Welcome to this month's book club! On the fourth Monday of each month, we post a round-table discussion about a speculative work (or work of interest to readers of SF), and we invite you to join us for further conversation in the comments. September's book will be Atlas by Dung Kai-cheung, and other forthcoming discussions are listed here.
This month's book is a collection of linked novellas by James Tiptree, Jr, first published in 1986, that includes the Hugo- and Nebula-nominated novella, "The Only Neat Thing to Do." The stories explore the challenges faced by humanity as it expands into the galaxy, telling the stories of a headstrong teenaged runaway who makes first contact, a young officer on a deep-space salvage mission who discovers an exact double of a woman he thought he'd lost, and the crew of an exploration ship who must plead for the human race to avert an interstellar war.
Discussing The Starry Rift are:
- Lila Garrott, one of the fiction editors at Strange Horizons, and a staff reviewer at Publishers Weekly. Their own fiction, poetry, and nonfiction has appeared in Not One of Us, Cabinet des Fees, Mythic Delirium, and Tor.com, and they blog at rushthatspeaks.dreamwidth.org.
- Matt Hilliard, a reviewer for Strange Horizons and a software engineer based near Washington, D.C. He blogs at Yet There Are Statues.
- Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, a writer and critic. When the Blue Shift Comes, co-authored by Robert Silverberg, is published by Phoenix Pick. He can be found waiting for his Aineko.
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes: "The Starry Rift (coll of linked stories 1986) assembled loose, somewhat sententious tales set in the same universe." Do you agree or disagree that the tales are sententious? Why? In what way?
Lila Garrott: Interesting question! I disagree with the SFE on this one, because "sententious" implies an element of moralizing, and the stories here are somewhat too complicated to be reduced to morals. You can get some idea of how Tiptree thinks sociology and psychology work, or at least how they work in the book's universe, but you can't derive ways of life or suggestions about how people ought to behave from there. For example, Tiptree clearly thinks that even the smallest actions taken by individuals can have huge effects on history, and there's a section in "Collision" that explicitly discusses that for some while, but the narrative doesn't make any point other than oh hey, a lot of really tiny and inherently unpredictable things had to fall into place for the outcome of the story to occur. We don't get any thoughts about the ramifications of that being the way that universe works—only the proof that that is a way that particular universe can be seen to work by the people living in it. It's more like a worldbuilding axiom than a moral.
However, what I do agree with the SFE about is that there's a certain kind of obviousness to the writing, which it's difficult to define without using words that presuppose the involvement of morals or ideology. Some of it is outright clumsiness—I was staggered that the first few pages of the frame story were something Tiptree allowed to be published in their current state, because I think of Tiptree as one of the great masters of character and worldbuilding incluing, and those pages could be used as the definition of "telling, not showing" for a writers' workshop. But some of it isn't clumsiness at all—this is a book full of snappily written action scenes, things like the sprint at the end of "Good Night, Sweethearts" and the hustle back into the spaceship in "Collision," where the logistics involve a lot of characters and tech, and we always know what's going on and why without the narration being overdone or clunky in the slightest.
I think what it may be is that the great Tiptree, the short stories that are famous, is explicitly ideological fiction, mostly centered around passionate emotional and intellectual arguments for the humanity of women and against the general inhuman behavior of much of the human race, with a lot of meditation on the drive for sex and on what Freudians would call the "death instinct" mixed in. And these stories in The Starry Rift aren't explicitly ideological; they're not arguing for or against anything apart from demonstrating that the basic axioms of their worldbuilding work in the universe so built; the main remaining similarity is some death instinct. So, paradoxically enough, because The Starry Rift reads as more obvious and less layered, it feels as though it must be tendentious or bombastic in some direction because that degree of obviousness in fiction is usually associated with some kind of specific agenda.
Matt Hilliard: For me, sententious calls to mind the sermon at the end of the 1953 War of the Worlds or a late Heinlein novel with an authorial stand-in making wise pronouncements, but these stories aren't moralizing in that sense. The characters are starkly drawn and most are either absolutely good or absolutely evil, with the good characters quite frequently wringing their hands and exclaiming in horror about the misdeeds of the antagonists. But if I had to guess what the author of that entry was referring to, I would say it is the way the stories are written in a somewhat old-fashioned mode that is unafraid of telling the reader things that today it is fashionable only to show. The most notable example is probably the last paragraph of "The Only Neat Thing to Do," which hammers home a specific interpretation of the story, but also small things like this from page 69 of my paperback copy:
"It's a gods-cursed cancer," Coati's father growls. He perceives no empathetic young alien, but only the threat to his child.
