15 August 2006

James Tiptree, Jr.

One of my most prized books is The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3, edited by Terry Carr, published in 1974. It's a good collection all around, with three true classics: Harlan Ellison's “The Deathbird,” Ursula LeGuin's “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” and James Tiptree, Jr.'s “The Women Men Don't See.”

I bought it because I didn't have a copy of that last story in the house, and the book is now a prized posession because, to my surprise and delight, Terry Carr makes an interesting observation in his introduction to the story:

Like any branch of literature, science fiction reflects the trends of current thinking. Last year Joanna Russ won a Nebula Award for a feminist story called “When It Changed;” this year James Tiptree, Jr., offers a male viewpoint on the same subject. As you might expect, other than in the basic theme, there's very little similarity between the two stories.
I'm guessing that I have a few chukling readers, since “James Tiptree, Jr.” was the nom de plume of a woman named Alice Sheldon. Folks would discover the secret four years later, much to the embarassment of many people in the SF community who not only didn't notice, but had actually gone out of their way to praise Tiptree's “masculine” prose and themes.

I had read that Ms Sheldon had an interesting, extraordinary life. “The Women Men Don't See” features a couple of characters who are CIA spooks, and it was well known that Tiptree drew those characters from personal experience. There was something about being a brilliant polymath, going on safari as a child .... Sheldon was said to be like a living, breathing Heinlein character.

Legend, it turns out, is surpassed by the truth.

A new biography of Sheldon / Tiptree has just come out, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, revealing that Ms Sheldon would have merited a biography even were it not for her famous deception, even were it not for her famous writing.

The book has inspired a number of reviews floating around the web. Gary “Amygdala” Farber has some interesting background on the biography, plus a post chock full of Tiptree resources, most notably a link to John Clute's dazzling long review of the new bio, which is both a great read and likely to whet your appetite for more ... which you can find, in the form of two more good reviews of the bio for you, from Carter Scholz and Laura Miller.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Hey! Fabulous blog. Come to the reading from the Tiptree bio - Monday night - and say hi!