Up the Walls of the World

by James Tiptree, Jr.
Reviewed date: 2005 Oct 18
Rating: 3
311 pages
cover art

Fun fact: James Tiptree, Jr. is a pen name of Alice Sheldon. Until 1976 it was widely assumed that Tiptree was a man.

Dr. Daniel Dann is working with his friend and colleague Noah on a project to adapt telepathy for military use. At a secret Navy operations base they and their team of psychics carry out the tests to determine if telepathy can be used to communicate with submarines deployed in sensitive locations. At the critical moment when the psychics pass the tests, Dr. Dann and the psychics are invaded by alien minds.

The alien invaders take control of the human bodies and send the minds of Dr. Dann and the psychics back to inhabit their alien bodies on the world Tyree. Tyree, Dr. Dann quickly learns, is a free-fall world. Gravity exists, but all life in Tyree exists in free-fall held up by the constant winds of the planet's incredible storm system. In a free-fall world like Tyree civilization is unlikely to flourish, and the Tyrenni do indeed exist in a primitive state: they haven't even invented money yet. Save for their highly developed telepathic minds, the Tyrenni are similar to primitive cave men.

But Tyree is in danger: a relentless "Destroyer" of life has been snuffing out planets, and Tyree is next. Some of the Tyrenni escaped to Earth (thus sending Dr. Dann and the psychics back to Tyree to die) but most are resigned to their doom.

Up the Walls of the World is a good book, but it contains too much impressionistic writing: that is, too much stream-of-consciousness that is designed (I presume) to show us the nature of consciousness. Trouble is, that kind of writing is always boring.

The other problem is that significant portions of the book are written in all caps. That's a device to let us understand how cold and unfeeling the machine mind of the Destroyer truly is. But it's too hard to read. Tiptree's copy editor should have insisted on using a different typeface rather than allowing those sections to be printed in all caps.

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