James Tiptree, Jr.

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Alice B. Sheldon
Tiptree 585x491.jpg
Born Alice Hastings Bradley
August 24, 1915 (1915-08-24)
Chicago, Illinois, US
Died May 19, 1987 (1987-05-20) (age 71)
McLean, Virginia, US
Pen name James Tiptree, Jr.
Raccoona Sheldon
Occupation Artist, intelligence analyst, research psychologist, writer
Nationality American
Education

BA, American University

PhD, George Washington U.
Period 1968–1988 (new fiction)[1]
Genres Science fiction
Spouse(s) William Davey (1934–1941)
Huntington D. Sheldon (1945–1987, their deaths)
Relative(s) Mary Hastings Bradley (mother)
Herbert Edwin Bradley (father)

Alice Bradley Sheldon (August 24, 1915 – May 19, 1987) was an American science fiction author better known as James Tiptree, Jr., a pen name she used from 1967 to her death. She also wrote occasionally as Raccoona Sheldon (1974–77). She was most notable for breaking down the barriers between writing perceived as inherently "male" or "female" — it was not publicly known until 1977 that James Tiptree, Jr. was a woman.

Tiptree was inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012.[2]

Early life[edit]

Alice Sheldon with the Kikuyu people, 1920s

Bradley came from a family in the intellectual enclave of Hyde Park, a university neighborhood in Chicago.[3] Her father was Herbert Bradley, a lawyer and naturalist, and her mother was Mary Hastings Bradley, a prolific writer of fiction and travel books. She travelled the world with her parents from an early age. In 1921–22, the Bradleys made their first trip to central Africa, which later contributed to Sheldon’s short story, "The Women Men Don't See". She was a graphic artist and a painter, and — under the name "Alice Bradley Davey"[4] — an art critic for the Chicago Sun between 1941 and 1942. She met and married William Davey, her first husband, at age 19 because she felt it was her duty as a daughter. They were married from 1934 until 1941.

In 1942 she joined the United States Army Air Forces and worked in the Army Air Forces photo-intelligence group. She later was promoted to major, a high rank for women. In the army, she "felt she was among free women for the first time." In 1945 she married her second husband, Huntington D Sheldon, at the close of the war on her assignment in Paris. She was discharged from the military in 1946, at which time she set up a small business in partnership with her husband. The same year her first story ("The Lucky Ones") was published in the November 16, 1946 issue of The New Yorker, and credited to "Alice Bradley" in the magazine itself, but to "Alice Bradley Sheldon" in the magazine's DVD[disambiguation needed] index. In 1952 she and her husband were invited to join the CIA. She resigned in 1955 to return to college.

She studied for her Bachelor of Arts degree at American University (1957–59), going on to achieve a doctorate at George Washington University in Experimental Psychology in 1967. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on the responses of animals to novel stimuli in differing environments. She submitted a few science fiction stories under the name James Tiptree Jr. to protect her academic reputation.[5]

Sheldon had a complex sexual orientation, which she described in different terms over the years. "I like some men a lot, but from the start, before I knew anything, it was always girls and women who lit me up." [6][7]

Science fiction career[edit]

Unsure what to do with her new degrees and her new/old careers, Sheldon began to write science fiction. She adopted the pseudonym of James Tiptree Jr. in 1967. The name "Tiptree" came from a branded jar of marmalade, and the "Jr." was her husband's idea. In an interview, she said: "A male name seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I've had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation."[8] Her first published short story was "Birth of a Salesman" in the March 1968 issue of Analog Science Fiction, edited by John W. Campbell. Three more followed that year in If and Fantastic.[1]

The pseudonym was successfully maintained until the late 1970s, partly because, although "Tiptree" was widely known to be a pseudonym, it was generally understood that its use was intended to protect the professional reputation of an intelligence community official. Readers, editors and correspondents were permitted to assume gender, and generally, but not invariably, they assumed "male". There was speculation, based partially on the themes in her stories, that Tiptree might be female[by whom?].

"Tiptree" never made any public appearances, but she did correspond regularly with fans and other science fiction authors through the mail. When asked for biographical details, Tiptree/Sheldon was forthcoming in everything but gender. Many of the details given above (the Air Force career, the Ph.D.) were mentioned in letters "Tiptree" wrote, and also appeared in official author biographies[citation needed].

After the death of Mary Hastings Bradley in 1976, "Tiptree" mentioned in a letter that his mother, also a writer, had died in Chicago — details that led inquiring fans to find the obituary, with its reference to Alice Sheldon; soon all was revealed. Several prominent science fiction writers suffered some embarrassment. Robert Silverberg had written an introduction to Warm Worlds and Otherwise arguing, from the evidence of stories in that collection, that Tiptree could not possibly be a woman. Harlan Ellison had introduced Tiptree's story in the anthology Again, Dangerous Visions with the opinion that "[Kate] Wilhelm is the woman to beat this year, but Tiptree is the man." Silverberg's article in particular, by taking one side, makes it clear that the gender of Tiptree was a topic of some debate.