If someone wrote this story today (and probably in 1986, also), a writing teacher or editor would cross out that second sentence as redundant. Whether or not they would be correct to do so, I think it's helpful to think about what we are nevertheless not told. We are not told that men and women are considered equal in the Federation, but "Collision" shows us a female space station commander. We are not told that there might be more to sexuality than male and female, but we are shown the Comenor and the Ziellor, both of whom have third genders. Had these stories been written by, say, Sheri S. Tepper, or even Arthur C. Clarke in his later years, we would have gotten long speeches about how idiotic the humans of the past were about these matters and how comparatively enlightened people of the future are.
I suppose we can't reject a label just because someone, somewhere, deserved it more, but the history of science fiction is so cluttered with characters lecturing the reader that I don't think "sententious" is warranted here.
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro: Matt provides some compelling examples of science fiction works clearly more sententious than these stories. And I think Lila beautifully articulates one reason why these stories might seem—but really aren't—sententious even in comparison with other Tiptree tales. I'd like to elaborate on this last point. Consider "The Screwfly Solution," for example, which shares a narrative strategy with the three stories in The Starry Rift in that it's purportedly a reconstruction based on real documents and sources, but differs significantly in tone. "The Screwfly Solution" is darker, less remitting, much more deliberate in its largely horrific affect. "The Only Neat Thing to Do," arguably the darkest and most provocative of this collection's three pieces, is by comparison more playful, less overt in its intentions. It does feature some of the "signature" Tiptree preoccupations with death, reproduction, parasitism, ecology, losing control of one's mind and volition. Besides Lila's insight into why "The Only Neat Thing to Do" may seem more moralizing because it's less layered, why else does it somehow seem like more gentle—though not less thought-provoking—fare?
My first instinct is to say length. We are considering three novellas here, but "The Screwfly Solution" is a novelette, as is, for instance, the well-regarded "The Women Men Don't See," and "Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death," also famous, is a short story. In this collection I was surprised by Tiptree's generous descriptions of spaceships, invented technologies, even the alleged physics underpinning some of her ambitiously speculative notions. There's plenty of scene-setting and colorful description, as Lila suggests, and I didn't always find it completely absorbing or even necessary. What we have is something approximating a space opera aesthetic, which is perhaps intrinsically not ideal for the kinds of virtuoso psychological performances Tiptree excels at.
But it can't be length alone. After all, "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" and "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" are both novellas. It may be fairer to say that pace of narration is to blame. These stories are more leisurely. Even the middle piece, "Good Night, Sweethearts," with all of its space pirate derring-do, has some extended sequences of mostly introspection or incidence. A quick perusal of Tiptree's short fiction output throughout the years suggests she wrote more short stories and novelettes in the early days and more novellas in the latter ones. It's been observed that a writer's work sometimes loses intensity over time. A repetition of themes and ideas can lead to dilution, a sense of diminished engagement or passion. While I wouldn't go so far as to claim that for this story trio, I do think Tiptree isn't revving up her engines as hard as she has before. (Whether that's by choice or capacity is a delicate question.)
Another factor may be the maturity or age of the characters. Coati Cass, for example, the protagonist of "The Only Neat Thing to Do," is young and somewhat naïve. Focusing on her perceptions and sense impressions, and trying to make the reader empathize with them, perforce influences the story's tone, rendering it milder than if she was an adult or a more mature/experienced young adult.
And one additional element may in fact have nothing to do with the stories themselves, but rather the connecting bridge material. The young couple who constitutes the story's internal audience is also naïve, or at least lacking cultural references. And then there's the librarian, Moa. In "The Library Desk," the transitional section linking "Good Night, Sweethearts" with the volume's concluding tale, "Collision," we are told that Moa has "a weakness for romance," which seems simultaneously reductive and apologetic of the preceding tale. Tiptree may have intended the librarian's opinions to represent a kind of ironic deflation of her stories, something like, "Look here, I'm not really taking this stuff very seriously, and neither should you," but I think these codas and capsule judgments can unfortunately be interpreted in a more sententious way, along the lines of, "Now that we've read the story, let's discuss what it means." While enjoyable in their own right, I found their tone a little jarring, and perhaps at odds with what we might expect when we approach a Tiptree text.
