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

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  1,141 ratings  ·  218 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
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Hardcover, 469 pages
Published August 8th 2006 by St. Martin's Press
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Average rating 4.25  · 
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 ·  1,141 ratings  ·  218 reviews


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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
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,
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Meagan ✊🏼 Blacklivesmatter ✊🏼Blacktranslivesmatter
#1 out 12 for my non fiction goal for the year

This was my non-fiction read for January

I liked it but could have been shorter and more focused. Too much information on what the people in Tiptree's life (her mother, U.K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ) were doing, thinking, feeling. Like "I don't care can we get back to Tiptree please". It was too repetitive sometimes. I skipped like 4 chapters. However, I loved reading about Tiptree (She is literally one of my faves!) and getting a deeper understanding of
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Bradley
Nov 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This biography of Alice Sheldon is brilliant. Brilliant, but sobering.

I didn't imagine there would be such depth and investigation going into Alice's life, but not only do we get the character of it, but we get the whole glorious, convoluted, conflicted joy, sadness, and understanding of this person.

I mean, sure, the later-life effects of her writing under the well-respected pseudonym of Tiptree and her increasingly difficult dodges she had to perform to keep her secret from all of fandom and t
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Jessica
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
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Rick
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
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 Ariadne Oliver
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this biography. Alice B. Sheldon is probably best known for the science fiction she published, mostly under the name of James Tiptree Jr. Apparently it caused quite a stir when it came out that a woman had written these stories. But even before that, she had a fascinating life: She was a member of several expeditions to Africa as a child, was part of the military during world war II, worked for the CIA for a while, got a doctorate in psychology, was married twice, but also attra ...more
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
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Nancy Oakes
Apr 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
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
Sarah
Jan 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing, gender, biography
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
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Rebecca
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
Brittany
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.
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
KJ
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.
M.
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
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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
Nicholas Whyte
http://nhw.livejournal.com/816992.html[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
Phoenixfalls
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
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Jlawrence
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
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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
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Nick
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
Martha
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
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
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ambyr
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
Allan
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
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Alexa
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fab-13
This was so much more than simply the story of a science fiction writer who chose to write under a male pseudonym. It was a fascinating exploration of the interweaving strands of what it meant to be female in the 20th century, even for a woman who wasn’t at all sure she wanted to be one. Phillips’ research appears to have been meticulous; she does an amazingly rich job of presenting Tiptree, and left me weeping for her.
Stephanie
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.
Kerry
Jan 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, 8, non-fiction, 2011
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.
Erin
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
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