Only then did she complete her first full-length novel, Up the Walls of the World (Berkley Books, 1978), which was a Doubleday Science Fiction Book Club selection.[1] Before that she worked on and built a reputation only in the field of short stories.

Works[edit]

Tiptree/Sheldon was an eclectic writer who worked in a variety of styles and subgenres, often combining the technological focus and hard-edged style of "hard" science fiction with the sociological and psychological concerns of "soft" SF, and some of the stylistic experimentation of the New Wave movement.

After writing several stories in more conventional modes, she produced her first work to draw widespread acclaim, "The Last Flight of Doctor Ain", in 1969. One of her shortest stories, "Ain" is a sympathetic portrait of a scientist whose concern for Earth's ecological suffering leads him to destroy the entire human race.

Many of her stories have a milieu reminiscent of the space opera and pulp tales she read in her youth, but typically with a much darker tone: the cosmic journeys of her characters are often linked to a drastic spiritual alienation, and/or a transcendent experience which brings fulfillment but also death. John Clute, noting Tiptree's "inconsolable complexities of vision", concluded that "It is very rarely that a James Tiptree story does not both deal directly with death and end with a death of the spirit, or of all hope, or of the race". Notable stories of this type include "Painwise", in which a space explorer has been altered to be immune to pain but finds such an existence intolerable, and "A Momentary Taste of Being", in which the true purpose of humanity, found on a distant planet, renders individual human life entirely pointless.

Another major theme is the tension between free will and biological determinism, or reason and sexual desire. "Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death", one of the rare SF stories in which no humans appear, describes an alien creature's romantic rationalizations for the brutal instincts that drive its life cycle. "The Screwfly Solution" suggests that humans might similarly rationalize a plague of murderous sexual insanity. Sex in Tiptree's writing is frankly portrayed, a sometimes playful but more often threatening force.

Before the revelation of Sheldon's identity, Tiptree was often referred to as an unusually macho male (see, e.g., Robert Silverberg's commentaries) as well as an unusually feminist science fiction writer (for a male) — particularly for "The Women Men Don't See", a story of two women who go looking for aliens to escape from male-dominated society on Earth. However, Sheldon's view of sexual politics could be ambiguous, as in the ending of "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?", where a society of female clones must deal with three time-traveling male astronauts.

One of the themes prevalent throughout most of Sheldon’s work is feminism. In "The Women Men Don’t See" Sheldon gives a feminist story a unique spin by making the narrator, Don Fenton, a male. Fenton judges the Parsons based on their attractiveness and is agitated when they do not "fulfil stereotypical female roles", according to Anne Cranny-Francis.[9] In addition, Fenton's inability to understand both the plight of woman and Ruth Parson's feelings of alienation further illustrate the differences of men and women in society. The theme of feminism is emphasized by "the feminist ideology espoused by Ruth Parsons and the contrasting sexism of Fenton".[9] The title of the short story itself reflects the idea that women are invisible during Sheldon’s time. As Francis states, "‘The Women Men Don’t See’ is an outstanding example ... of the subversive use of genre fiction to produce an unconventional discursive position, the feminist subject".[9]

Sheldon's two novels, produced toward the end of her career, were not as critically well-received as her best-known stories but continued to explore similar themes. Some of her best-regarded work can be found in the collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, available in paperback through Tachyon Publications as of 2004.

Death[edit]

Sheldon continued writing under the Tiptree pen name for another decade. On May 19, 1987, at age 71, Sheldon took the life of her 84-year-old, nearly-blind husband and then took her own. They were found dead, hand-in-hand in bed, in their Virginia home.[7] According to biographer Julie Phillips, the suicide note Sheldon left was written years earlier, and saved until needed. In an interview with Charles Platt in the early 1980s Sheldon spoke of her emotional problems and previous suicide attempts. Much of her work contains dark and pessimistic elements, which in retrospect can be seen as reflective of her troubled emotions.[10]

The James Tiptree, Jr. Award is given in her honor each year for a work of science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender. The award-winning science fiction authors Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy created the award in February 1991. Novels such as "Half Life" by Shelley Jackson and "Light" by M. John Harrison have received the award.

