Cover of James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, by Julie Phillips (Image via St. Martin’s Press)
5. Houston, Houston, Do You Read?
Written by James Tiptree, Jr. (a pseudonym of Alice Sheldon), Houston, Houston, Do You Read? at first follows three male astronauts. They are set adrift in space when a solar flare damages their craft. They finally come into contact with what they assume to be NASA’s flight control in Houston, Texas.
However, they quickly pick up on a few baffling details. All of the voices coming in over their radio are female, for one. Moreover, they all seem to speak with an Australian accent. Soon enough, they begin to pick up on strange figures of speech. Are they being hoaxed somehow?
As it turns out, the male astronauts have flown off course and skipped ahead in their timeline.
When the men are finally rescued by the ship Gloria, the all-female crew explains what has happened in the interim. A great plague nearly wiped out humanity, and in fact killed all the men on the planet. The remaining women built an entirely female society and have reproduced through cloning and genetic manipulation. Everyone now seems to get along fairly well, without any major conflicts.
The men don’t take it well. The commanding officer is practically heartbroken, believing that it’s his divine duty to lead the women back to a patriarchal society. Another one slavers at the prospect of so many “waiting” women. The third, though a little more sympathetic, also engages in violent thoughts. The women determine that the three men would be a detriment to the peaceful lives of their sisters and plan to dispose of the astronauts.
So, pretty grim if you’re a man. Certainly, Tiptree/Sheldon wasn’t interested in catering to gender equality concerns. However, a peaceful matriarchy does sound awful tempting for many others.