Monday, June 13, 2011

Short-Story Spotlight: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.

Hello everyone. I hope you had a lovely weekend. I don't think there's any better way to start the week than than with my favorite feature, the Short-Story Spotlight. This week's spotlighted work is Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, an anthology by famous science-fiction writer James Tiptree Jr, who is the pseudonym of writer Alice Sheldon. Since this is an anthology rather than a single story, I'm going to skip my usual summary and get straight on to the review.

The first thing that struck me about this anthology was the quality of the writing. Sheldon has absolute mastery over the English language, and she displays it at every turn. Her descriptions are incredibly rich and detailed, and yet I didn't feel like the story was being bogged down. She somehow fit lush worlds full of sights and sounds right into the plot, never slowing down or forgetting her purpose. Her characters were mostly well rounded, with a few one-dimensional or token characters spread throughout the anthology as a reminder that it was in fact written by a human being. Her plots were beautiful, nuanced, and often unexpected, though many shared a sense of despair or hopelessness. Though some of her stories were kind of long for a short story, all in all I'd say that her writing is absolutely top-notch.

All that said, I had some problems with Sheldon, and I'm not the only one. See, the problem with Sheldon is that she is often writing satirically. Well, that itself isn't really the problem, but that's where my problems with her start. Back when Sheldon was alive and before anyone knew that she was a woman rather than being James Tiptree Jr, many people criticized her stories for being incredibly sexist. Now she is known as a great feminist icon, so I always wondered how this mistake came about. Well, after reading her stories, I think I understand. Even knowing that she was a woman who was writing satirically, some of the people in stories still made me sick. There are some serious portrayals of sexism and general misogyny, and even for a satire it was a bit much for me. If I hadn't been told, I would have thought that she meant everything she said, and it honestly made me uncomfortable.

All in all, I don't really know what to make of this anthology. The writing is excellent, but the subject matter is often very difficult, and nearly all the stories end in tragedy. Even though the writing was good, I still had a lot of trouble just getting through it. I think I would recommend this book, but I would suggest that you read it one story at a time with breaks in between, rather than trying to read straight through like I did. The stories are good, and the writing, while very dense, is rewarding. Sheldon is a complicated writer, and this anthology is definitely something that will leave you thinking long after you've finished.

Rating: ?
I recommend this book, but suggest that it be read one story at a time rather than straight through.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like the Glass Castle. I have to read it a few pages at a time because it is so sad!