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Letters to Tiptree by Alisa Krasnostein
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Letters to Tiptree (edition 2015)

by Alisa Krasnostein (Editor), Alexandra Pierce (Editor)

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354321,274 (4.3)2
Member:Lyndatrue
Title:Letters to Tiptree
Authors:Alisa Krasnostein (Editor)
Other authors:Alexandra Pierce (Editor)
Info:Yokine, W.A. Twelfth Planet Press, 2015.
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:non-fiction

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Letters to Tiptree by Alisa Krasnostein (Editor)

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It's an interesting book, and the letters between Sheldon/Tiptree and Le Guin and Russ brought tears to my eyes. It made me miss her all over again, and to remember with what horror and sorrow I took the news of her suicide. It's still strange, in a way, to think that there will never be another Tiptree story.

I didn't read all the letters in the first half of the book. After a time, they started to blend in, and I don't think I was gaining much from them. I'd read Swanwick's essay before, but it was as moving as when I read it for the first time.

This collection of letters, and essays, is an excellent homage to the complicated person that was Alice Sheldon, Racoona Sheldon, and James Tiptree, Jr.

It's best to read it here and there, not all at once, and to be happy with how many lives Tiptree affected. Here's to you, Alice, for the gift of your life to the rest of us. ( )
  Lyndatrue | Aug 7, 2017 |
There are some science fiction authors who have changed the conversation of the genre in ways that are almost impossible to measure. James Tiptree, Jr., also known as Alice B. Sheldon, was one of those authors, and the impact she had on the landscape of science fiction was wildly disproportionate to even the magnificent oevre of work. Published during the centenary of Sheldon's birth, Letters to Tiptree is primarily a collection of letters from authors currently working in the field addressed to Sheldon, each one expressing, in their own way, what Sheldon and Sheldon's work meant to them. The volume also contains some correspondence between Tiptree, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Joanna Russ, as well as some introductions written for Tiptree's works and excerpts from a pair of essays about the author.

James Tiptree, Jr. started publishing in the science fiction field in 1967, and over the next ten years produced some of the most brilliant works of short fiction the genre has ever seen. From The Girl Who Was Plugged In, to Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death, to The Women Men Don't See to Houston, Houston, Do You Read, Tiptree carved out a place in science fiction as a writer who turned a brutally harsh eye upon issues related to gender and sexuality. Through his career, Tiptree refused to make public appearances, give interviews, or otherwise communicate with people in person, but did correspond by mail with many fans, editors, and other writers. In the late 1970s, aftr a decade of secrecy, a comment in a letter about her mother's death and obituary led to the revelation that Tiptree was actually Alice B. Sheldon, turning upside down many of the assumptions that many in the industry had believed about "male" and "female" writing. Even after the revelation, Sheldon remained, and remains, one of the most enigmatic figures in science fiction. In her letters she reveals that she had relationships with women, but she was so attached to the man she married that she literally could not bear to live without him. Sheldon may or may not have identified as transgender as well: The evidence on this point is somewhat unclear. What is certain is that she left behind a collection of stories that have fascinated and inspired both her contemporaries and her literary descendants.

The meat of Letters to Tiptree is, as one might expect, the collection of letters written by a collection of authors, editors, critics, and fans all addressed to the titular author. The roster of letter writers consists of thirty-nine of the most prominent figures in science fiction today, including Aliette de Bodard, Rachel Swirsky, Cat Rambo, Seanan McGuire, Jo Walton, and Catherynne Valente. Given the roster assembled for this project, it should come as no surprise that the letter are all insightful and fascinating to read, and are all wildly different as well. One recurring theme to the letters is the difficultly of knowing how to address Tiptree - does one call her Mr. Tiptree? Mrs. Sheldon? Alli? Where does Sheldon's other pseudonym Raccoona fit in? In a way, this single issue encapsulates the ambiguous place that Alice Sheldon holds in the history of science fiction. Through the course of the book, multiple letter writers grapple with the conundrum of Tiptree's identity and how to understand the author's legacy.

