This book is absolutely bonkers. Mad. And completely wonderful.
This was Tiptree’s first novel, but naturally enough many of the concerns and interests of his short stories are present here as well. I am so sad that he did not write more novels; this made me so happy, as did Brightness Falls from the Air, that I do wonder what else could have come from that amazing brain.
Let’s start by talking about the authorial situation and get that out of the way. This was published in 1978. Tiptree had been revealed as Alice Sheldon at the end of 1976. I was surprised therefore to discover that the brief bio in the end flap (oh hard backs I really do love you) makes no mention of him being her, although it does acknowledge Tiptree as a pseudonym. But I guess that pre internet, how are people going to know about the identity? Via Locus maybe, and fanzines, and word of mouth. Tiptree was not such a big deal that the New York Times was going to run an expose. Presumably therefor with this publication your more casual, less crazy SF fans aren’t going to know who Tiptree ‘really’ is – and Tiptree is enough of a name (… and male…?) to make it worth keeping the pseudonym. But THEN I turned to the back and the back cover image is Sheldon! Now I’ve seen the pic before and it’s quite obvious to me who this is; but others have suggested that this could, actually, be an ambiguously gendered person. I’m not entirely convinced. But anyway, there’s that.
Now, to plot. I’m going to be entirely spoilery because I really want to think about what Tiptree is doing here.