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James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon
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James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  639 ratings  ·  145 reviews
James Tiptree, Jr., burst onto the science fiction scene in the late 1960s with a series 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. For nearly ten years he wrote and carried on intimate correspondences with other writers—Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin,...more
Paperback, 545 pages
Published June 12th 2007 by Picador (first published 2006)
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Alice Bradley Sheldon. In rough order: she walked over a thousand miles through then uncharted Africa, was a society debutante, eloped, enlisted and then worked her way up to an army Captain in World War II, was a painter and an art critic, became a chicken hatcher and then a CIA analyst, traveled the world, became a doctor of psychology, wrote some of the most searing and extraordinary science fiction short stories I have ever read, played out a complex gender identity shell game with her male...more
My first acquaintanceship with James Tiptree was some years ago when I heard that the James Tiptree Award was being given to Kelly Link, a writer I admire. What an odd name. Who was he?

He was a she, I found out. A writer of science fiction. How strange...and utterly fascinating.

I'm not a science fiction fan, have read very little of the genre, but had the good fortune to fall into an online group of writers about 10 years ago (prior to the time of goodreads, facebook, blogs, etc; it's since all...more
In the late 1960s, a new writer emerged on the science-fiction scene, producing powerful stories that explored the role of sexuality and gender unlike any author before. James Tiptree Jr. tackled often-controversial themes with humanity and compassion. He won several literary awards and garnered recognition both in and out of the sci-fi field. Although Tiptree corresponded by letter with fans and several notable writers – Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Harlan Ellison, and Philip K. Dick, among...more
As an aspiring author, there's a part of me that's a little bit jealous of Alice Sheldon. The daughter of socialite explorers, when she was six, she went on Carl Akeley's safari to collect the gorilla that currently stands in the diorama at the American Museum of Natural History. She was a debutante, a painter, a scientist, and a CIA officer. She had a celebrated career as a science fiction author, nominated for and winning multiple awards and engaging in long, deep epistolary relationships with...more
Nancy Oakes
I must confess that I've never read any of James Tiptree Jr.'s work, and that I had no idea who this person was prior to picking up Phillips' book. That didn't seem to matter, however, because this was one of the most well-written biographies I've read in quite a long while. Alice Bradley Sheldon was a most interesting subject -- and Phillips does an excellent job in researching, putting together and presenting Sheldon's life both as herself and as James Tiptree, Jr., a writer of science fiction...more
Keith Bowden
Julie Philips' book is wonderfully engaging from start to finis, documenting not only Alli's life but the environments in which she developed. Those environments include: growing up among the wealthy elite (weathering the stock market crash of '29 and the Great Depression well enough); going on three African safaris by the time whe was 15; struggling toward and against attention; confusion over her desires for women; life-long addictions to cigarettes and dexedrine (and other prescriptions); str...more
This was a difficult book to read. Mostly because Sheldon's was a difficult life to live.

Raised by eccentric, charismatic parents, Sheldon had amazing early adventures including several safaris to Africa, back when that just wasn't something women did, especially not small, young, pretty, blonde, girl children.

Early prone to confusion regarding her sexual identity, impulsive behavior, mood swings, and depression, Sheldon struggled with adulthood. She alternated between viewing her childhood as...more
Alice B. Sheldon led a fascinating life - taken by her parents on African safaris when a young child, became a frustrated painter and published art critic, did photo-intelligence work during WWII which lead to a job in the CIA after the war, and earned a doctorate in experimental psychology.

And that was all before she wrote award-winning science fiction under the pen name of James Tiptree, Jr.

This biography does a great job chronicling Sheldon's tumultuous life, balancing anecdotes, letter excer...more
Kate O'Hanlon
Born in 1915, Alice B. Sheldon travelled through Africa as a child, was married and divorced before she was my age, served her country in the Army's photo-intelligence during WWII, raised chickens commercially, then joined the CIA with her husband. And all that happened before she became an award winning science fiction writer under the pen name James Tiptree Jr. and had the 70s sf establishment completely fooled as to her real identity.