Although there are commonalities to many of the letters - it is obvious that each letter writer loves and respects Sheldon and her work - each one is unique in its particular subject matter and emotional tone. Some of the letters are filled with regret, either that the writer didn't get a chance to meet Sheldon when she was alive, or because the writer never had the experience of reading Tiptree's work before his identity as Sheldon was revealed, and then read them again with a new eye. Some of the letters are sympathetic, almost commiserating with Sheldon about their common struggles concerning gender, sexuality, and mental illness. Some of the letters analyze Tiptree's writing. Others speak to the inspiration Tiptree was for the letter writer. One is angry. Because of the structure of this book, with such a diverse array of voices, each speaking on a subject dear to its author's heart, it is probably not a work than can be binge read. Instead, it must be digested slowly, one letter at a time. A three hundred and sixty page long book usually takes me a day or two to read. Letters to Tiptree took almost a month. Not because the book was poorly written, but rather because so many of the letters were so powerfully written that after reading many of them, I simply had to set the book down and contemplate what I had just read.

Following the collection of letters written for this volume, the next section features letters written to Tiptree during Sheldon's lifetime by Ursula K. Le Guin and Joanna Russ, and a few letters from Sheldon in response. These letters are reprints of material that has appeared before, but in this collection they take on a new dimension, offering a contemporary and personal counterpoint to the letters from the previous section. One can see the love and concern these women had for one another, and in Sheldon's letters one can see the very human person behind the facade. Tiptree was, and remains, such a towering figure in science fiction as a whole, and feminist science fiction in particular, that it would be easy to forget that she was often crippled with self-doubt, apparently intensely uncomfortable dealing with people in person, and distraught over the fact that those she counted as friends might abandon her when her true identity was revealed. To the extent that the letters in the first section veer into hagiographic territory, the letters in this one serve as a beautiful and poignant antidote.

The third section, featuring introductions to two of Tiptree's works - one by Ursula K. Le Guin, and the other by Michael Swanwick - and excerpts from Helen Merrick's The Secret Feminist Cabal and Justine Larbalestier's Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, is almost anticlimactic in comparison with the previous segments of the book. All of these pieces are wonderfully crafted and insightful, offering meditations on Tiptree's work and its meaning in the context of the history of science fiction with respect to how gender fits into the puzzle, and, for Larbalestier's piece, an exploration of what Tiptree's experience says about gender in more general terms. But these works are all detached and professional, almost academic in quality, and as a result lack the raw emotional intensity of the portions of the book that had gone before, and as a result, they seem like almost a let down. They remain, however, a set of incredibly intelligent and incisive pieces even though they feel somewhat flat and colorless after the often brutally honest letters that the book led with.

The last few pages of the book are letters from Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce, addressed to Tiptree. Like so many other letters in the book, they express their love for Tiptree, and their fascination with both her work and the enigma that she represents. As a means of capping off the volume, these two letters are pitch perfect, summing up the necessity of the project in just a few pages, and offering just the right amount of adoration and respect. Letters to Tiptree is a beautiful love note to an author who left far too soon and with too much left unsaid, and is a penetrating and captivating examination of what work she did produce and her place in the science fiction constellation.

This review has also been posted to my blog Dreaming About Other Worlds. ( )
2 vote StormRaven | May 19, 2016 |
Letters to Tiptree edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein is a collection of letters written by contemporary authors to Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr published on the hundredth anniversary of her birth.

For nearly a decade, a middle-aged woman in Virginia (her own words) had much of the science fiction community in thrall. Her short stories were awarded, lauded and extremely well-reviewed. They were also regarded as “ineluctably masculine,” because Alice Sheldon was writing as James Tiptree Jr.

In celebration of Alice Sheldon's centenary, Letters to Tiptree presents a selection of thoughtful letters from thirty-nine science fiction and fantasy writers, editors, critics, and fans address questions of gender, of sexuality, of the impossibility and joy of knowing someone only through their fiction and biography.


For the context of my reading this book, I want to note that I have not read Tiptree's/Sheldon's biography (it's on my wishlist) and the only fiction of hers I've read is The Starry Rift, which certainly does not contain her most well-known stories. I did listen to the Tiptree-themed Galactic Suburbia episodes and glanced at Wikipedia, but overall my general knowledge of Tiptree and especially her fiction is low. Obviously I want to read more of her fiction, but I also didn't want to put off reading this book until such an indefinite point in the potentially distant future. So that's where I was coming from when I read Letters to Tiptree.

