The Starry Rift

by James Tiptree

Paperback, 1994



Call number

PS3570 .I66


Tor Books (1994), Edition: Reprint, 250 pages


This novel set in the far-future and filled with action, extraordinary characters, and visionary speculation, chronicles the human exploration of alien planets with strange and mysterious life forms.

User reviews

LibraryThing member mdbrady
The Starry Rift by James Tiptree is enjoyable, slightly off-beat science fiction, written by a woman using a male pseudonym in the 1970s when the genre was largely a male domain.

James Tiptee, jr., is a story in herself. Frustrated by her limited opportunities for expressing her creativity, Alice Sheldon took the man’s name and became famous in the 1970s as a male author of science fiction. She won prizes for her writing and was known for being both “hard-edged” and being unusually sensitive in her portrayal of women creatures. As a book critic for the New York Times put it, “Only when she became someone else could she tell the truth about herself. Only in writing about the alien could she speak about her body and her experience.“ I just added a recent, well-regarded new biography of Sheldon/Tiptree by Julia Phillips to my wishlist.

In The Starry Rift Tiptree brings us three adventure stories of the human exploration of the Rift, a starless region of our galaxy beyond which lay non-human civilizations. The first story is about a 15 year-old girl whose wanderlust leads her to a friendship with an alien and a dilemma they must face together. The second is a tale of a free-spirited man who roams space assisting those in trouble or salvaging their ruins. His work brings him face to face with his past and the need to choose between love and freedom. The last story is that of a clash of cultures, two super powers engaging across the rift zone. We watch from both sides as events escalate toward war and individuals struggle to avoid that dire outcome. The stories are framed with encounters in a library, where an amphibious librarian assists two students, also alien to human eyes, in their exploration of human history.

The stories are compelling, mixing sheer adventure with deeper moral questions. The gadgetry of classic science fiction is much in evidence. I didn’t understand, or even try to understand, much of the technical talk, but its presence helped create the right mood. And yes, her female characters are particularly well drawn.

I picked up this book planning to read it for the Gender in Fantasy and Science Fiction Challenge, which failed to materialize. None the less, I read it looking for how Tiptree treated issues of gender.

Sometimes typical twentieth-century gender roles seem to be in place, but here and there are some sharp suggestions of alternatives. The fact that the young adventurer in the first story is a girl rather than the more typical boy is one. In addition, women hold significant leadership positions in the hierarchy of human space administration, not something that would have been possible when the story was written. An example is the women executive in the last story.

Even more striking is the alien civilization where three genders rather than two are required for reproduction. The man and woman of this culture seem less bound by gender definitions than humans generally are. Although the extra being was by definition neither male nor female, I found it hard not to see it as a nurturing and sacrificial female nanny. Interestingly this third-gendered creature is the one that saves the lives of all the aliens on the ship before dying itself.

I reccomend Rift to all who enjoy adventure, science fiction, or different views of gender.
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LibraryThing member clong
I was somewhat disappointed by this collection of two novellas and a novelette from an author whose short fiction I typically rave about. I thought that "The Only Neat Thing to Do" was great - Tiptree at her best, but I never really got engaged by "Good Night, Sweethearts," and while "Collision" offered interesting narrative format, aliens, and characters, some of the plotting felt quite contrived. Add to that a very sketchy framing story that feels like something written in a couple hours on a tight deadline, and you have a book that doesn't really work all that well. I'd recommend seeking out "The Only Neat Thing to Do" elsewhere.… (more)
LibraryThing member ansate
surprisingly not full on misandrist depressing.
LibraryThing member figre
Three of Tiptree’s short stories repurposed around the flimsy premise that a pair of aliens have gone to their university library to learn about ancient history – as told in the short stories. You may have seen this listed as a novel. I thought it was a novel. It’s not a novel. More like one of those movies where they film four stories and use the excuse of watching a black cat travel between the locations – or think the Twilight Zone movie from the 80s.

But who’s gonna complain?! Three stories by Tiptree – three very good stories from Tiptree. They are all based on explorations within the rift – an area devoid of stars. “The Only Neat Thing To Do” is an award winner and nominee for the Hugo. Combined with “Good Night, Sweethearts” and “Collision”, it is a nice little collection of three good stories that are great examples of Tiptree as a story teller and as someone who always manages to explore different angles of human experience through the SF basics of space travel and the discovery of alien life forms.

The story of the library that provides the framework for this book is a waste, and if you are really wanting to explore Tiptree’s writing, find a heftier collection. But as a quick distraction with solid writing and compelling tales, then take a quick dip this direction.
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Original publication date


Physical description

250 p.; 5.5 inches


0312890214 / 9780312890216
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