Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, October 25, 2021


 Openers:  I was all alone at the end of the bar when he came in and I heard it distinctly:  "Hello-o!"

I froze dead.  Go away.  But he wasn't talking to me.  In fact he wasn't talking to anybody unless he was two midgets.  Which was possible, I noted apathetically as he receded down the bar.He was about nine feet tall and dressed by Goodwill Industries.

I went back to trying to decide whether I was suffering more here than if I were someplace else.  Here was a tacky grill in a part of town I'd never seen before and didn't etcetera.   It had the advantage that none of my, aaugh, friends was apt to come in.  On the other hand several hours had yielded no hope at all.  None.

There was a problem of taking a leak first.  When I stood up I found my legs had been been bent there too long.  They kind of floated me at a tall apparition halfway down the bar, but I managed to veer toward the can.

The can door pushed open behind me and I heard it again, gutsier:  "Hiya."  Mr. Tall came through.  Oh, no.  I concentrated on my image as the most dangerous guy five feet six in the world and finished my business fast.  When I left I noticed the door creaked a little.  It definitely did not speak English.

-- "The Man Doors Said Hello To" by James Tiptree, Jr. (from Worlds of Fantasy, Winter 1970; reprinted in Tiptree's collection Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home, 1973)

Thus begins a strange day for our unnamed narrator.  The Tall Man to whom doors spoke (it was, he said, a friendly city) sat next to him.  The Tall Man had tiny girls living in his jacket; he currently had six girls on the lease, he said, and they all worked as models, being just the right size for magazine advertisements.  The next thing our narrator knew, he left the bar with this strange being, stopping by a wall to place a fifty-cent piece on it.  Tall People's Bank, he explained; he had borrowed the fifty cents last week.  Any street with two "R"s in its name had one.  He seemed surprised there was no Short People's Bank.  They approached Harrison Street.  Two "R"s.  Our narrator wanted his new friend to show him.  The Tall Man reached up to a ledge and produced a dime, unfortunately covered in pigeon poop.  He cleaned his hands and put the dime back and found a note.  It said, "Help."  Sensing this was an emergency, the Tall Man rushed into the building and our narrator followed.  The apartment was occupied by a mousy-looking young woman.  His attention was soon centered on an old, large bureau.  He pulled it from the wall and scurried behind it, emerging with an old electrical cord whose insulation was rubbed off against the plug.  With its paper backing it was about to set fire at any time.  The Tall Man kicked the bureau hard to teach it a lesson.  It had a death wish, you see, and didn't care if anyone else was harmed in the blaze.  He led the girl and the narrator our of the building, telling them it was time to eat.  At a restaurant, when the lasagna came, he told the girl that the narrator would help her find a new apartment in the morning, one that did not have such a nasty piece of work as that old bureau.  Apologizing, he said he had to leave -- there was someone he had to chew out and the submarine was about a hundred years late, at least that was what he said sounded like.  On his way out, a tiny girl poked her head out of one of his pockets and waved goodbye.  They never did find out the Tall Man's name.

This little Alice-in-Wonderland excursion is one of my favorite James Tiptree stories.  No small feat, considering she wote such classics as "The Screwfly Solution," "The Women That Men Don't See," "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?," "Love Is the Plan the PIan I.s Death," and "The Psychiatrist Who Wouldn't Do Awful Things to Rats."  But there's something in the quirky style of "The Man Doors Said Hello To" that tickles me.

"James Tiptree, Jr." was the pen name of Alice Bradley Shelton (1915-1987), a former artist, Air Force officer, and CIA intelligence officer.  She also used the pen name "Raccoona Shelton."  For years, her readers (and many fellow writers) assumed her to be a male, albeit one who was philosophically feminist.  It was only late in her career that her true identify was sussed out.  Her writing is literate, subversive, philosophical, and entertaining.  Her stories hold up well thirty-four years after her death.

Shelton was a complicated and perhaps sexually ambiguous person.  Blazingly intelligent, she resented the male-oriented world around her as much as she resented society's tendency to reward second-rate efforts.  She was depressive and had heart problems.  In 1976 she admitted to wanting to kill herself but could not because that would leave her husband (twelve years older than she) alone.  The following year she suggested to her husband that they make a suicide pact for when their health began to fail.  In her last few years, she battled the IRS, which insisted on taxing her unpublished and unfinished work at exorbitant rates.  He husband began to go blind and lost this eyesight almost completely by 1986.  On May 18, 1987, Shelton shot her husband and then committed suicide.  Their bodies were found holding hands.  According to at least one source, her suicide note had been written as early as 1979.  A sad end to a brilliant career.

During her science fiction career, she garnered two Hugo Awards, three Nebula Awards, a World Fantasy Award, two Locus Awards, a Science Fiction Chronicle Award, a Jupiter Award, two Hayakawa (Japan) Awards, and three Seiun (Japan) Awards.  She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012.  Several of her works have been adapted for television, radio, the stage, and comic books.  The James Tiptree Jr Award for science fiction and fantasy works that explore issues of gender was established in 1991; the name was changed in 2019 to the Otherwise Reward due to the controversy about her and her husband's death.

Under any of her names, she is worth reading.


