Friday, September 14, 2007

Author profile: James Tiptree, Jr.

Note: In the Readerville forum, I've written a few profiles of science fiction authors, some of which might also be of interest to others. Once in a while I'll post one of them here.

James Tiptee Jr. (1915 - 1987)

Tiptree is the man to beat this year.
Wilhelm is the woman to beat, but Tiptee is the man.


Thus wrote Harlan Ellison in his introduction to the story "The Milk of Paradise" in Again, Dangerous Visions (1972). Little did he know that Tiptree was a pseudonym for the psychologist Alice Hastings Bradley Sheldon. Her identity was kept a secret until 1977, when it was exposed because of some remarks Tiptree made; she referred to the death of her mother with enough details for people to figure out who her mother was.

Alice Sheldon was the daughter of Mary Hastings Bradley, who was a well known geographer and author of 35 books. She was born in Chicago, but spend much of her childhood in India and Africa. She worked in the US Government for many years, including some time at Pentagon and the CIA, which she left in 1955 for college, acquiring a PhD in experimental psychology in 1967.

Under her real name, she published a non-sf story, "The Lucky Ones", in The New Yorker in 1946, but her first story as James Tiptree Jr., "Birth of a Salesman", was published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1968.
Her best writing occured between 1979 and 1977 though, and short story collections covering that time frame are probably well worth getting (not that I've gotten around to getting any such yet). Especially of note are the stories "The Women Men Don't See " (1973), "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" (1973, Hugo winner), and "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" (1977, Nebula and, shared, Hugo winner).

The Life of Alice Sheldon had a sad ending. She had married Huntington Sheldon in 1945, and in the 1980s he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. In 1987 Alice Sheldon first shot her husband, and then killed herself.

Sources:
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by John Grant & Peter Nicholls
Again, Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison.

Since I originally wrote this short profile of James Tiptree Jr., a biography of her has been published. Julie Phillips' James Tiptree, Jr. - The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon describes the life of the subject from a somewhat feminist viewpoint, and quite deservedly won a Hugo this year. I highly recommend it.

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