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Book Review: James Tiptree Jr, The Double life of Alice B Sheldon

August 20, 2009

Julie Phillips has written a wonderful book about the not very long, unusual life of Alice Sheldon. Alice, wrote science fiction under the pen name James Tiptree Jr for a period of not quite ten years. She did not just write sf using the Tiptree name, using the name to write to other science fiction authors and fans. Out of the letter writing she created an image of a older man, possibly a CIA operative who traveled the world. Never really saying much about her own life, married with no children, quietly living in McLean Virginia.

It was not until the death of her mother, travel writer Mary Hastings Bradley that Alice was discovered to be Tiptree. Mary was also a famous writer, best known for her travel writing, and her stories from taking Alice with her on safari’s to Africa.

This book is far more wonderful than my poor skills as a review can give credit to. Phillips goes back to Alice’s childhood, mentioning her trips to Africa as a five year old, and the books that came from it.

Much of the book quotes her journal, and the many letters she wrote to people through out her life. Letters she wrote both as Alice, as Tiptree and her other pseudonym Raccoona Sheldon. Many times Alice would use the Tiptree pseudonym to recommend editors purchase stories written by Raccoona. Going so far as to get post office boxes for each ‘person’

Alice ended her life, and the life of her husband during a massive depression in May of 1987 when she shoot her husband while he slept, then herself.

James Tiptree Jr This amazing book is a wonderful read, indeed a must read for people who enjoy her writing. Her life was one of amazing highs and lows, a more complex life than I understood. Alice worked for the CIA, became a research psychologist, and never really felt she had reach the level she could have.

I read Tiptree when she was first writing, but never got ‘into’ her. I wish I could go back in time, and read her again, not my 50 year old self, but the 20 year old I was back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Oh yes, I said 50! I turn 50 on Sunday. Lets party —

Next books on my to read list

Finding Oz How Frank L.Baum Discovered the Great American Story

Amazing transforming Super hero

And something on Star Trek, maybe just a list of all the Star Trek books I have. But that will come after I turn 50.

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