  • Brian Michael Bendis, Secret War.  Graphic novel.  "The darkest chapter in Marvel Universe history.  When Nick Fury discovers a disturbing connection between many of Marvel's deadliest villains, he assembles a ragtag team of the MU's most misunderstood heroes for a secret mission to do what the U.S. government could never allow -- eventually leading to a super-powered blowout between a who's who of NYC heroes and mutants!"  I read this one this morning and my judgment is...meh!  There's a good but wasted cast of Marvel heroes here:  Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Daredevil, Nick Fury, Captain America, Black Widow, Spiderman, Wolverine, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Quake, and SHIELD Agents Maria Hill, James Woo, and Jasper Sitwell.  And there are villains galore:  Lady Octopus, Eel, Crossfire, Trapster, Boomerang,  Wizard, Hobgoblin, Goldbug, Scorcher, Spider Slayer, Grim Reaper, Mentallo King Cobra, Crimson Dynamo, Scorpion, Constrictor, Mister Fear, and Shocker -- all lower tier villains.  But the players get lost in the scope of the story.  The plot is diffuse and does not hold together well.  The artwork by Gabriele Dell'Otto is consistently murky and hard to suss out.  There are a lot of pages of explanatory text (presumably from official SHIELD reports) that supposedly helps sort out the many characters and explain the plot BUT the teeny-tiny text is in red on a black background, making it impossible to read (especially on glossy paper).  Bah!  
  • Cory Doctorow, For the Win.  YA science fiction dystopian novel, signed by the author  "It's the twenty-first century, and all over thee world, MMOORPGs are big business.  Hidden away in China and elsewhere, young players are pressed into working as "gold Farmers," amassing game wealth that's sold to Western players at a profitable markup.  Some of these pieceworkers rebel, trying to go into business for themselves -- but there's little to stop their bosses from dragging them back into servitude.  Some, like young Mala in the slums on Mumbai -- nicknamed "General Robotwallah" for her self-taught military skill -- become enforcers for the bosses, but that only buys them so much.  In L.A., young Wei-Dong, obsessed with Asian youth culture and MMORPGs, knows the system is rigged and that young people everywhere are being exploited.  Pushed too far at last, he and his Asian counterparts begin to work together to claim their rights.  Under the noses of the ruling elites, they fight the bosses, the game owners, and the rich speculators, outsmarting them with street-gaming skills.  But soon the battle spills from the virtual world into the real one, leaving the young rebels fighting not just for their rights, but for their lives..."  This one was nominated for a Prometheus Award for Best Libertarian SF Novel, losing out to Sarah Hoyt's DarkShip Thieves
  • ----------, Little Brother,  YA science fiction dystopian novel, the first of three books in the series, with bookplate: "Donated to:/the students of Washington High School/by Cory Doctorow, 2014."  "Marcus. aka 'w1n5t0n,' is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works -- and how to work the system.  Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school's intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.  His whole world changes when, having skipped school, he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they're mercilessly interrogated for days.  When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist,  He knows that no one will believe his story, which leads him with only one option:  to take down the DHS himself.  Can one teenage hacker fight back against a government out of control?   Maybe, bu only if he's really careful,,,and very, very smart."  This one was nominated for the Nebula and Hugo Awards, won the Prometheus and John W. Campbell Awards, as well as appearing on many "Best of" lists for young adults.
  • Grady Hendrix, The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires.   Critically acclaimed horror novel.  "Patricia Campbell's life has never felt smaller.  Her husband is a workaholic, her teenage kids have their own lives, and she's always a step behind on her endless to-do list.  The only thing keeping her sane is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime.  Then James Harris walks into her life during the summer of 1993.  He makes her feel things she hasn't felt in years, but when the children on the other side of town go missing, Patricia wonders if he's connected.  Is he a Brad Pitt, a Bundy, or something much worse?"
  • Michael Moorcock, The English Assassin.  Science Fiction?  Fantasy?  A Jerry Cornelius novel.  "One dark December day, a corpse washes up on a beach in Cornwall.  The corpse is that of Jerry Cornelius.  But you can't keep a dead man down.  There's an apocalypse brewing, and Cornelius is here to herald in pandemonium across multiple alternative worlds.  Joined by the usual ramshackle array of familiars -- doomed Catherine, monstrous Bishop Beasley, and, of course, the intermittently evil Miss Brunner -- world domination, lavish parties, shootings and warfare are all in a day's work.  Goodbye civilization:  this is your requiem.  Described as A Romance of Entropy, the third book in the Cornelius Quarter, The English Assassin, is the darkest installment of Cornelius's adventures.  Each wildly inventive catastrophe is bound up with real newspaper clippings from the time of writing, reminding us that the world of chaos doesn't sound so different from our own."  Cornelius of course is an atavar of Moorcock's Eternal Champion -- one of the more unusual fictional creations in the genre.
  • Ogden Nash, A Penny Saved Is Impossible.  A retrospective collection of sixty humorous poems.  Every once in a while, we all need to take a break, sit back, and red some Ogden Nash.  The world would be a much better place.
  •  Jerry Pournelle, creator (with John F. Carr, associate editor),  There Will Be War, Volume V:  Warrior.  Science fiction anthology with 21 stories, poems, and essays about future (and past) war.  "Warrior spans the length and depths of interstellar space, breaching the farthest reaches of infinity.  From the deepest heart of the starkest black hole to the dazzling chaos of starry inception man endlessly replays the tireless scenarios of war.  From an intergalactic warlord's schemes of universal dominion to the lowliest star soldiers slogging across the trackless void -- as it is and as it shall be -- in all its hair-raising horror and terrifying splendor."  I've never cared for Pournelle's politics, but he could sure write and he could sure edit.

Mea Culpa:  As has been the case over the past few weeks, life has interrupted this blog.  More of this post to come later.  Maybe.

No comments:

Post a Comment