Her Smoke Rose Up Forever was published in 2004. It is a collection of eighteen short stories, all written by Alice B. Sheldon, using the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. The stories were originally published between 1969 and 1981.
There’s an enigmatic, strangely calm, story of an engineered biological weapon. In another story, a scientist in Colombia tries to find a cure for the worldwide outbreak of religious femicide, while exchanging letters with his wife, five thousand miles away.
There’s a cautionary tale about a human man’s quest for sexual encounters with extraterrestrial beings. There’s a story, set in a future where advertising is illegal, in which a teenage girl is given a new avatar-body as part of a plot to circumvent the Huckster Laws.
These stories are amazing, wonderful, and wildly creative. They are also confusing, at first. They drop you right into worlds of different cultures, future slang, and future technologies with almost no setup. They often blur the line between analogy and straight-up storytelling. These stories are challenging. These are my kind of stories.
An explosion occurs at a particle accelerator, a man walks home, and five centuries later, we learn what happened to him. A puzzling story tells of a scientific mission to a distant, inhabited planet, and one scientist’s quest to learn why a mountain is named The Mountain of Leaving.
A man survives a small plane crash in Central America with two strangers (a mother and daughter) and the Mayan pilot, and wonders why the women are so calm – almost as if they’re waiting for something. There’s a nightmarish story about a young girl, working as a courier, walking across a peaceful, friendly, post-technology Earth.
Women get raped a lot in these stories.
There’s a story about the crew of a spaceship who receive a radio signal and learn that they’re not where, or when, they thought they were. There’s another story about an unloved young woman, born with a deformed nose, who peruses a career in space flight, where her ugliness won’t be a sexual distraction to male crew members, and finds an unexpected home.
The other negative about these stories is that they are grounded in an era. Even the stories set in a future talk of women’s lib and bra-burners. Nixon is mentioned. A plague forces women to find work outside of the home. Men are amazed to find chicks working in space. These anachronisms are jarring. But this is merely a grumble. These stories are terrific.
The sole survivor of a survey mission insists that everything went well and that the alien creature she brought back is harmless. In another story, a gentle race of humanoids, enslaved by the physically superior Terrans, plot a revolt.
A man relives his past. In another story, an insect tries to fight against the natural order of things.
A colony of humans, shipwrecked on an alien planet, do their best to prepare for the destruction coming when the local wildlife begins mating. An epic story covers millions of years of violence, death, and destruction, until a blind girl is born with special powers.
In a post-apocalyptic Earth, a man finds a computer-controlled boat on the shore, decides to get in, and meets a woman. The final, very short, story wonders what will happen when all of humanity’s frontiers are gone.
It took me forever to read these eighteen stories. I had to renew the book past its three-week library loan. I kept turning back, re-reading pages, trying to figure out just what the heck I was reading. I re-read some stories from their beginning, looking for the subtleties that lead to surprising endings. This was a plus, for me. I do enjoy books that challenge me.
There’s a common feminist thread through most, or maybe all, of these stories, but it’s not the same idea repeated over and over. They are all unique and original.
I loved, absolutely loved, this book.
Why I chose this book:
T.A. Hamilton writes the wonderful blog “TAwrites”. They write about writing and about reading. They are taking Popsugar’s 2018 Reading Challenge, and are doing a great job with it.
T.A. Hamilton chose Her Smoke Rose Up Forever for the category “a book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym”. They wrote a glowing review of it. I admit that I had never heard of James Tiptree, Jr, so that’s the book I chose. (Isn’t that what the reading challenge is all about?)