Aug 12, 12
Read from July 31 to August 12, 2012
Pros: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is a collection of short stories and novellas, but I had very different reactions to many of them. The better of them are character-focused and Tiptree/Sheldon lets her gift of description and drama run free. When this is happening, the story can be truly enthralling -- staggeringly so. Also, these stories are generally about big ideas, so there are quite a few that held my interest on the merit of the core concept in play.
Cons: In total, about 1/6 stories were brilliant. Another 1/6 had a major idea in play that kept the story going. The rest, sadly, were a nightmare to read. Devices employed deftly for great dramatic affect in other stories, like exploiting bizarre points-of-view or slipping between times or conscious states, really fumbled when not executed well. This also sometimes coincides with a sparse descriptive voice, providing no flavor to the painful journey. Most of the stories are very long, so turned into marathons of trying to find something relatable or even logical throughout most of the book. In some literary fiction, a mass of confusion and specific obtuseness can serve a purpose (for example, Kathy Acker or Toni Morrison), but in the worst cases in this book, it seemed only to muddle or even destroy a perfectly good narrative in progress. Also, every one of these stories is about sex or the biological reproductive imperative; sometimes it is so forced as to break the logic of the story and other times it generalizes a nuanced relationship into a simple sexual one that is boring. Why Tiptree/Sheldon has to get this into every story is beyond me, but many of them would have been better served without it, while in the better ones it is an essential ingredient.
Conclusion: The few great stories here are so bright that I would recommend this book. And there really are grand ideas to ponder, but necessarily need to be extracted from over-sexed, under-described, confusing rambles that go on for pages and pages. For example, I ended up really disappointed with “Houstin, Houstin, Do you read?” because the core story was amazing but this bland drug and sex party nonsense keeps dropping in to break up its awesomeness. This is the sort of problem most these stories suffer from, and that is also remarkable because it is an unusual flaw.