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A secret US navy research project is founded to investigate the existence of paranormal powers, bringing together a variety of men and women who have shown indications of telepathic ability. As a result of the experiment they make mental contact with the Tyrenni, strange alien beings resembling winged squids who dwell in the upper atmosphere of their tempestuous world.
The aliens' world, Tyree, is being threatened by a huge being, the Destroyer, which is moving inexorably towards them, obliterating whole solar systems in its path. When the Tyrenni realise that it threatens to exterminate life on Tyree, they are forced into the decision - contrary to all their moral beliefs - to take over the bodies of their human contacts in order to preserve their race.
James Tiptree Jr (1915-1987)
Alice Hastings Bradley Sheldon wrote most of her fiction as James Tiptree, Jr - she was making a point about sexist assumptions and also keeping her US government employers from knowing her business. Most of her books are collections of short stories, of which Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is considered to be her best selection. Sheldon's best stories combine radical feminism with a tough-minded tragic view of life; even virtuous characters are exposed as unwitting beneficiaries of disgusting socio-economic systems. Even good men are complicit in women's oppression, as in her most famous stories 'The Women Men Don't See' and 'Houston, Houston, Do you Read?' or in ecocide. Much of her work, even at its most tragic, has an attractively ironic tone which sometimes becomes straightforwardly comedy - it is important to stress that Tiptree's deep seriousness never becomes sombre or pompous. Her two novels Up the Walls of the World and Brightness Falls from the Air are both remarkable transfigurations of stock space opera material - the former deals with a vast destroying being, sympathetic aliens at risk of destruction by it and human telepaths trying to make contact across the gulf of stars. She died tragically in 1987.