Charles's Reviews > Brightness Falls From The Air

Brightness Falls From The Air by James Tiptree Jr.
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's review
Dec 11, 2014

really liked it
bookshelves: 2015-challenge, science-fiction, stat_2, reviewed

Stuff I Read – Brightness Falls From the Air by James Tiptree, Jr. Review

I'd actually never read any James Tipree before this book. So I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from it. I can say that I certainly wasn't expecting what I got, which was a very strange mix of things, a science fiction about mistakes and forgiveness and second chances, about genocide and murder and healing. It's a very odd book, set on a remote world that was home to one of the most horrible chapters of human history, where humans exploited a native sentient race for a drug that could be extracted, that tasted better when the creatures suffer. The book goes to some incredibly dark places, shows some very terrible, awful things, and shows in some ways why protectorates are rather shitty business. And through all that there's love and adventure and tons of great moments.

The character work is quite well done, too, populating this distant and remote outpost with a great assortment of personalities, none of which are entirely innocent and all of whom might be there for nefarious reasons. It's great to see everyone interact and it's great that there's actually a gay couple that sort of gets a happily-ever-after. It's a small thing, but one that made me smile and enjoy the book that much more. There's just a lot to see, so many different sorts of relationships, some cool and some sort of messed up but all of them alive and interesting. The dynamic between the main pairing is sweet and committed and also tragic and this book really does some crazy things. I mean, things are going along kind of standard and then boom, things start hitting. Plots and weapons and kind-of time travel and all of it.

The story really is about second chances. If people get them and if they should. Obviously this has to do with the human atrocities, and should humans get a second chance, be able to stand innocent? The answer there is basically no, because for all that humanity wants to protect those victimized by their terribleness, they can't really do that. To be better they have to be trusting, they have to be more naïve, and that leaves the situation open to what happens. So to see the ending of that come is a nice touch, that idea that perhaps what these people need is not further human protection but to be allowed to protect themselves. Not to go back to how it was before but to move forward and not pretend the scars aren't there. The story does seem to take the stance that for some things there is no going back. You can't undo everything, you can't save everything, and you can't be innocent of some things no matter how good your intentions.

The pacing of the book is a little weird. Things start off pretty slow, and plod around as things are set up, all the backstory and the character beats. It's well done but it does drag a bit there. And as much as I rather enjoy the way the novel goes completely off the rails, it is a bit jarring when everything starts happening and all at once. And obviously much of that is to emphasize that control can be an illusion, to make it so that time travel has to be attempted, to reinforce the idea that there's no undoing certain things. That you can't make it all better. But some of the stuff was just insane. I loved how sex and everything was treated, and how the characters interacted and all, but whew, yeah, crazy! And maybe a bit too much time was spent worrying about the radio. Just a little. All in all, though, it's a very good book, one filled with memorable character and a sense of the possibilities of science fiction. It's not what I was expected, but I'd say in this case that's a very good thing. An 8.5/10 for me.
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Reading Progress

December 11, 2014 – Shelved
December 11, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
December 11, 2014 – Shelved as: 2015-challenge
November 30, 2015 – Started Reading
November 30, 2015 – Shelved as: science-fiction
November 30, 2015 – Shelved as: stat_2
November 30, 2015 –
page 33
12.09% "Man I do not get a good feeling about this being a happy book. Internally cringing even at this early stage. Quite good so far, though."
December 15, 2015 –
page 180
65.93% "This book is getting all sorts of messed up and good. The twists!"
December 17, 2015 –
page 273
100.0% "A weird book, certainly, and I'm not 100% about the ending, but it has a lot going for it and manages to sneak in a cute gay couple. A fine read!"
December 17, 2015 – Finished Reading
January 7, 2016 – Shelved as: reviewed

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