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

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,040 Ratings  ·  204 Reviews
James Tiptree, Jr. burst onto the science fiction scene in the 1970s with a series of hard-edged, provocative short stories. Hailed as a brilliant masculine writer with a deep sympathy for his female characters, 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 Gu
Hardcover, 469 pages
Published August 8th 2006 by St. Martin's Press (first published 2006)
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Manuel Antão
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

"What I do with emotion is not, strictly, to ‘bottle it up.’ I parcel it out. I make it drive me in work; I try to use it to understand the world; I occasionally try to form or express little bits in objective writing or drawing; I try to stay out of situations which encourage it; I take it out in physical exertion – and what still can’t be handled I do ‘bottle up’ and sit on. What else can one do? […]”

Alice Sheldon in “James Tiptree,
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
Feb 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan Priddy
Sep 12, 2017 rated it liked it
I had mixed feelings about this bio. This is both because of the writing by Philips and because of the subject. I was very sorry to learn Phillips is the official biographer of Ursula K. Le Guin.

According to this biographer, Alice Sheldon struggled with personal issues concerning her future, her depression, her grief caring for her mother, and her need to contribute meaningfully to the world. I can relate to that, but I never cared much for Tiptree's writing and discovering that he was a she ba
Bryan Alexander
Jul 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: feminism, gender, sf
"those 8 years in sf was the first time I could be really real"
-Alice B. Sheldon (367)

This is a powerful, vital biography of one of modern sf's greatest writers. It sheds light on an unusual life and career, while illuminating science fiction genre history _and_ connecting with major issues of our time around gender, identity, and science.

I read Tiptree/Sheldon's stories and novels during the last decade of her life and following years. As a teenager they awed and confused me. As a college stud
Aug 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
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
Apr 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
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
Jan 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, gender, writing
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
Corinna Bechko
I was convinced to read this biography after a friend told me it was a "real page turner." That is a perfect description, and one that I can't honestly apply to too many other biographies. I had been blown away by Her Smoke Rose Up Forever but knew very little about Tiptree/Sheldon previous to this. What a fascinating life! Such a troubled person, but also smart and talented, not to mention uncompromising. Julie Phillips handles everything with compassion and understanding, and I very much appre ...more
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
For a biography of a completely unknown figure to me, it read like a novel - complex and insightful - and, just as important, created in me an interest to know more. I started alternating the biography with the short stories being referenced, and loved them.
Dec 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Read Tiptree's Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, then read this biography. Especially if you are driven by rage at gender violence, your paradoxical embodied existence, and are a feminist type of sf fan. My 'review' here is comprised of quotes from the book and some related thoughts from other places.

From a long tumblr thread about Spock, involving Tiptree, who developed a raging crush on him:

My original ref to Tiptree in this thread is indeed from Julie Philips’ biography on her. I picked it up after
Keith Bowden
Jul 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
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
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
Aug 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Lisa Feld
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: boston
Normally, I read biographies slowly, a few pages or a chapter at most per day. I inhaled this one in three days. I thought I knew Tiptree's story: the award-winning author turned out to be a woman, Alice Sheldon, but after she was unmasked she found herself too inhibited to continue writing as herself, and finally committed suicide. All of that is true, but the full story is more complicated and more interesting than I could have guessed.

I'm hugely admiring of Phillips for what she's accomplishe
Jul 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
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
Jan 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Easily the best biography I've read. Phillips has done a meticulous job assembling the details of Alli's life, but the real star here is Alli herself--and Phillips knows when to stand back and let her voice shine through. When I get my hands on a paper copy, there will be quotes. Alli's life history is fascinating (she lived a bewildering number of almost entirely separate lives), but even more than that I was taken by her philosophic insight into the nature of human interaction and the search f ...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
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What an excellent biography of James Tiptree fot there to ever be. It's hard not to gush about this to much, but it's a really good read. If you're interested in the life of a writer, go read this now. If you're interested in the life of feminist writer, go read this now. Interested in science fiction or feminist science fiction, go read this. My dad liked this, too.

So I reread this in May 2016 for discussion in Riverside. And it's my feeling and comment that some of the other readers DID NOT GE
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2012
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.
Jan 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011, 8, library, non-fiction
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.
Miquel Codony
Feb 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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

Dieses Biographie der Alice B. Sheldon (oder Allie, wie sie am liebsten genannt werden wollte) ist eine der wenigen Biographien von SF-Autoren, in diesem Falle hat das aber keine Relevanz, denn das Leben dieser Autorin ist am Ende so reich an Erlebnissen und Erfahrungen, dass man dieses Buch ohnehin hätte schreiben müssen.
Das Leben der 1915 als Alice Harding Bradley war nämlich von Beginn an so ereignisreich, dass man am Ende von Phillips Biografie fast nicht glauben mag, dass es zwischen zwei B
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
Jan 10, 2010 rated it liked it
I first encountered James Tiptree's "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" when I was maybe 19 years old, and it blew my mind. I have always had a tendency to do what is now described as "binge-read", and am the child of bibliophiles, so I went on a mad quest to find and devour all of her work. All of this was in collected format, reading in the 80s and 90s, and the Raccoona Sheldon works were mixed in (and I did not notice a striking difference between them). I say this preamble to note my appreciati ...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
Jan 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: octavia-sf
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
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“I like some men a lot, but from the start, before I knew anything, it was always girls and women who lit me up.” 2 likes
“I find, in all the writings of women, a strange muffled quality, as if the living word, as it left the lips, had been hastily suppressed and another substituted, one which would conform to some pattern imposed from without. […] I am trying, from the living urge of my own life, to force open channels of communication so far mostly closed. […] To press out naked into the dark spaces of life is perhaps to build a small part of the path along which others like myself wish to travel.” 1 likes
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