“Ten Thousand Light Years From Home” is a collection of fifteen short stories that take place here on Earth and in outer space. First published in 1973 the stories were collected under a pen name: James Triptree Jr, but were written by a woman: Alice Bradley Sheldon. Sheldon is a fascinating woman, and unlike the Bronte sisters she didn’t choose a male pen name in order to be published:
“A male name seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.”
Even so, many couldn’t believe that Triptree Jr was a woman. The content within these stories weren’t something that a woman wrote about in the late ’60s and ’70s (apparently). So what of the stories themselves?
Well, they’re all really rather different, but there’s a thread that runs its way through the collection. During an era where Asimov was writing tales of space exploration and Philip K. Dick (both these two are amongst my favourite authors I might add) was writing rather experimental ideas set closer to home, James Triptree Jr’s (I’ll stick to Alison Sheldon’s pen name as she chose to keep her works under that name) work feels a little more grounded. Sure a lot of it is set in outer space, aboard cargo vessels or on faraway planets and moons. But she holds back on telling the stories of exciting adventurers, here we have a collection of evolving civilizations built around failed experiments, of bureaucracy, of sex, love and just growing old, but it all still feels futuristic and far away and exciting.
This is most evident in “Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket”, a tale of time travel and falling in love and one person doing whatever they can do keep that love alive until their own passing. It’s beautifully written, incredibly moving and actually, in places, quite sexy, and it’s those notes that, again, work their way through this collection. Even when discussing the implications of a ship’s cargo not being properly documented, there’s an air of sexual tension between characters, or a developing relationship that neither character discusses but you can tell is there and its this attention to what goes unsaid that brings Triptree Jr’s characters to life. There’s an intelligence here that gives Triptree Jr the confidence to play with tropes of the genre that had already become established, and they do so in a manner that’s very tongue in cheek whilst also presenting the stories as being rather serious and forward-thinking, and overall, I came away feeling that Alice Sheldon was way before her time.