All this is by way of saying that you don't have to have re...more
What a wonderful biography of a truly interesting person. Alice Sheldon was born to parents who took her game-hunting in Africa three times when she was a child/ya. She debuted in Chicago society and married an F. Scott Fitzgerald wannabe. After that rather short marriage she went into the military and intelligence work. And in her forties she began writing science fiction under the pen name of James Tiptree, Jr. As Phillips points out in this fascinating biography, she gave the science fiction...more
While reading James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, I couldn't help but wonder if it will be possible to write such a well-supported, detailed biography of any of our contemporary authors fifty years from now. Throughout her life - decades before she began publishing as James Tiptree, Jr. - Alice Sheldon was an avid correspondent. She wrote to family, friends, politicians, newspapers and authors. The amazing thing is that she routinely kept copies of many of these letters. Als...more
I don't read a lot of biographies, but this is one of the finest I have ever read. I had read some of Tiptree's stories as a teenager, and I knew that he was actually a woman, but I assumed that it was a case like Andre Norton or George Eliot, a woman publishing under a man's name. The complexity of Alli's relationship with her alter-ego Tiptree, and of Tiptree's relationships with others, was compelling.
The book asks many fascinating questions about gender and identity and self (taken as three...more
Sheldon/Tiptree was a fascinating woman, both in her personal life and her career. This biography is equally fascinating. I spent much of the time wondering how Sheldon would have approached sf and her mental health nowadays, and wondering what she would think of the field (and the award named after her as Tiptree) as it stand right now.
Miquel Codony
Comparto aquí la reseña que he escrito para El Fantascopio y La Biblioteca de Ilium:

portada bioEn el momento de escribir estas líneas, a 19 de mayo de 2014, si me preguntan cual es el mejor libro que he leído durante el año no me cabe duda alguna de la respuesta: James Tiptree Jr., the Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, de Julie Phillips. En este libro, ganador del Premio Nacional de la Crítica de los EE.UU. de 2006 en la categoría de biografía, Phillips explica la vida de una de las figuras más enigmáticas

Jun 01, 2009 Iris rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of sci or fi or sci-fi, biography readers, writers, job hunters
Shelves: biography
In the spring of 1967, Alice Sheldon left behind her work as a research scientist, Pentagon officer and poultry farmer. She became a prominent science fiction writer under the faintly ridiculous alias James Tiptree, Jr. (Check out Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.) When writing in the persona of the 60-something fishing enthusiast James Tiptree, Alice's ideas about sex, society, belief and value wove in and out of her fiction and correspondence.

The biography is a page-turner, with Julie Phillips matchi...more
I really loved this book. Julie Phillips thoroughly retells the life of Alice Sheldon, AKA James Tiptree Jr. And what a life! Childhood adventures in Africa, joining the military during WWII, becoming a CIA agent, taking on a male alias and writing phenomenal science fiction, and establishing friendships with some of the worlds most prolific science fiction authors all by letters written under her male pseudonym... Alice was truly an amazing human. She shattered peoples views of female authors i...more
This is an excellent biography of a fascinating, difficult figure. It left me with a lot of complicated thoughts about Sheldon and her life, as well as deep sadness -- she seems to have been one of those people who always had to do things the hard way.

I have a lot of respect for her mind and for her fiction, and I can understand why she has been adopted as a poster child for discussions of gender and SF. But I wish Phillips had discussed the troubling and complicated circumstances of Sheldon's d...more
James Tiptree Jr. was a science-fiction author who became popular in the 1960's and 1970's. Tiptree wrote complex and jarring fiction, somehow managing to bring chaos to life, sympathy to monsters, and heroes to their own self-destruction. Tiptree is also a woman, masquerading under a pseudonym. Her name is Alice Sheldon, and this book is the story of her life.
First of all, this woman's life was CRAZY. She is the daughter of big-game hunters, who take her to Africa when she is really young to s...more
It is very hard, when reviewing a biography, to separate liking for the book (as a book) and liking for its subject. In this case, I liked Sheldon less than I expected to -- the section of the book when she is working for the CIA and then working towards her Ph.D I read very slowly, as I kept getting annoyed with her. Much though she struggled with her gender, her sexuality, her relationship with her parents, she remained the product of privilege, and she never seemed to see that.

