‘The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things To Rats’ by James Tiptree Jr.
Tiptree is one of the big gaps in my reading of science fiction and, whilst I have lots of such gaps, this is one of the few I care about. This combination of character study and critique of masculinity in the workplace seems a good place to start since not only is it very good but I imagine it encapsulates a lot of her concerns.
Tiptree pins down her protagonist, Tilman “Tilly” Lipsitz, on the dissecting board in a way he himself is unable to do with his rats: “he is naively impressed by the complexity, the intricate interrelated delicacies of living mater. Why is he so reluctant to push metal into it, produce lesions with acids or shocks? He has this unfashionable yearning to learn by appreciation, to tease out the secrets with only his eyes and mind.” His colleagues have no such scruples; “muscular large hairy ones”, excepting Sheila “with the lily waist, the heart-lobed hips” whose methods are equally manly. Tilly is emasculated and the point of being fired so one night he gets ripped to the gills on absinthe and goes into the lab to kill his rats and turn over a new leaf. In the process of doing so the absinthe takes hold and he is plunged into a hallucination before emerging on the other side, horrifyingly re-made, the man they want him to be.
I’ve given up on expecting the stories to be hard or even for the editors to attempt to justify their hardness. I still wasn’t expecting H&C to come right out and say that this story is actually the opposite of hard SF:
This story is in a sense a companion piece to Wilhelm’s “The Planners,” about being a working scientist in a laboratory, facing moral choices, but replacing the fantasizing of Wilhelm’s piece with a drunken, dreamlike supernatural phantasmagoria at the center of this story, reminiscent of a Keatsian visit to Faerie… This story is a counterpoint to “The Cold Equations,” while portraying it’s affect ironically, and may be taken as representative of the movement by many of the newer writers in 1970s sf away from the hard sf affect into the fantastic.