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James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice…

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Julie Phillips

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5822216,969 (4.38)87
Title:James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon
Authors:Julie Phillips
Info:Picador (2007), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 560 pages
Collections:Your library

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James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips (2006)



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Fascinating biography of James Tiptree, Jr. aka Alice Sheldon, whose colorful life and inscrutable, gender-obscuring career as an award-winning SF author, and finally tragic suicide give an incredible amount of insight into her work. Very readable and interesting bio. ( )
  Gretchening | Jul 20, 2017 |
(3.5 stars)

Without a doubt, this book will stand as the definitive biography of James Tiptoe, Jr./Alice Sheldon. It covers Alli/Tip's life in such detail, punctuated with journal entries and correspondence, that one could hardly wish more detail . . .

Except, to my mind, in one area. Alli makes clear she had great struggles with her mother, but I never got why her struggles were as great as they were. Her mother did not abuse her, either physically or psychologically. Was it simply because her mother was overbearing? That she had different expectations for her daughter than Alli had for herself? That her mother, by virtue of the fact that she was quite an honored public personage while Alli was growing up, simply cast a shadow Alli found it difficult to escape? There are hints to all these things, but for the struggles Alli endured (her mother seemed supportive of most any direction Alli wanted to go) these issues seem rather trivial.

Anyway, Alice Sheldon was an interesting character who wrestled with identity issues all her life. Perhaps it could only have been someone so uncertain of her identity that could launch an alter ego for herself in the form of James Tiptree, Jr. While many an author adopts a non de plume, for Alli the adoption of the Tiptoe identity was so much more. It became something to hide behind, to entrust her creativity to, and to guard jealously, so that when the truth about the mysterious James Tiptree finally became known, it nearly undid her.

In most cases, I could have just done with a little less detail. ( )
  kvrfan | Aug 19, 2016 |
It was tough at times. Her conflicts with gender in her youth were horrific, if you even part-identify, and she’s set on suicide in age. So, tough in the way her fiction is – alienated subject speeds to a bad ending – but I needn’t have been afraid to meet this writing-hero.

I liked her throughout – and mention it because not every reviewer has. My admiration has only escalated. It’s true I heard among the Tiptree rumours she was America’s first woman general, whereas she left the WAC a major. The WAAC/WAC was interesting – her hopes and disappointments in it. She managed to do useful work in photointelligence. But just what she thought and felt about women in uniform was eye-opening for me. Because Tiptree was a person wrecked by gender expectations. She felt herself wrecked – I quote this from an early age:

To grow up as a ‘girl’ is to be nearly fatally spoiled, deformed, confused and terrified; to be responded to by falsities, to be reacted to as nothing or as a thing – and nearly to become that thing.

She was a brain and a person without sufficient use. Always taken for ‘masculine’, though she kept up a repertoire of both. She was a (rarely-practising) lesbian who ended up in a great friendship-marriage. But even Ting failed at the equality experiment, and sex remained a murky issue for her.

Her letter-friendships with Ursula K. Le Guin and Joanna Russ were a highlight, as she found an almost-home in the sf community. Though as one sf guy said to her, it’s no use you coming along to the conventions for a sense of belonging, since you have so much more life experience than this group of nerds. And when she was outed she found hard to write again. James Tiptree Jr was a liberation. I’ve forgiven Robert Silverberg, who famously called Tiptree’s writing ‘ineluctably masculine’: turns out he was a nerd daunted by her he-man attainments (from real life), and he said afterwards he’d needed his head examined. But in her 60s she upset a feminist sf talk-fest, and made Samuel R. Delany hostile. I do not and never hope to understand the questions involved. But this book dives pretty deeply into them; I deduct a star because I wasn’t always happy with the commentary.

I want to mention her time as a rat psychologist. I’ll link to an article on it, though I think the article undervalues her written work and is weak on lit crit: http://starcraving.com/?p=555 It explains her mission to bring the social sciences to sf – ‘there are more sciences than physics.’

I can only wish she’d taken Joanna Russ up on her offer (sight-unseen, in a letter that began, “I like old women with a very special feeling and get all dreamy and erotic about them...”) and run away with her, but hey. You don’t get a happy ending in a James Tiptree Jr story. ( )
1 vote Jakujin | Jan 10, 2014 |
It's an insightful work, but there are times that I'd rather have less insight. I can remember the world's surprise when it was revealed that James Tiptree Jr was actually a woman. Any woman who had read "The Women that Men Don't See" simply nodded and said (to herself) of course, of course.

I'm very happy to have found this (my favorite book store has taken to putting books *about* SF authors next to the works of the author, which is where I found it. It's a remarkable work, and the extraordinary photographs in the book give shading to a person that was eminently private in life.

