James Tiptree, Jr.’s “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”

“Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” is another great Tiptree story. The novella was originally published in 1976 in the collection edited by Vonda N, McIntyre and Susan J. Anderson, Aurora: Beyond Equality. It’s about a future Earth space mission sent around the sun that is flung into the far future following an accident with a solar flare. The three male astronauts find themselves in a world only populated by women who also happen to be clones of a common stock.

I’m currently writing a paper looking at the similarities between “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland. Tiptree’s novella is, in many ways, a retelling of Herland in a far future, but far more ambiguously regarding the fate of the three male astronauts as compared with Van, Jeff, and Terry. Also, Tiptree explores the nature of power along two different axes. The first concerns the biological/anthropological concept of dominance and submission among the three male astronauts. She does this by looking at the “beta” male’s past, Lorimer, and his relationship with the two alpha males, Bud and Dave. He is also the narrator of the story. The other is the cultural constructs of male dominance over females as illustrated by Lorimer’s suppressed impulses and thoughts as well as Dave and Bud’s overt actions. I believe that there are significant links between the two stories, and Tiptree may have wrote “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” as a Second Wave Feminist reaction or simply response to Gilman’s much earlier work.

This is another story that’s a must read! Of all of the stories that I’ve read by Tiptree, this is my favorite. It’s an interesting story that connects to many significant gender and cultural issues. Besides the connection with Herland, the cloned women in the utopic future remind me of the Cylons of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.