing science fiction, and her audience was a community in which readers knew writers, writers knew readers, and writers all knew each other. She was so good at it that it became inevitable her real identity would become known, and when it did, it was a matter of surprise for many and embarrassment for a few that a writer whose work had been declared typically male was in fact a woman.

If Tiptree herself hadn't made the news public, suspicions would have quickly arose with the publication of such stories as "The Women Men Don't See" and "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" which take such basic SF themes as alienation and travel to the future and view them through a lens fixed by edgy feminism, in which women cannot be understood by males on one hand, and the world might well be better off without men on the other. It's a tribute to the author's artistry that these stories still read not as shrill polemics, but as emotional dramas with characters who are confronted by uncomfortable truths. It's that ability, to place harsh truths in stories of artistic beauty, that places Tiptree among the great SF short story writers of all time.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever showcases what are undoubtedly the best of Tiptree's stories. From the proto-cyberpunk of "The Girl Who was Plugged In" to the political cynicism of "We Who Stole The Dream," the inescapable conclusion is that here is a writer whose work and ideas remain fresh and relevant today. Tiptree was concerned with how the consequences of decisions played out over time, often with results unforeseen to the decision-makers. Forces arise that are out of control, human beings are unable to contain the results of their mistakes.

The one part of Tiptree's output that is under-represented in this collection is her gift for satirical humor. Stories like the alien invasion spoof "Mama Come Home" and the viciously satirical "Birth Of A Salesman" used humor to make many of the same points found in her more famous, dramatically serious work. Also missing from the collection is the quintessential Star Trek fantasy, "Beam Us Home." That just means, however, that after you've read and enjoyed the stories in Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, you'll have plenty of reasons to seek out and read everything else by James Tiptree, Jr.

Copyright © 2005 by Greg L. Johnson

With delicate, mad hands, reviewer Greg L Johnson contemplates Tiptree's talent for picking memorable titles for her stories. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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