The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

This collection of eighteen stories, published three years after her death, represents the best of James Tiptree, Jr.’s short fiction. The collection, subtitled The Great Years of James Tiptree, Jr., was edited by James Turner and contains stories originally published between 1969 and 1981. Under the pen name of James Tiptree, Jr.—taken from the label of a marmalade jar—Alice Sheldon began publishing science fiction in 1968. She earned critical acclaim, and interest rose in the mystery of her identity, which was not revealed until 1977.

All the stories in this collection are about death as an inextricable part of the striving and dreams of living beings. In the title story, “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” (1974), enigmatic alien visitors somehow cause moments of love, violence, and loss in the life of one man to be relived on the cinders of a dead Earth. In “Slow Music” (1980), two of the last people on Earth are betrayed by their love to follow the rest of humanity into a mysterious “River” of alien, bodiless sentience. In “The Man Who Walked Home” (1972), an experimental subject thrown into the far future “walks” back to the moment of the experiment by sheer willpower, appearing and reappearing on the post-apocalyptic Earth at the point of the civilization-destroying explosion caused by his return. In “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” (1969), a biologist, in despair at the destruction of a “beautiful...

(The entire section is 513 words.)