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TIPTREE
 
You had to be there, I suppose.

I was, if only vicariously at first, then tangentially at best. But I was there, oh yes I was! And what a ride it was.

For us, in France, it started with an old chestnut of a novel, Edmond Hamilton's THE VALLEY OF CREATION which was published as a paperback “special issue” of the French edition of GALAXY. There was a short story to fill out the book. It had a funny title, “Happiness is a Warm Spaceship” (the French title only WANTS to be funny–it is merely ludicrous), and the name of the author was a new one, James Tiptree, Jr.

In the following months, GALAXIE and FICTION, the French edition of F&SF, published several more stories by this Tiptree guy, with strange titles–sometime well-rendered in French, sometime more ludicrous than ever–such as “The Snows are Melted, the Snows are Gone,” “Beam Us Home,” “Painwise” and “Mother in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Dazzling prose. Hard-hitting storylines. Poignant resolutions. A SF writer who didn’t flinch. Who managed to tell stories about aliens, spaceships, time travelers, all the nuts and bolts while talking about the human heart in conflict with itself.

I was hooked. A lot of French fans were hooked. And, as we soon read in our favorite magazines, a lot of American readers were, too. And a lot of writers and editors who all wanted to read Tiptree, to congratulate Tiptree, to collaborate with Tiptree, to publish Tiptree: Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison , and many, many more.

A quote, from somebody who says it much better than I could do:

“The effect of Tiptree’s stories can never be the same now as when they were first published in magazines and paperback anthologies. Every time a Tiptree story is reprinted now, it is accompanied by an introduction explaining Tiptree’s ‘true identity.’ There will never be the same shock that readers had when they first found out and had to go back and reevaluate every word of Tiptree’s they had read. But Tiptree’s voice sounds as strong as ever: funny, cocky, sometimes angry, always full of wonder.”

Now, if you know Tiptree’s “true identity,” you’ll smile here, and nod–well, knowingly.

If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, I urge you to do the following.

Drop everything you’re doing and get a copy of HER SMOKE ROSE UP FOREVER, a selection of the best of Tiptree’s stories, edited by Jeffrey D. Smith and still available in a new edition from Tachyon Publications.

But–

DON’T READ ANY COMMENTS ABOUT THE BOOK IF YOU BUY IT ONLINE. DON’T LISTEN TO THE BOOKSELLER WHO’LL TRY TO TELL YOU EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE AUTHOR. DON’T READ THE JACKET COPY. DON’T READ MICHAEL SWANWICK'S MOVING, INSIGHTFUL INTRODUCTION. (Sorry, Mike.)

READ THE BLAMED STORIES, FER CHRISSAKE, THE STORIES AND ONLY THE STORIES.

Afterward, when you’ve calmed down as I just did–I’m all right now, sorry for the ruckus–you can read all the comments you want.

Maybe–I can always hope–there is one man or woman among the countless millions–well, dozens–who follow this column who’ll try to read the stories with a–dare I say it?–virgin mind.

I can always hope .

Several years after Tiptree burst upon the SF scene, I was privileged to translate three of his stories for French publication: “We Who Stole the Dream,” “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” and “The Screwfly Solution.” They were published here in 1985 and 1986, so I can always hope Alice Bradley Sheldon got her author’s copies and had a look at them.

I can always hope .

By the way, if you didn’t know the truth about Tiptree and decided not to follow my advice about that collection, it’s too late now: the cat is out the bag, you know the truth and you can’t go home gain.

You never can, anyway.

Now, some of you may wonder why I use the works of James Tiptree, Jr. to talk mostly about myself–how I first read said works, how I got to translate some of them.

Simple.

Somebody has just said–or written, rather–everything that needed to be said about Tiptree. The lady’s name is Julie Phillips , and her wonderful, thorough, wise, harrowing and funny book, from which comes the above quote, is JAMES TIPTREE, JR THE DOUBLE LIFE OF ALICE B. SHELDON, from St. Martin’s Press. This powerful and moving story is of special interest to those of you who follow Dan’s WRITING WELL column. Tiptree was a damn fine writer, and she had to fight to become one. She also had to hide herself, and that reminded me of something.

“Ernest Hemingway is not, this observer is certain, an agent, willing or unwilling, of any foreign government, agency, power or group. He is, however, a man living the life of a deep-cover agent–one of those dedicated, tormented, paranoid, and persistent moles of whom all counterespionage professionals live in fear. Why he has given up the flesh and bones of his identity to live in the shell of a self-made persona is difficult to understand.”

That, of course, is Joe Lucas talking about Papa Hemingway in THE CROOK FACTORY.

Julie Phillips’ book will tell you why Alice Sheldon–who worked for the CIA, by the way–had to live as a mole in order to become James Tiptree, Jr.

But read the stories first. Please.

Best,

POST SCRIPTUM
More about Tiptree on this site (http://davidlavery.net/Tiptree ),including John Clute's introduction to the first edition of HER SMOKE ROSE UP FOREVER. An intelligent, erudite introduction but READ THE STORIES FIRST, IT IT’S NOT TOO LATE.


OLYMPOS CLOSURE

You may be amused to know that, as a way to celebrate a job well done, Peter Robert and I traded copies of our respective translations. Here are the covers of the German edition (green-blue) and the French edition (yellow-red) of the book.

                   

I notice that neither Peter nor I dare to sign them. A job for the author, no doubt.

Now I wonder if Peter is going to translate THE TERROR. You don’t alter a winning team, as we say here.

 

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