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TitleAlien Plots: Female Subjectivity and the Divine in the Light of James Tiptree's A Momentary Taste of Being' (Liverpool University Press - Liverpool Science Fiction Texts & Studies)
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LanguageEnglish
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Table of Contents
                            Title Page
Contents
Acknowledgements
Introduction
I. Seed-beds: Crossing Theology, Feminism and Science Fiction
II. Sexual Universes
III. Father in Crisis, Mother Rises? 1. The Choric Fantasy
IV. Father in Crisis, Mother Rises? 2. (Extra)biblical Scenarios
V. (Counter) Apocalypses
VI. A Momentary Taste of Being
Notes
Index of names and terms
                        
Document Text Contents
Page 124

reason. Like his namesake from the Hebrew Bible, Aaron the brother of
Moses, sons of Amram and Jochebed (Ex.6:19), he is on confidential terms
with the leader of the exodus. The biblical Aaron was appointed to be the
spokesman for Moses, who was not a good speaker. The science fictional
Aaron too is supposed to help the big man control his weakness, which,
however, takes a different and sardonic form: in all secrecy he has to bring
the captain ‘four ounces’ of alcohol every night. In his identity as a medical
doctor, moreover, resonances sound of the ancient figure of the priest-
shaman, which also recall biblical Aaron’s designation as the first priest of
the Israelites. Priests mediate between humans and gods.

In Aaron’s pet name for Yellaston, Old Yellowstone, a variety of
connotations echo besides the ancient rocky park, and besides the ‘yellow
Sol’. The ‘yellow’ refers also to the yellow signal, instead of the green, that
Yellaston should have sent to Earth after the subordination of Tim Bron.
But he was too fuddled and yellow, that is, a coward: ‘I should have sent
code yellow and announced I had sent the green … I failed to think it
through in time’ (A134). As for the ‘stone’, in the present context of biblical
leadership, it recalls the ‘stone’ which was the material of the two tables
Moses received on Mount Sinai (Ex.31:18; 34:1), the tables of the covenant
God entered into with the Israelites. As Moses represents the divine Law,
so does Yellaston represent the human—or in fact, paternal–phallic—law.

After the euphoria-rousing display of beautiful blow-ups of the
paradisaical planet, Yellaston speaks sensible words of warning against
rashness in colonizing the planet, drawing on parallels with ‘the history of
human exploration and migration on our own planet’ (A98).

He was looking directly at them now, his fine light greenish eyes
moving unhurriedly from face to face. ‘… It is the first totally alien
living world that man has touched. We may have no more concept
of its true nature and conditions than the British migrants had of an
American winter’. (A100)

In other words, paradises may be deceptive. Frank Foy, the security officer,
is terribly impressed by Yellaston’s homily, as Aaron observes ironically:
‘Frank has received the Word. Captain Yellaston (who art in Heaven) has
explained’ (A102). Aaron, however, feels faced with the fact that
Yellaston’s patriarchal and quasi-divine power is eroding more and more.
We are reminded again of Tiptree’s story ‘Houston, Houston’, the parallels
of which with ‘A Momentary Taste of Being’ I have discussed earlier, where
the spaceship’s captain is ‘gradually revealed as a ranting Old Testament
patriarch deluding that he is god-almighty’.5 In ‘A Momentary Taste of
Being’, however, the captain himself is by no means self-delusive but it is
rather the guardian of the phallic law, Frank Foy, who ascribes divine