Is this entire collection actually serial-numbers-filed-off Star Trek fanfiction? Are we sure?
Lila Garrott: So. I asked this not because I think it literally is Star Trek fanfic, although we know that Tiptree watched Star Trek, and there is "Beam Us Home," but because the similarities in ethos and worldview—and in the bones of the worldbuilding—feel both large and significant to me. (I mean the original series of Star Trek, by the way, the one Tiptree watched.)
The kind of similarity I mean is that while alien species have different (sometimes very different) biology from one another, and there are some mental differences, there is a shared emotional mapping and intellectual overlap, so that, for instance, humans have the same idea of individual personhood as a parasitic race made up of probably-fungi, despite there being no evolutionary reason for that to be the case. This is the idea of the alien as we see it in Star Trek: that there's a core of something which can communicate and empathize cross-species basically no matter what the species is, and that that communication can and should be friendly, or at least not actively antagonistic. This is not the idea of the incomprehensible alien, or the alien who does not or cannot empathize with humans, both of which we see in other Tiptree—look at, for instance, "The Screwfly Solution," in which we have no idea if the aliens know or care whether humans are sentient. "The Only Neat Thing to Do" is a tragedy because the empathy is there, the friendly communication is there, but the physical circumstances make interaction impossible. The entire story could be played as a Star Trek episode, and, except that the Federation would probably come up with some kind of super-science miracle to make connections with the spore aliens possible (whether in time to save the life of the girl or not depending on the mood of the episode and the amount of pathos desired), it would blend right in.
Because there's also the exploration ethos. Tiptree's human Federation is so devoted to exploration that they carry out huge quantities of it before they have FTL, and it's not for territorial dominion, though they do put down colonies, but for, as far as I can tell, scientific advancement and the sheer pleasure of knowing what's out there. In the frame story, it's heavily implied that when other species encountered the Federation, they all amalgamated into one larger civilization, which makes the cultural and scientific heritages of all its member species available to all its citizens. Again, these are dreams we see in Star Trek, very utopian dreams. It's worth noting that when there are enemies in these stories, as opposed to antagonists, the enemies are humans who are living in ways that oppose these ideals, and that humans seem to be the only species we're shown who have this sort of internecine disorder.
And then, of course, there's the entire concept of Federation itself, with its implications of a certain kind of democracy, self-rule, self-discipline, and unity in diversity. I think that writers who have used that word after Star Trek have needed to consider it carefully, because the show casts a long shadow—and I think that Tiptree was intentionally working after Star Trek, and aware of the shadow it cast. We therefore should not take Tiptree's use of the word as anything other than calculated.
Matt Hilliard: Using the name Federation makes the Star Trek influence overt, but my first impression was that it was only skin deep. Lila makes a good point about the attitude towards aliens, which I hadn't initially considered, but I see the core Star Trek aesthetic as a crew of different individuals, each with different skills and roles, working together to solve a problem. In Rodenberry's idealized future the humans of the Federation don't have the kinds of personal problems that drive conventional stories, so the crew itself is the character more than the individuals.
Tiptree is here still very focused on individual characters and their struggles, and I think that gives them a very different flavor than Star Trek even if she borrows aspects of the worldbuilding. And we shouldn't understate how different the technology is here compared to Star Trek. The technical details haven't aged gracefully so it's tempting to just ignore them, but the fact is Tiptree devotes quite a lot of words to laying out the mechanics of the engines, FTL and otherwise, and uses the implications of her invented physics to drive the plot in all three stories. That style of story is one that appeals to the kind of Star Trek fan who exults in the details of warp drives and photon torpedos, but it's not one often told (at least, not successfully) on the actual show because the posited technology (transporters, warp drives, holodecks) usually doesn't have the clear constraints needed to make that kind of story work. In contrast, Tiptree tries to draw bright lines around what the tech can and can't do. She's not wholly convincing—in particular, relativistic effects central to the latter two stories seem entirely absent in "The Only Neat Thing to Do"—but I see her project as taking the pre-1990s hard SF space opera and injecting more emphasis on character. The frame story seems eager to draw attention to the three stories' lifelike characters and claims this is important to the form. That's not too controversial a point now but perhaps wasn't settled in the genre when she was writing.
