In 508 pages we get 18 short stories by James Tiptree, Jr. Original publication dates range from 1969 to 1981. Time has overtaken many of the tales in a strange way, that makes one wish Tiptree were still around to appreciate developments. For instance, in "The Girl Who Was Plugged In," the world breathlessly watches the real-time antics of young, beautiful wealthy girls... who are actually brainless synthetic creations animated by what amount to brains in jars in an underground lab. What would Tiptree make of the Parises, Nicoles, Lindsays and Brittanies of our own day, who appear to have no brains located anywhere?
Tiptree really got rolling in 1973, when she published her three best-known stories, "The Girl...," along with "Love is the plan the plan is death," and "The Women Men Don't See." Along with 1976's "Houston, Houston, do you read?" these are the quintessential Tiptree tales. "Love is the plan..." is my favorite science fiction short story, and one of the best short stories of any kind ever written. It has not a single human character, and depicts the unbearably touching efforts of a gigantic, heavily-armored, multi-limbed alien to tackle and solve three deadly problems faced by his species, two internal--- stemming from instinctively programmed behavior--- and one external, a global climate change. That he will fail, and why he will fail, is evident early on from many clues fairly planted within the narrative. But he does his level best, which is indeed far better than you and I could hope to do, and like most Tiptree aliens, he is totally charming and lovable throughout his hopeless task. Our own species is currently failing completely to deal with a global climate change, and we are neither charming nor lovable in our miserably conflicted efforts.
"A Momentary Taste of Being" is another quintessential Tiptree story; an expedition of interstellar exploration inadvertently discovers the true purpose of human existence... a purpose which reveals all human effort, achievement and aspiration to be utterly pointless and futile. "With Delicate Mad Hands" is a key story, from 1981, that catches Tiptree in transition from symbolic War of the Sexes tales to space-operatic adventure. Almost all her stories from 1981 to her death in 1987 were space adventures set in the distant future.
Several tales here were completely new to me, particularly "Slow Music," from 1980, in which a chance (?) encounter of the earth with some alien stream of disembodied consciousness has made suicide so irresistibly attractive that there are only a handful of living humans. This story seems to contain a sly self-portrait of Tiptree herself, as the dying ancient human wreck that the two main characters discover on their way to see "The River," as the stream is called.
There's not a bad or mediocre story in the volume. And, alas, this is probably the only collection of Tiptree fiction currently in print in the US. Get it while it's still available.