Quotes about James Tiptree, Jr[edit]

  • "James Tiptree's surface was often airy and at times hilarious, and her control of genre conventions allowed her to convey the bleakness of her abiding insights in tales that remain seductively readable; but she was, in the end, incapable of dissimulation." — from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, by John Clute and Peter Nicholls
  • "Sheldon was simply one of the best short-story writers of our day. ... She has already had an enormous impact on upcoming generations of SF writers. Her footprints are all over cyberpunk turf ..." — Gardner Dozois, in Locus magazine, 1987
  • "Her stories and novels are humanistic, while her deep concern for male-female (even human-alien) harmony ran counter to the developing segregate-the-sexes drive amongst feminist writers; What her work brought to the genre was a blend of lyricism and inventiveness, as if some lyric poet had rewritten a number of clever SF standards and then passed them on to a psychoanalyst for final polish." — Brian Aldiss, Trillion Year Spree
  • "'Tip' was a crucial part of modern SF's maturing process ... 'He' ... wrote powerful fiction challenging readers' assumptions about everything, especially sex and gender." — Suzy McKee Charnas, The Women's Review of Books
  • "[Tiptree's work is] proof of what she said, that men and women can and do speak both to and for one another, if they have bothered to learn how." — Ursula K. Le Guin, Khatru
  • "It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing." — Robert Silverberg, "Who Is Tiptree, What Is He?"[11]

Works[edit]

Short story collections[edit]

Stories[edit]

The abbreviation(s) after each title indicate its appearance in one or more of the following collections:

Collection title Year of publication Abbreviation
Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home 1973 LYFH
Warm Worlds and Otherwise 1975 WWO
Star Songs of an Old Primate 1978 SSOP
Out of the Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions 1981 OE
Byte Beautiful: Eight Science Fiction Stories 1985 BB
Tales of the Quintana Roo (linked stories) 1986 QR
The Starry Rift (linked stories) 1986 SR
Crown of Stars 1988 CS
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (omnibus collection) 1990 SRU
Meet Me at Infinity (fiction, essays & other non-fiction) 2000 MM
  • 1968
    • 'The Mother Ship' (later retitled 'Mamma Come Home') (novelette) — LYFH
    • 'Pupa Knows Best' (later retitled 'Help') (novelette) — LYFH
    • 'Birth of a Salesman' (short story) — LYFH
    • 'Fault' (short story) — WWO
    • 'Happiness is a Warm Spaceship' (short story) — MM
    • 'Please Don’t Play With the Time Machine' (very short story) — MM
    • 'A Day Like Any Other' (very short story) — MM
  • 1969
    • 'Beam Us Home' (short story) — LYFH, BB
    • 'The Last Flight of Doctor Ain' (short story) — WWO, SRU
    • 'Your Haploid Heart' (novelette) — SSOP
    • 'The Snows Are Melted, The Snows Are Gone' (novelette) — LYFH
    • 'Parimutuel Planet' (later retitled 'Faithful to Thee, Terra, in Our Fashion') (novelette) — LYFH
  • 1970
    • 'The Man Doors Said Hello To' (short story) — LYFH
    • 'I’m Too Big But I Love to Play' (novelette) — LYFH
    • 'The Nightblooming Saurian' (short story) — WWO
    • 'Last Night and Every Night' (short story) — CS
  • 1971
    • 'The Peacefulness of Vivyan' (short story) — LYFH, BB
    • 'I’ll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool Is Empty' (short story) — LYFH, BB
    • 'And So On, And So On' (short story) — SSOP, SRU
    • 'Mother in the Sky with Diamonds' (novelette) — LYFH
  • 1972
    • 'The Man Who Walked Home' (short story) — LYFH, BB, SRU
    • 'And I Have Come Upon This Place by Lost Ways' (novelette) — WWO, SRU
    • 'And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side' (short story) — LYFH, SRU
    • 'On the Last Afternoon' (novella) — WWO, SRU
    • 'Painwise' (novelette) — LYFH
    • 'Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket' (short story) — LYFH
    • 'Filomena & Greg & Rikki-Tikki & Barlow & the Alien' (later retitled 'All the Kinds of Yes') (novelette) — WWO
    • 'The Milk of Paradise' (short story) — WWO
    • 'Amberjack' (short story) — WWO
    • 'Through a Lass Darkly' (short story) — WWO
    • 'The Trouble Is Not In Your Set' (short story) — MM (previously unpublished)
    • 'Press Until the Bleeding Stops' (short story) — MM
  • 1973
  • 1974
    • 'Her Smoke Rose Up Forever' (novelette) — SSOP, SRU
    • 'Angel Fix' (novelette, under the name 'Raccoona Sheldon') — OE
  • 1975
  • 1976
    • 'Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!' (short story, under the name Raccoona Sheldon) — OE, BB, SRU
    • 'Beaver Tears' (short story, under the name Raccoona Sheldon) — OE
    • 'She Waits for All Men Born' (short story) — SSOP, SRU
    • 'Houston, Houston, Do You Read?' (novella) — SSOP, SRU
    • 'The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats' (novelette) — SSOP
  • 1977
    • 'The Screwfly Solution' (novelette, under the name Raccoona Sheldon) — OE, SRU
    • 'Time-Sharing Angel' (short story) — OE
  • 1978
  • 1980
    • 'Slow Music' (novella) — OE, SRU
    • 'A Source of Innocent Merriment' (short story) — OE
  • 1981
    • 'Excursion Fare' (novelette) — BB
    • 'Lirios: A Tale of the Quintana Roo' (later retitled 'What Came Ashore at Lirios') (novelette) — QR
    • 'Out of the Everywhere' (novelette) — OE
    • 'With Delicate Mad Hands' (novella) — OE, BB, SRU
  • 1982
    • 'The Boy Who Waterskied to Forever' (short story) — QR
  • 1983
    • 'Beyond the Dead Reef' (novelette) — QR
  • 1985
    • 'Morality Meat' (novelette, under the name Racoona Sheldon) — CS
    • 'The Only Neat Thing to Do' (novella) — SR
    • 'All This and Heaven Too' (novelette) — CS
    • 'Trey of Hearts' (short story) — MM (previously unpublished)
  • 1986
    • 'Our Resident Djinn' (short story) — CS
    • 'In the Great Central Library of Deneb University' (short story) — SR
    • 'Good Night, Sweethearts' (novella) — SR
    • 'Collision' (novella) — SR
    • 'The Color of Neanderthal Eyes' (novella) — MM
  • 1987
    • 'Second Going' (novelette) — CS
    • 'Yanqui Doodle' (novelette) — CS
    • 'In Midst of Life' (novelette) — CS
  • 1988
    • 'Come Live with Me' (novelette) — CS
    • 'Backward, Turn Backward' (novella) — CS
    • 'The Earth Doth Like a Snake Renew' (novellette) — CS [written in 1973]