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro: I can see why Lila would raise this question. Indeed, she and Matt have already identified several common elements between the original incarnation of Star Trek and this collection: ethos, worldbuilding (including technology), the use of the word "Federation." (Incidentally, the term Federation, in our space opera context, predates both Tiptree and Star Trek. H. Beam Piper's Federation sequence began with 1952's "Ullr Uprising," and there are other examples. So both Trek and Tiptree, in my view, are operating in a pre-existing tradition, rather than Tiptree overtly referencing Trek with her word choice.) I think there's no question that these stories by Tiptree exist in a lineage that traces back to E. E. "Doc" Smith and beyond, but I'm not convinced they are akin to Star Trek in several critical ways.
The first is theme. While there is an undeniable utopian aspect to Tiptree's extrapolated future, in which human beings not only thrive but spread out among the stars and make noble compacts with a plethora of alien races, eventually mastering magic-like technologies, the protagonists of these stories aren't necessarily innate explorers or experienced adventurers. They are caught largely unaware by their circumstances and end up paying a steep price. To quote from the original Publisher's Weekly review: "Each piece in this new work revolves around an act of self-sacrifice so outrageous and weepy they're candidates for the Fannie Hurst/Steven Spielberg league: 15-year-old girl becomes host to an intelligent but parasitic new species and commits suicide to protect humanity; a grizzled war veteran rescues an old love, now a big star, from pirates and then nobly fades away; and several deaths, including that of a teddy bear-like simpleton, all trust and goodness, prevent a misunderstood first contact from turning into a disastrous interspecies war." While I don't agree with that review's indictment of these stories as being overly sentimental, I think that self-sacrifice is in fact deeply embedded in each narrative, and that puts it at odds with the basic Star Trek formula, which dictates that at the end of each harrowing escapade the protagonist must be alive so as to resume the adventure-mongering the following week. In Star Trek the slate tends to be wiped clean; here the slate is obliterated, and the crumbled fragments are cast down into the deep vortex of "history" out of which these tales are allegedly assembled. To be clear, I'm not saying that self-sacrifice is a theme alien to Star Trek, simply that it does not fundamentally inform the narrative structure of a typical Star Trek story.
I also think that Tiptree's tone is not really simpatico with Star Trek's fundamentally optimistic vision of the future. Within Tiptree's optimistic framework, things are going badly for our chosen characters, and we experience their emotional plights quite vividly. Tiptree doesn't shy away from exploring the pain they suffer in giving up their dreams, particularly in "The Only Neat Thing to Do." I would go so far as to say that someone who enjoys Star Trek because of its uplifting storytelling would come away somewhat depressed from these stories, and perhaps mystified by the conceit of their being assembled from surviving historical documents and testimonies. Gerald Jonas, reviewing for The New York Times, opined that "Reading The Starry Rift is like listening to a long message left on an answering machine, telling you what someone did on an action-packed trip to the other side of the galaxy." I believe that if we're willing to even partially agree on that point, we're picking up on something antithetical to the Star Trek experience, which is above all supposed to be immersive and engrossing: a rousing, all-enveloping virtual story-world that makes us forget its fictitious nature and fills us with hope for the future. Tiptree seems to be cautioning us that no matter how optimistic the future may appear, progress and understanding will always come at a cost, critically that of life itself.
The phrase "the only neat thing to do" or a version thereof appears several times in the first story, its meaning changing throughout. What does this tell us about the character's predicament and her way of responding to the crisis at hand? Is this a comment on context being the determinant factor in meaning? To what extent is the story a response to "The Cold Equations"?
Matt Hilliard: While the context certainly changes, I see the phrase's meaning as surprisingly stable. Coati Cass aspires to the lifestyle of a space explorer. That's an aspiration most readers can at least sympathize with if not outright share, and the first part of the story reads a bit like wish fulfillment. Wouldn't we all love to have parents rich enough to buy us a personal spaceship and . . . dumb would be harsh, so let's say trusting enough to give it to us as a teenager?
Ironically, her parents trust her precisely because they have low expectations of her. They don't think a teenage girl would do anything more ambitious with a personal spaceship than visit some friends. Some readers might share this attitude, as well. But Coati wants to be a space explorer and she is both smart and confident enough to seize the opportunity. Being a space explorer is neat!
