Tag Archives: James Tiptree Jr.

And now for something on the kinky side….

He sat for a moment, stunned at what he’d done, stunned at what had happened, wondering what he would do the rest of his life with the memory of it. Then he zipped up his pants.

Title: Alien Sex
Editor: Ellen Datlow
Year: 1990
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Science fiction, obviously, has an interest in aliens. And let’s face it, everyone has an interest in sex. So it’s not surprising to occasionally find both interests coinciding in the same place. In this volume you’ll find nineteen tales of sex seen through the lens of science fiction (with a bit of fantasy and horror mixed in as well). These stories run the gamut, from thought-provoking to dull to incomprehensible; there is enough of substance here, however, to make this a worthy contender for the reader’s attention. The stories also vary in their approach to the anthology’s theme; while some are straightforward speculations on human-alien relations, whether serious or humorous, others take the metaphorical route, using the guise of alien sex to say something about human sex, relationships, or gender differences. Each story is preceded by a short introduction by Datlow, and followed by a few words from the author explaining their inspirations or intentions in writing it. That last is a plus for me, since I like getting into the heads of authors to see where they’re coming from.

On the lighter side of things we have Larry Niven’s “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex,” a speculative look at Superman’s sex life. Also among the more humorous stories is Harlan Ellison’s “How’s the Night Life on Cissalda?”, about a trans-dimensional explorer who brings back an addicting orgasm-producing creature — “the most perfect fuck in the universe.” It’s typical Ellison irreverent weirdness, but fun. Also in this category is “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod” from Philip Jose Farmer, a self-proclaimed “parody-pastiche” that asks the question, “What if William Burroughs, instead of Edgar Rice Burroughs, had written the Tarzan stories?” Interesting concept, but since I can’t stand William Burroughs’ style I found this one unreadable.

On a more serious note there is “Her Furry Face” by Leigh Kennedy; it explores what happens when a primate researcher becomes attracted to an engineered super-inelligent orangatun. Lisa Tuttle uses “Husbands” to ask about the meaning of separate genders, and about what happens when one of them goes extinct. Bruce McAllister’s “When the Fathers Go” uses the alien sex idea to look at the lies people tell each other in order to keep relationships going. Michaela Roessner’s entry is “Picture Planes,” a poem portraying a destructive, imprisoning relationship between an alien and a human that mirrors too many real-life couples. “Roadside Rescue,” by Pat Cadigan, poses an intriguing problem: what if you engaged in sex with an alien and didn’t even know it — simply by performing some innocent everyday action?

Then we come to my two favorite stories of the lot. “War Bride,” by Rick Wilber, is a depressing picture of a man who, in order to escape impending destruction, becomes the sexual pet of brutal alien invaders. This one, too, is a reflection of a scenario surely played out many times in human history, and is a stark reminder of the conditions people will subject themselves to in the name of survival. “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side,” by James Tiptree, Jr., is possibly the most thought-provoking piece of work in the book. It takes the position that our deep-seated biological imperative to spread our genes far and wide might become maladaptive when we encounter aliens, with whom mating is sure to be sterile. Tiptree deftly gets across the tragedy of this uncontrollable, misdirected drive, of eagerly striving toward a hopeless and unobtainable goal, to the diminishment of the species.

There are other stories — by Scott Baker, K. W. Jeter, Edward Bryant, Geoff Ryman, Connie Willis, Richard Christian Matheson, Lewis Shiner, Roberta Lannes, and Pat Murphy — that I didn’t mention for one of several reasons. Some are fantasy or horror and thus not really my cup-o-tea. Some were simply of no interest to me. And a few inspired me to ask that oh-so-frequent question, “what the hell was the editor thinking by including that?”

There are some winners and losers here, like most anthologies. But hey, how can you pass up a book about SEX? And ALIENS!? You know you cant!

The makers of our science fiction dreams

I just finished a fascinating book called Dream Makers: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers At Work, by Charles Platt. It’s a book of author profiles based on interviews Platt (an editor and writer himself) conducted in the late 1970′s. The work was originally published in two paperbacks in the early 80′s; this 1987 hardcover volume is a “new and revised” merger of those two earlier editions. The authors covered are: Isaac Asimov, Jerry Pournelle, James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), L. Ron Hubbard, Algis Budrys, Harry Harrison, Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, Frederick Pohl, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, A. E. van Vogt, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Philip Jose Farmer, Thomas Disch, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Fritz Leiber, Piers Anthony, Keith Laumer, Alfred Bester, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and Stephen King.