FATHER IN CRISIS, MOTHER RISES? (2) 117

Page 125

qualities to the patriarch. On the sly, Yellaston himself is as insecure about
his own qualities as Moses was. But then, what a difference it makes when
one is backed up by divine authority. How different is the inspiration of
the respective leaders of the expedition! It is written about Moses when he
came down from Mount Sinai with the tables in his hand that ‘the skin of
his face shone because he had been talking to the Lord’ (Ex. 34:29). So
strong was this light that Aaron and the other Israelites shrank away from
him. Moses then covered his face with a cloth, hiding the light of God
inside, to only unveil his face when he was speaking to God in ‘the Tent
of meeting’. Yellaston, on the other hand, does not cherish the light of God
but, instead, a very dark force. Behind his public veil of patriarchal
leadership he is tormented by a ‘demon’, ‘[s]omething inherent in life itself,
time or evil maybe, for which he has no cure’ (A115) but which he tries
to exorcize by alcohol. Yellaston’s ‘Tent of meeting’ is the privacy of his
commandor’s room where he meets his doctor–bootlegger to discuss the
situation on board. I will come back to Yellaston’s demon in the next section.

Moses and Aaron had a sister too, Miriam, famous for her Song of
Miriam (Ex.15:20–21). She was a prophet, who according to some
traditions had the same position as Moses and Aaron in the exodus (Micah
6:4). In Numbers 12:1–16, this tradition is in conflict with another in which
the superior position of Moses was emphasized. Miriam protests against
God’s favouring of Moses over Aaron and herself (‘And they complained,
“Is Moses the only one by whom the Lord has spoken? Has he not spoken
by us as well?”’ Num. 12:2), for which she is struck by leprosy, whereupon
Aaron begs God not to punish her so harshly:

My Lord, do not make us pay the penalty of sin, foolish and wicked
though we have been. Let her [Miriam] not be like something
stillborn, whose flesh is half eaten away when it comes from the
womb. (Numbers 12:11–12)

Inspired by the Lord, Moses decides to put Miriam in quarantine outside
the encampment for seven days before she is allowed to enter the
community again. Apart from the material rationality, the danger of
infection, it would seem that Lory after her return from the alien planet
was held in quarantine for very different reasons. Still, the parallels
between Miriam and Lory are bigger than expected when considered from
the angle of the ‘sin’ they committed. It is not unlikely that Moses would
have anticipated Yellaston in thinking incidentally ‘God damn it … We
never should have had women on this mission’ (A117). In Tiptree’s echo
of the Exodus story, Lory has picked up the marginal tradition of female
leadership in a patriarchal society, challenging the supremacy of the
sacrosanct male leader.

118 ALIEN PLOTS

Page 248

Silverberg, Robert 8
Silverman, Kaja 93–4, 97–9, 106, 111,

128
Simons, Anton 55
Singal, Daniel 224 n48
Sofia, Zoë 71–2
Squire, Corinne 24–6
Steffen–Fluhr, Nancy 91–2, 106
Stengers, Isabelle 68–9, 131
Stone, Alluquere 214 n16
survival fiction 102, 151–3, 173, 184
Suvin, Darko 218 n35

Tahon, Marie–Blanche 231 n16
Tarkovsky, Andrei 158, 185
Tenhaaf, Nell 47
Tennyson, Alfred 74–6
Teresa of Avila 208
theology

and literature 1, 27–34, 181, 202–3;
and postmodernity 3, 27–9,
114–15, 162, 182, 202; and science
fiction 1–3, 34–7

Theweleit, Klaus 66, 76, 101
Thomas, Louis–Vincent 149–151, 154
Tipler, Frank 222 n21

Tiptree, James Jr
and biography 9–10, 92, 106, 214
n20

Torquemada 136
tragic, the 135, 191, 192, 199ff, 206
2001: A Space Odyssey, 70–1, 83, 89,

195

Van den Hoogen 237 n63
Van Heijst, Annelies 9, 31–2, 217 n17
violence 13–14, 82–3, 126, 137, 140,

151, 168, 170, 172–4, 182, 189–91,
196, 199ff, 209

Warner, Marina 136–7
Welch, Sharon 205–6
Wells, H.G. 38–9, 150
Wesseling, Lies 45, 51
Wolmark, Jenny 43, 49
Woodman, Tom 34–5
Woolf, Virginia 187, 209

Yazaki, Hitoshi 225 n53
Yourcenar, Marguerite 80

Zoline, Pamela 41

INDEX 241

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