Novels[edit]

Other collections[edit]

  • Neat Sheets: The Poetry of James Tiptree, Jr. (Tachyon Publications, 1996)
  • Meet Me at Infinity (a collection of previously uncollected and unpublished fiction, essays and other non-fiction, with much biographical information, edited by Tiptree's friend Jeffrey D. Smith) (2000)

Adaptations[edit]

Awards and honors[edit]

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted Tiptree in 2012.[2] She also won several annual awards for particular works of fiction (typically the preceding calendar year's best):[14]

Japanese-language translations of her fiction also won two Hayakawa Awards and three Seiun Awards as the year's best under changing designations (foreign, overseas, translated). The awards are voted by magazine readers and annual convention participants respectively:[14]

  • Hayakawa's S-F Magazine Reader's Award, short fiction: 1993, "With Delicate Mad Hands" (1981); 1997, "Come Live with Me" (1988)
  • Seiun Award, short and long fiction: 1988, "The Only Neat Thing to Do" (1985); 2000, "Out of the Everywhere" (1981); 2008, Brightness Falls from the Air (1985)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c James Tiptree, Jr. at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2013-04-18. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  2. ^ a b "Science Fiction Hall of Fame: EMP Museum Announces the 2012 Science Fiction Hall of Fame Inductees". May/June 2012. EMP Museum (empmuseum.org). Archived 2012-07-22. Retrieved 2013-03-19.
  3. ^ Phillips 2006, pp. 11.
  4. ^ Phillips 2006, pp. 104.
  5. ^ Phillips, Julie. "Alice Bradley Sheldon, 1915–1987". James Tiptree Jr. :The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. October 23, 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-31.
  6. ^ Wolfe, Kathi (September 2, 2006). "She blinded me with science fiction". Houstonvoice.com. Houston Voice. Retrieved 2011-03-24. 
  7. ^ a b Shawl, Nisi (August 4, 2006). ""James Tiptree, Jr.": The amazing lives of writer Alice B. Sheldon". seattletimes.nwsource.com. The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2011-03-24. 
  8. ^ Profile in April 1983 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.
  9. ^ a b c Cranny-Francis, Anne. Feminist Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1990. pp. 30, 33, 38.
  10. ^ Elms 2000, pp. 131–140.
  11. ^ "James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon". Excerpt from the Philips biography. Macmillan US.
  12. ^ Gunnels, Jen (January 2012). "Xenophilia, based on the works of James Tiptree, Jr., and Connie Converse". The New York Review of Science Fiction (Pleasantville, NY: Dragon Press) 24 (5): pp. 1, 8–11. 
  13. ^ Roberts, Lauren (November 1, 2011). "Aerial Dance Theater Show Features Draper's Maia Ramnath". Draper Program. Retrieved 2012-08-12. 
  14. ^ a b "Tiptree, James, Jr.". The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
Citations

External links[edit]

Biographical references
Resources
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