I say "be a space explorer" and not "explore space" because she is aware this role isn't all fun and games. It has responsibilities too, and when the dangers become clear, she doesn't shirk these duties even when it eventually means laying down her life.
And while you could easily read this story as a cautionary tale about parental obliviousness or the importance of sterilization procedures, the reading Tiptree seems to want—indeed, nearly demand in the final paragraph—is that it is a profile in courage. The protagonist is brave enough not only to seize the opportunity to live the life she wants, she's brave enough to stick to her new role even when it stops being fun. It's still "neat" to be an explorer, even when it means you don't make it back.
It's been a while since I read "The Cold Equations," but given the fame of that story it's hard to believe "The Only Neat Thing to Do" isn't at least somewhat in dialogue with it. In both stories, a young girl seizes an opportunity to go into space and in both this initial choice unknowingly dooms her. But in "The Cold Equations" this is presented as the impersonal forces of physics removing all choice. In truth Coati doesn't have great alternatives, but she is presented as making the choice to sacrifice herself to avoid endangering others. I much prefer the agency and deeper characterization on display in "The Only Neat Thing to Do," but the nature of the crisis, owing as it does to a complex interplay between alien biology and the story's physics, is rather fiddly and time-consuming to set up and explain compared to the (if I remember correctly) simple orbital mechanics of "The Cold Equations."
Lila Garrott: I tend to agree that the context of the phrase changes and that the meaning stays fairly constant. I also think it's significant that the most emotionally-laden time it's said before Coati says it is in the context of the young soldier who lays down his life saving somebody else, and that that's the story Coati has memorized as an important moral lesson and a role model.
I'd like to add that I think "neat" in this phrase as Tiptree uses it also has the connotation of being not-messy, careful, precise. When Syllobene is explaining the problem that will shortly kill them both to Coati, she says that above all she does not want to cause more trouble to humans. Coati frames the issue as not necessarily about her own life, which she basically writes off from the beginning when discussing the possible outcomes, but as being about the difficulty and danger to everyone should Coati die and Syllobene live on. She mentions Syllobene's misery at inadvertently killing her friend in the same breath as the inevitable human casualties which would occur in containing the spores, and she worries that no one in that scenario would feel like taking Syllobene home again. But she's not worried for her civilization or even for the individual space station her ship could return to; she appears to have no doubt that the spores would be contained eventually. The thing she objects to is that no one would get what they want in that scenario, and that if the ship winds up wandering freely without a pilot anything at all could happen to it or those who find it. When Coati is speaking in code into the recorder, pretending to the now-mad Syllobene that she's doing navigational things to navigate them past the sun while she is really steering them into it, she says: "If we go close by it, we'll save a whole leg of our trip." The double meaning of "save" is clearly intentional. This is the tidiest outcome, the one which wraps up the most loose ends, the one in which Coati retains the most (in fact, any) control.
And what Coati does not acknowledge is that Syllobene could be saved. It would be messy. There would be, as she predicts, human casualties, although not as many as otherwise if she sent the message tape ahead of the ship; Syllobene would, in fact, be very sad; Syllobene might be destroyed in the process of spore containment, or tried for Coati's murder, or simply marooned in a foreign culture forever. But the chance that things could go better than that is too miniscule, to Coati, to abide the messiness of the plethora of outcomes that could take place after she is no longer there to influence them. Syllobene goes along with this and agrees, since she is an empathetic being and hates the idea of destroying her friend, but people can survive and have survived accidentally killing friends before, even if it seemed psychologically unsurvivable to them at the time. This is very Tiptree, the way that a neat and tidy suicide is, to the protagonists, preferable to chaos in the possibly-incompetent hands of somebody else. This is the protagonists deciding to end themselves rather than inflicting the work of dealing with them on anybody, which is so apropos to Tiptree's overall ethos, life, and death that it's painful to point out.
I think this, this avoidance of messiness, is the principal distinction that comes into play between "The Only Neat Thing to Do" and "The Cold Equations." In "The Cold Equations," we know precisely what the outcome is, no matter which path is followed: if the girl dies, then the pilot and five others live; if the girl is not thrown out, it is absolutely inevitable that all seven die. There is no path that leads to the girl living. All the pilot can do is minimize the overall losses.
