The Slow Unveiling of James Tiptree Jr.

Science Fiction publishing is full of strange characters, but there’s one story that seems to really capture people’s attention consistently: James Tiptree Jr., a brilliant figure who seemed to appear out of nowhere, earn a number of awards, and maintained a fairly elusive personality in science fiction circles. It wasn’t until a decade of writing that it was revealed that Tiptree wasn’t actually a guy: it was a woman named Alice Sheldon, with an utterly fascinating background: she had traveled the world, participated in the Second World War, worked for the CIA and had a PhD.

Sheldon proves to be an interesting figure, challenging a number of preconceptions for gender in science fiction (not just with her alter ego). What’s interesting about Sheldon is that she endured and wrote about a number of the same issues that we seem to face in science fiction right now: how are women represented in fiction and how are female authors treated differently than their male counterparts? Sheldon’s story is illuminating when it comes to this.

This post comes at a sort of weird time, as blogger Requires Hate was revealed as Benjanun Sriduangkaew: The revelation comes as one personality is drastically different from that of the other, and there’s been a lot of discussion around that topic. The Tiptree/Sheldon situation is vastly different, but it is interesting to see just how people use pen names. There’s a number of women who have resorted to the practice: C.L. Moore, Andre Norton and others, with each rationalizing their use differently. Moore, for example, was worried about her employer finding out and firing her (he wasn’t a fan of the pulp magazines). Sheldon wanted to compartmentalize her professional academic and writing lives. Others wanted to make sure that they were actually considered for publication – for good reason.

Go read The Slow Unveiling of James Tiptree Jr. over on Kirkus Reviews.

Sources:

  • Transformations: The Story of Science Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970, Mike Ashley: Ashley has a couple of insights into Tiptree’s early stories.
  • Gateways to Forever: The Story of Science-Fiction Magazines from 1970-1980. Ashley devotes more space to Tiptree in this volume.
  • Decoding Gender in Science Fiction, Brian Attebery. Tiptree pops up quite a bit in here, with some good analysis on his stories.
  • Science Fiction Writers, Second Edition, Richard Bleiler. There’s a pretty comprehensive biographical sketch of Tiptree in this book.
  • Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction 1926-1965, by Eric Leif Davin: This book is a detailed study of women in science fiction, but largely before Tiptree’s entry into the genre. However, Tiptree pops up quite a bit.
  • Reload: Rethinking Women + Cyberculture, edited by Mary Flanagan + Austin Booth.  This mixed fiction and critical theory anthology has one of Tiptree’s stories in it: The Girl Who Was Plugged In, which is a fantastic read.
  • Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy’s Greatest Science Fiction, Guy Haley. Alice Sheldon has a great entry in this neat book.
  • The Battle Of The Sexes in Science Fiction, Justine Larbalestier: Larbalestier looks at a number of Tiptree’s prominent stories.
  • Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, Justine Larbalestier. Larbalestier edits this volume, and it has one of Tiptree’s stories (And I Awoke and Found Me Here On The Cold Hillside), along with some analysis by Wendy Pearson.
  • Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, Larry McCaffery. Tiptree/Sheldon doesn’t have an interview in here, but there is a good interview with Joanna Russ, who provides some good contextual information.
  • James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, Julie Philips: This is the definitive biography of Sheldon and her personal. My post is a pale reflection of what’s in this book, and I highly recommend this detailed, interesting and outstanding biography.
  • The History of Science Fiction, Adam Roberts: Roberts devotes some good details about Tiptree’s place in the SF genre.
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