Nick's Reviews > James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon

James Tiptree, Jr. by Julie Phillips
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Oct 12, 09

bookshelves: biography
Read in October, 2009

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 community what it was wanting at that time, a male feminist sci-fi writer. (Not everyone was wanting such a thing in the late 60's/early 70's: Phillips relates how both Playboy and Cosmopolitan turned down her story "The Women Men Don't See" yet it was snatched up by the first sci-fi editor who saw it.)

I've been reading on this book for a long time because every sentence is so chock full of information that you want to read slowly and savor it. It's such a thrill when Phillips gets to explaining the stories to relate their themes to the events and concerns of Sheldon's early life. And always there is the omnipresent "double life" that Sheldon creates. Her writing under a man's name does not so much become a feminist critique as it is a continuation of her constant search for identity; she feels she has to "become" different people (and different genders) in order to say different things. It's an admitted psychosis and one which troubled her all her life. But she became a writer of fascinating science fiction, and this biography does her justice.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Jon (new)

Jon Excellent review, Nick. I may need to add this book to my biography pile and read a few of her science fiction novels as well.


message 2: by Nick (last edited Oct 16, 2009 06:51AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nick Jon wrote: "Excellent review, Nick. I may need to add this book to my biography pile and read a few of her science fiction novels as well. "

Thanks for the encouraging comment, Jon. I read where you've decided to review every book you read here -- I'm not that diligent. But I do write a review every now and then mainly for myself. Still, it's good when others appreciate them.

Mutual admiration -- I have dipped into your list and enjoyed quite a few of your reviews also. I don't tend to read "sword and sorcery" stories, but I find your reviews refreshing.

Tip on Tiptree -- though she/he wrote two novels, the best stuff is his/her short stories. Some of the longer ones were published as separate entities I think. Houston, Houston, Do You Read? is a good example; certainly reading it would tell you if Tiptree was right for your tastes or not.


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