Now that I'm finished with the book even though I KNEW how it was going to end, I feel fragile as glass, and as raw and devastated as when I first heard of her suicide. The book was excellent. I would have preferred that the author put less supposition into someone that has been gone for (oh my god, has it been that long?) over twenty five years. It still hurts. ( )
  Lyndatrue | Nov 27, 2013 |
During the 20th century, a number of female writers chose to write under sexually ambiguous names. Harper Lee, Isak Dinesen, Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers and Andre Norton, among others, didn't actually pretend to be men, but if biased publishers and readers began reading their work under the wrong impression, where was the harm?

Alice Sheldon, however, chose to go whole hog. She saw the name Tiptree on a jar of jam and decided to write her science fiction stories under the name of James Tiptree Jr., keeping her true identity a secret from virtually everyone for a number of years. As biographer Julie Phillips tells in her book "James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon," she flirted with Ursula K. Le Guin and other women by mail, while pretending to be one of the boys with Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick and other men in the science fiction community. She fooled them all.

Everyone knew Tiptree was a pseudonym, but interest in who the writer really was became all the greater because his stories were so original, like nothing science fiction fans had never read before. Because Tiptree had a post office box in McClean, Va., some speculated the writer might be a CIA agent. (Both Alli Sheldon and her husband had, in fact, once worked for the CIA.) Someone even thought James Tiptree Jr. might really be Henry Kissinger. A few thought the stories sounded a bit like the voice of a woman, but in other respects they were thoroughly manly.

The secret was revealed in the early 1970s when Tiptree let slip in letters that his mother had died, after previously disclosing she was a former African explorer living in Chicago. It was then a simple matter to check the obituaries in the Chicago papers, where it was found that author and world traveler Mary Hastings Bradley was survived by just one child, a daughter named Alice Sheldon.

Having lost the mask behind which she had written her startling stories, Sheldon's talent dried up, and she wrote only a few stories after that, most of them not very good.

Sheldon suffered from a manic-depressive personality, and she seemed to have conflicting identities within her throughout her life. Although happily married for a long time, she was sexually confused, never quite sure who or what she really was. She also also wrote science fiction as a woman under the name Racoona Sheldon, although these tales were not as well received as Tiptree's.

She had talked about suicide her entire life, and in 1987 she put a gun to her head after first killing her ailing husband.

The biography by Julie Phillips, published in 2006, is well worth reading whether or not one has ever read a James Tiptree Jr. short story. ( )
1 vote hardlyhardy | May 29, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
In this excellent biography, Julie Phillips traces the threads of Alice Sheldon's remarkable life, braiding them together, teasing apart tangles.
added by lemontwist | editThe Women's Review of Books, Susanna J. Sturgis
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312203853, Hardcover)

James Tiptree, Jr. burst onto the science fiction scene in the 1970s with a series of hardedged, provocative short stories. Hailed as a brilliant masculine writer with a deep sympathy for his famale character, he penned such classics as Houston, Houston, Do You Read?and The Women Men Don't See. For years he corresponded with Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison,Ursula Le Guin. No one knew his true identity. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego: A sixty-one-year old woman named Alice Sheldon. As a child, she explored Africa with her mother. Later, made into a debutante, she eloped with one of the guests at the party. She was an artist, a chicken farmer, aWorld War II intelligence officer, a CIA agent, an experimental psychologist. Devoted to her second husband, she struggled with her feelings for women. In 1987, her suicide shocked friends and fans. The James Tiptree, Jr.Award was created to honor science fiction or fantasy that explores our understanding of gender. This fascinating biography, ten years in the making, is based on extensive research, exclusive interviews, and full access to Alice Sheldon's papers

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:05 -0400)

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"James Tiptree, Jr., burst onto the science fiction scene in the late 1960s with a string of hard-edged, provocative stories. He redefined the genre with such classics as "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" and "The Women Men Don't See." He was hailed as a brilliant writer with a deep sympathy for his female characters." "For nearly ten years he carried on intimate correspondences with other writers - Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin, to name a few. None of them knew his true identity. He was so reclusive that he was widely believed to be a top-secret government agent. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego: a mysterious sixty-one-year-old woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon." "A native of Chicago, Alice traveled the globe with her mother, the writer and hunter Mary Hastings Bradley. At nineteen, she eloped with the poet who had been seated on her left at her debut. She became an artist, a critic for the Chicago Sun, an army officer, a CIA analyst, and an expert on the psychology of perception. Beautiful, theatrical, and sophisticated, she developed close friendships with people she never met. Devoted to her second husband, she struggled with her feelings for women. An outspoken feminist, she took a male name as a joke - and found the voice to write her stories." "With ten years of work, Julie Phillips has written a biography of Alice Sheldon. Based on extensive research, exclusive interviews, and full access to Alice Sheldon's papers, this is the definitive biography of a profoundly original writer and a woman far ahead of her time."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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