But the biograp...more
Bryn Hammond
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. T...more
I had been lusting after James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon for awhile, and in 'celebration' of my decision to read more women's biographies decided to finally grab a copy. I know, so counter-intuitive, you would think I would have done so after actually having read a few but I find all sorts of excuses to buy books....

So... onto this book in which all lavish adjectives of praise fall short. I picked it up the day it arrived to read "a page or two" and never put it down. From...more
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]This is surely a model of how to write a biography. Although her subject died in 1987, Julie Phillips has been through all her private papers, done the necessary bureaucratic sleuthing through her career, dug into her parents' background, interviewed the elderly first husband and many other relatives and friends, reflected on the wider social and literary currents of the time illustrated by the main narrative, and supported it all with extens...more
Bart Everson
If you go to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, you can see a huge gorilla beating its breast. It's stuffed of course. It was shot on Mount Karisimbi in the Belgian Congo in November of 1921.

Alice B. Sheldon was on that expedition. She was six years old at the time. In fact she was the first white child many people in the Congo had ever seen.

This was just one of many extraordinary experiences in the life of Alice Sheldon. Besides exploring Africa, she was a debutante, a chicken...more
Randolph Carter
Julie Phillips has done a great service in writing this exhaustive biography of Alice B. Sheldon. Starting from before conception to her untimely suicide in 1987, Phillips explores Sheldon's remarkable life from African explorer, to WAC, to CIA photo analyst, to psychology PhD, to science fiction author (under 3 different names!), to suburban housewife, to feminist. She explores not only Sheldon's life but her stories and novels in detail, elucidating the themes that enlivened her writing.

Joell Smith-Borne
Stayed up past one am to finish this last night; I have probably actually finished other biographies, but this is the time I've ever had trouble putting one down. Allie Sheldon's life as told here is an incredibly compelling story. I'm going to go back and reread as much of her fiction as I can get my hands on now. Even if you don't particularly enjoy biographies, or nonfiction in general, you won't have any trouble with this book.
After reading everything I could get my hands on by Tiptree/Sheldon, I was waiting to get this book as soon as it was due out. It's a brilliant biography and I've just read it a second time.

I love this Alice Sheldon quote (from Tommy's review):

'Somewhere in the back of my mind there is a female wolf who howls, and a gross-bodied workman who moves things and sweats, and a thin rat-jawed person who is afraid and snaps, and a practical woman, and one of those monkeys with big haunted eyes gazing a...more
Joell Smith-Borne
Loved this book. I almost never find reading nonfiction fun and easy, but this book really was. I actually had trouble putting it down.
A fascinating look at a fascinating (and very conflicted) woman. I'm only discovering her and her fiction this year (thank you to TJ and her Women of SF 2011 Book Club) and I'm glad I haven't missed out on James Tiptree Jr or alice B. Sheldon.
Fascinating story of an interesting, if troubled, person. I first encountered Tiptree's work shortly after the Big Reveal so I knew "he" was a woman pretty much from the get-go, but this book made it easy to understand how surprised -- even shocked -- people must have been (particularly the ones "he" had been corresponding with!). Sheldon's family background is given in some detail; her mother Mary Bradley, intrepid African explorer/travel writer/novelist, is almost as interesting as Sheldon her...more
I started reading Tiptree in the late 1970s, and I knew from the start “he” was a woman as his real identity had been revealed a couple of years earlier. Over the years, I’ve sort of picked up bits and pieces of Tiptree’s “biography” – a woman who worked for the CIA, and used her work skills to create the fake identity James Tiptree, Jr. Why she went to so much trouble for what is pretty much a pseudonym, well, I never really thought about that. But I rated her short stories – especially ‘And I...more
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