The first section of this book collects letters from the present to Tiptree/Alice Sheldon. These letters tackle a variety of topics, mostly in the realms of feminism and Sheldon's (gender) identity. Some letters provide analysis of one or more stories — which obviously it would probably be more interesting to read having read the stories, but now I feel oddly familiar with some of them. There were also letters talking about aspects of Sheldon's life that I was less familiar with, like her death (murder-suicide). Sandra McDonald's letter was one that particularly stood out to me on that front.

A few other letters that I marked as particularly notable were Rose Lemberg's with it's discussion of which books were translated and available in the Soviet Union (and the lack of female Soviet SF writers). Valentin D. Ivanov's letter is actually addressed to Bulgarian writer Zora Zagorska about Tiptree, which makes for an interesting read. Then there was Justina Robson's letter, which talks about feminism and the literary tradition of masculine style. Lucy Sussex's letter linked her experiences with her mother's death and her travels to Borneo with Sheldon's writing and experiences, a compelling read.

After these contemporary letters, there is some additional material in Letters to Tiptree. Some reprints of letters between Tiptree/Sheldon and Ursula Le Guin, and Joanna Russ; the introductions to a couple of story collections; excerpts from Justine Larbalestier's book The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction and Hellen Merrick's The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms; and a few other things. My favourite part of this latter material was definitely the letters between Tiptree and her contemporaries. I would love to read more of them. The focus here was on Tiptree revealing her Alice Sheldon identity to her epistolary friends but I'm sure there were many other interesting conversations for us to snoop on from the future.

If you know absolutely nothing about James Tiptree Jr, this is probably not the book for you. But if you have even a passing interest in her life or fiction, this makes for an interesting read. I would probably recommend reading Her Smoke Rose Up Forever — although I didn't — so as to better appreciate some of the discussion of stories (I think the key ones are all in there). I will be reading it at some point, but probably not too soon so that the somewhat spoilery discussions in Letters to Tiptree aren't too fresh in my mind.

4 / 5 stars

You can read more reviews on my blog. ( )
1 vote Tsana | Oct 11, 2015 |
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2519476.html

This is yet more evidence of the Australian surge in feminist sf commentary (which, let's be very clear, is a Good Thing) spearheaded by the Galactic Suburbia team, two of whom have assembled this volume of (mostly) letters in tribute to James Tiptree jr / Alice Sheldon who was born 100 years ago this month. The first half has literally dozens of letters written to Tiptree / Sheldon by today's writers, reflecting on what she means for them. They are mostly very short, but long enough to make an impression: I now want to get hold of more work by Theodora Goss and Bogi Takcs. We then get the actual correspondence between Ursula Le Guin and Alice Sheldon after she was unmasked as female by Jeffrey D. Smith (who was to become her devoted literary executor). I found this exchange of letters tremendously engaging and moving. More correspondence follows to and (mostly) from Joanna Russ, and the collection closes with previously published material by Helen Merrick and Justine Larbalastier, and a new essay from Michael Swanwick, about the importance of Tiptree's writing.

When I read books about sf, I want i) a better understanding of stuff I have already read and ii) suggestions of stuff I might read in the future which may appeal to me. I got both from this book, and I imagine that I will be adding it to my nomination lists for both the Best Related Work Hugo and the BSFA Award for Best Non-Fiction in 2016. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | Sep 12, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Krasnostein, AlisaEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pierce, AlexandraEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Allan, KathrynContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barr, Marleen S.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burgis, StephanieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chng, JoyceContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
de Bodard, AlietteContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Duchamp, L. TimmelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fitzwater, AJContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Goldstein, LisaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Goss, TheodoraContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Griffith, NicolaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ivanov, Valentin DContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jones, GwynethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kelso, SylviaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Larbalestier, JustineContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Le Guin, Ursula K.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lemberg, RoseContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
MacFarlane, Alex DallyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mandelo, BritContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McDonald, SandraContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McGuire, SeananContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Merrick, HelenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Miller, KarenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Moffett, JudithContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Morgan, CherylContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Murphy, PatContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pinsker, SarahContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rambo, CatContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Roberts, Tansy RaynerContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Robson, JustinaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Russ, JoannaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Shawl, NisiContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sulway, NikeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sussex, LucyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Swanwick, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Swirsky, RachelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Takács, BogiContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Thomas, Lynne M.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tiptree Jr., JamesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vonarburg, ElisabethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Walton, JoContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Williams, TessContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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