But, in the Tiptree, though the situations are congruent—a young stowaway caught in a situation she didn't know enough about—we do not know the details of the other possible paths, only that they are more or less undesirable. The emotional heart of "The Cold Equations" is the way everyone handles the inevitable, the pilot's and mothership's attempts to give the girl as much time alive as they can because, even though it will make no overall difference, they know that every minute is precious to her; to let her write letters; to contact her brother over radio; to give her, in fact, the space to deal with her upcoming death in a mature and responsible fashion, which she does. The story is about facing a tragedy. The only choices anyone in it believes themselves to have are to handle this well, or not to. But "The Only Neat Thing to Do" is about deciding on a tragedy, enacting it because the people most deeply concerned believe that is the best choice—which, as I showed earlier, is arguable. This makes it a more ambiguous story, though not necessarily less moving. The dignity and grace of Marilyn in "The Cold Equations" is the dignity and grace of the condemned, while the dignity and grace of Coati and Syllobene are those of martyrs. Which is why Coati can say that death is the only neat thing to do and mean it as cool, keen, joyous: martyrs always have an element of joy about them, which comes from retaining control of their destinies.
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro: Lila and Matt make excellent points. My contribution here is a brief one. For me the repetition of the phrase "the only neat thing to do" in an ever-worsening situation is emblematic of the way we tend to negotiate with ourselves and adjust our expectations to the circumstances we're in. Lila has discussed in some detail the connotations of the word "neat" in this phrase. I'd like to suggest that "only" complicates the above by adding a note of irony. If X choice or action on the part of Coati were truly the "only" available alternative, it wouldn't change or evolve in response to an increasingly dire situation—which it does. It's not the "only" neat thing to do, but the one that seems to best accommodate present needs and morals. As the present deteriorates, the "only" neat thing to do becomes something else, and so on, until at last things are truly out of our control and irreversible. Seen in this light, for me the phrase conjures up entropy and ultimately death—and, pun intended, does so neatly. No matter how hard we may try to "bargain" out of the inevitability of ageing and decay, we can't. This seems like a classic Tiptree theme, and one which the opening story's novella explores in a disarming and affecting manner.
For further discussion:
- Frame stories are usually considered unnecessary, and The Starry Rift's is not very involved, but it does consist almost entirely of characters talking about the collection's three stories, much as we are doing here. Is this the author's way of trying to participate in the critical discussion, or at least steering the reader's expectations and reactions?
- In the opening library sequence we're told that "there's been a long Human vogue for what they call fact/fiction." Is this a playful critique of human binary tendencies, perhaps a comment on the impossibility of destranding fact from fiction?
- The three stories in The Starry Rift all purport to rely on testimonies or documents of some kind or other. What is the significance of this narrative approach?
- At the start of the first tale, "The Only Neat Thing to Do," we are told: "Reader, here is your problem." Who is the reader being addressed here? Is it the reader of Tiptree's work, or the in-world Federation citizens who are visiting the library for whom the work has been prepared, or possibly both?
- In the second framing interlude, we're told that "Moa is genuinely pleased—in addition to his weakness for romance in general, he has developed a strong liking for this young couple who study so harmoniously together." What are the implications of "weakness for romance," particularly in the context of these three stories which explore alternative sexualities, sexual energies, reproductive mechanisms, and indeed romantic attraction itself?
- The aliens here are alien physically, but not terribly alien mentally; they tend to have similar emotional and psychological makeup to the human. Is this a weakness or a strength, both in worldbuilding and/or storytelling?
- The stories in The Starry Rift take place in a universe in which the large governmental bodies, the Federation and the Harmony, really don't want to go to war with one another unless they have to for self-defense. Both appear to have gone through a terrible Last War, after which they laid aside their weapons. Is Tiptree arguing that this is the course of development civilizations have to go through in order to achieve maturity, or is it only an ironic parallel with no larger argument intended?
- In these stories, the Federation seems to be presented as The Good Guys (although Brightness Falls from the Air, Tiptree's novel in the same universe, presents a more complicated picture). Black Worlders, seemingly defined as all humans who do not participate in the Federation, seem to universally be Bad Guys. Is this conflation of the moral and the political an acceptable shorthand in space opera? Why or why not?