Indulge me for a moment—just a moment.
Jane Tiptree Jr.’s 1990 His Smoke Rose Up Forever is a quality collection of short stories spanning the writer’s career. Almost but not quite a best-of, its major themes are brazen and challenging, including: alien juxtaposition, dominance in cultural relations, gender dichotomy, mortality, and the female proclivity for physical and sexual violence toward men. The language on point throughout, nihilism regarding humanity’s overall chances of survival as a result of female misanthropy has never been so rigorously portrayed in fiction.
Now stop. Did you blink at anytime reading that paragraph? Yes, I confess. I switched the gender indicators. Reverse all the male, female, etc. and voila, you’ve got a true summary of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. Feel better now, don’t you? It’s ok for men to be the cause of humanity’s downfall and to have their evil deeds magnified in heavily politicized terms, but not ok for women. Thus, in terms of the collection’s location in gender discussion, it makes for... interesting discussion.
Though there are some outliers (which I will get to), the lion’s share of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is bound up in men committing violence toward women, of male fantasies that end in rape or murder, and of masculinity that plays itself into the downfall of humanity. “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain,” for example, features an epidemiologist (a man) who travels the world giving lectures, spreading a virus along the way. His reason: fantasies of a woman appearing in his dreams. “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!” is the story of a woman trodding a post-apocalyptic landscape and is raped along the way. As she lays dying, she dreams of a woman who is… raped. “With Delicate Mad Hands” is the story of a young woman who is assigned to a space ship, and after some time aboard, is gang raped by her shipmates and captain before a more tragic fate takes hold. And in perhaps Tiptree Jr.’s most famous story, “The Screwfly Solution,” an entomologist researches eliminating a particularly pesky insect by creating a pesticide that wipes out its females. In his life outside the lab, the entomologist has fantasies of murdering his wife while a strange cult, the Cult of Adam, sweeps the land, killing all women.