Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I would like to say that each one of these stories by James Tiptree Jr., or rather, Alice Sheldon, are gender dystopian SF shorts that sharply highlight the darkness, doing it in miniature... but I would be wrong. Nothing she wrote is miniature.
In fact, all her stories are huge, not in length, but definitely in imagination, scope, and their inherent darkness. Even the ones that seem rather delightfully hopeful usually come from mate-eating gigantic alien spiders or from psychopathic and heavily abused tech who goes on a murder spree before she becomes one of the most positive people to enjoy a first-contact scenario.
Most of these stories came out of the seventies and the focus on gender inequality, systematic institutional abuse, and the entitlement of jerks is all pretty front and center. The fact that Alice kept a tight lid on the fact that she was a woman writing as a man should tell you a lot. I personally think she did the whole shock-value, overboard characterizations of these abusive men as a way to normalize them in the literature. She made them heavier and darker than usual in order to underscore just how crazy it is.
The things we take for granted are NOT normal. Not back then and not now. But this is also rather the point. The shock value is in the psychology of it. We should be outraged, look at our own world, and see just how f***ing close we are to Sheldon's standard.
Scary. And others obviously agree. There are a lot of modern works that come very close to Sheldon's standard. Either they're paying homage or they believe the technique is worth revisiting.
But let me let you in on a little secret:
Alice Sheldon's writing is brilliant. Imaginative, scary, brutal, and definitely worth revisiting NOW.
This is some REAL dystopian literature. Psychological, societal, physical, and even existential. If you're scared of some nihilism, prepare yourself before picking up this book. :)
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