Platt’s introduction tells us something about his goals:

I started doing profiles of science-fiction authors (and other writers of imaginative literature) because I knew from personal experience that they could be just as interesting — sometimes, just as bizarre — as their own books. Also, I believed that the personality of the writer was relevant to his work. Most critics focus exclusively on the text itself, as if it might be “improper” to make deductions or inquiries about a writer’s life. To me, this is snobbish and arbitrary. We can appreciate their work more if we know more about them as people.

And I do know more about these authors as people, after reading these profiles. I learned a lot about these authors, about the way they live, the way they write, the things they’re passionate about, that made me appreciate many of them more (and a few of them less). Most of the material presented is direct quotation from the authors, with a minimum of Platt’s commentary. Which is fine, because Platt’s comments and questions are rather dull most of the time (with a few insightful opinions now and then). It’s the words of the writers themselves that really make this book shine. I’d like to share some of the more interesting quotes and tidbits of information I picked up from this book.

Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr.) and her husband both worked for the CIA in its early days, in relatively important positions (cool — a spy and a science fiction writer). Alice had a degree in psychology, and one of her comments was:

“Man does not change his behavior, he adapts to the results of it. That is, to me, the most grisly truth I learned from psychology.”

Harry Harrison shared his opinions about the corruption of sf awards, the lack of respect (and decent pay) for sf writers, and the dirty behavior of publishers and Hollywood. It all culminates in this recollection:

“Someone once sent me a clipping from some magazine, an interview with George Lucas, saying ‘I grew up reading science fiction, I really was a fan of science fiction, but I didn’t like things written by people like Heinlein or Bradbury, I thought Harry Harrison was my god, and I enjoyed everything he wrote.’ That kind of thing. I thought, ‘Well! Why the hell didn’t you write to me and have me do a god damned script for you, you know, if that’s what you feel, old son, I’d be very happy to come over and make some money from this rotten field.’ Oh there’s no justice in this field.”

Frederick Pohl is (or was back then) quite politically active; he also sometimes lectured/preached at churches (mostly Unitarian). But he was pessimistic about whether anyone really listened to him:

“I remember talking to a group in Chicago once and saying that the primary requisite for achieving a viable relationship between our society and the planet’s ecology was individual self-control. They stood up and cheered me. Then the next speaker said exactly the opposite and they stood up and cheered him too.”

A. E. van Vogt spent much of his interview babbling about Dianetics, est training, and other psycho-nonsense. He came across as a total crackpot, saying that psychology needed saving and he might be the one to save it. Mighty humble, that one.

Philip K. Dick talked about…. well, the kooky stuff PKD is so well known for. From much of what he said, his unfortunate mental problems are all too apparent. However, even with his problems, he came across as more modest, intelligent, and likable than van Vogt.

Frank Herbert was also an amateur scientist and inventor. He and an electronics engineer friend once tried to design their own new kind of computer. He also experimented with harnessing wind power and came up with some pretty cutting-edge designs.

Piers Anthony is a hyperactive tour-de-force. He talks fast, moves fast, works fast — fast and non-stop. And even though he has a very successful writing career, he lives humbly:

“I am not foolish about money at all. I don’t waste it, you don’t see me going off and buying Cadillacs, no you see me out there splitting wood, because we have a wood-burning stove, and solar-powered water heating, if the sun doesn’t shine we don’t bother with hot water, because I don’t like paying fuel bills. I’m a miser!”

Alfred Bester had one of the most fun profiles to read. Asked about his method of dealing with rejection letters, his answer was: “drink more!” Did you know Bester, while an editor for Holiday magazine, was responsible for talking Peter Benchley into turning what was then just a story into an entire novel — Jaws? When asked about retirement, he said:

“Retire? Yeah, I want to retire with my head in the typewriter. That’s my idea of retirement.”

One of the things I liked about Platt’s style was that he helped to give a feel for the authors by describing their homes (most of the interviews were in person), and particularly their work areas used for writing. There was quite a variety, from Ballard’s desk by a big window facing his back yard, to Anthony’s office barn, to Farmer’s windowless basement room with walls covered in erotic art.

There’s a lot more I could mention — this book is full of great stuff! And somehow, in some mysterious way, my “to read” list has grown longer. Funny how that happens all the time. :lol: