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The Starry Rift (1986)

av James Tiptree Jr.

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
357654,269 (3.84)6
This novel set in the far-future and filled with action, extraordinary characters, and visionary speculation, chronicles the human exploration of alien planets with strange and mysterious life forms.
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surprisingly not full on misandrist depressing. ( )
  ansate | Dec 10, 2015 |
The Starry Rift by James Tiptree Jr is one of only two collections of short stories readily available as ebooks. I admit I chose to buy it first partly because it was only $3 and partly because it was shorter and I could more easily fit it in before getting to Letters to Tiptree.

The Starry Rift is set up with a framing narrative about two students seeking library materials for class. The books the librarian gives them form the three stories contained within this collection. The stories are all set around the same general region of space: Federation Base 900, the frontier outpost on the edge of the Rift. (Hence the title.) The Rift is an area of space devoid of stars, apparently not quite in between spiral arms of the Milky Way, but something like that.

I have to say, the science in this book was a bit off. Some of it was quaint — as in, not up to date, as would be expected of an older book like this — and some of it did not entirely make sense. I was a bit confused about the relativistic and also normal time passing effects of space travel which didn't seem to be addressed in the first story but were explained more in the third. On the other hand, the scientific points in these stories were generally not dwelt upon, decreasing the likelihood of an egregious error. None of the stories were about new inventions; they were all, first and foremost, about characters in unusual situations. (But aliens who have FTL comms but not pretty fundamental chemistry? Come on!)

Anyway, as per usual I have made comments on the individual stories which you can find below. In general, I would recommend this collection as a good example of classic SF. While the science may not have stood the test of time, the concepts explored in the stories mostly have.

The Only Neat Thing to Do — A fourteen year old girl (with rich parents) gets a space coupe from her parents, tricks it out with extra fuel tanks and goes exploring to the edge of Human-explored space. It started out as a fun adventure, if a little unlikely since fourteen year olds can't have cars, and took some interesting and then emotional turns. (I really wasn't expecting the sort of ending it had.) There were a few weird science-related moments but they weren't dwelled on by the narrative, so I found them easier to skip over than in most books. (Why do so many books use bad science as a lynchpin?) As a first introduction to Tiptree, I found it a solid story. (Coming back after finishing the collection, this was my favourite of the three.)

Good Night, Sweethearts — A space salvager/repairman/portable refueller comes across a stranded ship that's out of fuel. It transpires that it contains someone from his past. A past that, almost interestingly (it could have been explored further), he doesn't remember due to what I gathered to be PTSD-type treatment he received after being in a war. Some external action provides excitement and the climax and the main character is left with some difficult decisions. I was disappointed with how much these objectified the female characters. I also found his final choice baffling, though perhaps less so, given some of what I've recently learnt about the author's life.

Collision — This is the story of first (well, second) contact between the human Federation and a large alien empire. Told from points of view on both sides, we learn a lot about the culture and unusual biology of the aliens before the human protagonists come across them. The biological procedure of reproduction was very unusual — honestly it struck me as a bit inefficient — for all that the aliens resemble kangaroos in superficial ways. I liked that after explaining the mechanics of it, the notion turned out to be relevant to the plot in an unexpected way. On the human side of things, the story starts off being told through long-delayed communications capsules. We listen to the story along with the people at base, knowing only that the explorers survive long enough to send the capsule, but nit whether there'll be another capsule. Although this is actually a relatively cheery story in the end, there is still some death, notably of the only two human women (although they didn't die because they were women). It's still less bleak than the first story in this collection.

4 / 5 stars

Read more reviews on my blog. ( )
  Tsana | Sep 5, 2015 |
Great review by catfantastic (done July 2, 2013: http://www.librarything.com/work/329899/reviews/99496190). It says it all, and more. ( )
  Lyndatrue | Dec 7, 2013 |
The Starry Rift by James Tiptree is enjoyable, slightly off-beat science fiction, written by a woman using a male pseudonym in the 1970s when the genre was largely a male domain.

James Tiptee, jr., is a story in herself. Frustrated by her limited opportunities for expressing her creativity, Alice Sheldon took the man’s name and became famous in the 1970s as a male author of science fiction. She won prizes for her writing and was known for being both “hard-edged” and being unusually sensitive in her portrayal of women creatures. As a book critic for the New York Times put it, “Only when she became someone else could she tell the truth about herself. Only in writing about the alien could she speak about her body and her experience.“ I just added a recent, well-regarded new biography of Sheldon/Tiptree by Julia Phillips to my wishlist.

In The Starry Rift Tiptree brings us three adventure stories of the human exploration of the Rift, a starless region of our galaxy beyond which lay non-human civilizations. The first story is about a 15 year-old girl whose wanderlust leads her to a friendship with an alien and a dilemma they must face together. The second is a tale of a free-spirited man who roams space assisting those in trouble or salvaging their ruins. His work brings him face to face with his past and the need to choose between love and freedom. The last story is that of a clash of cultures, two super powers engaging across the rift zone. We watch from both sides as events escalate toward war and individuals struggle to avoid that dire outcome. The stories are framed with encounters in a library, where an amphibious librarian assists two students, also alien to human eyes, in their exploration of human history.

The stories are compelling, mixing sheer adventure with deeper moral questions. The gadgetry of classic science fiction is much in evidence. I didn’t understand, or even try to understand, much of the technical talk, but its presence helped create the right mood. And yes, her female characters are particularly well drawn.

GENDER
I picked up this book planning to read it for the Gender in Fantasy and Science Fiction Challenge, which failed to materialize. None the less, I read it looking for how Tiptree treated issues of gender.

Sometimes typical twentieth-century gender roles seem to be in place, but here and there are some sharp suggestions of alternatives. The fact that the young adventurer in the first story is a girl rather than the more typical boy is one. In addition, women hold significant leadership positions in the hierarchy of human space administration, not something that would have been possible when the story was written. An example is the women executive in the last story.

Even more striking is the alien civilization where three genders rather than two are required for reproduction. The man and woman of this culture seem less bound by gender definitions than humans generally are. Although the extra being was by definition neither male nor female, I found it hard not to see it as a nurturing and sacrificial female nanny. Interestingly this third-gendered creature is the one that saves the lives of all the aliens on the ship before dying itself.

I reccomend Rift to all who enjoy adventure, science fiction, or different views of gender.
1 rösta mdbrady | Feb 3, 2012 |
Three of Tiptree’s short stories repurposed around the flimsy premise that a pair of aliens have gone to their university library to learn about ancient history – as told in the short stories. You may have seen this listed as a novel. I thought it was a novel. It’s not a novel. More like one of those movies where they film four stories and use the excuse of watching a black cat travel between the locations – or think the Twilight Zone movie from the 80s.

But who’s gonna complain?! Three stories by Tiptree – three very good stories from Tiptree. They are all based on explorations within the rift – an area devoid of stars. “The Only Neat Thing To Do” is an award winner and nominee for the Hugo. Combined with “Good Night, Sweethearts” and “Collision”, it is a nice little collection of three good stories that are great examples of Tiptree as a story teller and as someone who always manages to explore different angles of human experience through the SF basics of space travel and the discovery of alien life forms.

The story of the library that provides the framework for this book is a waste, and if you are really wanting to explore Tiptree’s writing, find a heftier collection. But as a quick distraction with solid writing and compelling tales, then take a quick dip this direction. ( )
  figre | Dec 6, 2008 |
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This novel set in the far-future and filled with action, extraordinary characters, and visionary speculation, chronicles the human exploration of alien planets with strange and mysterious life forms.

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