From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Journalist Phillips has achieved a wonder: an evenhanded, scrupulously documented, objective yet sympathetic portrait of a deliberately elusive personality: Alice Sheldon (1915–1987), who adopted the persona of science fiction writer James Tiptree Jr. Working from Sheldon's (and Tiptree's) few interviews; Sheldon's professional papers, many unpublished; and the papers of Sheldon's writer-explorer-socialite mother, Phillips has crafted an absorbing mélange of several disparate lives besides Sheldon's, each impacting hers like a deadly off-course asteroid. From Sheldon's sad poor-little-rich-girlhood to her sadder suicide (by a prior pact first shooting her blind and bedridden husband), Sheldon, perpetually wishing she'd been born a boy, made what she called "endless makeshift" attempts to express her tormenting creativity as, among others, a debutante, a flamboyant bohemian, a WAC officer, a CIA photoanalyst, and a research scientist before producing Tiptree's "haunting, subversive, many-layered [science] fiction" at 51. Sheldon masked her authorship until 1976, and afterward produced little fiction, feeling that a woman writing as a man could not be convincing. Through all the ironic sorrows of a life Sheldon wished she hadn't had to live as a woman, Phillips steadfastly and elegantly allows one star, bright as the Sirius Sheldon loved, to gleam. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Aug.)
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Julie Phillips, a journalist, took a decade to complete James Tiptree, Jr., her first book. Drawing on Alice Sheldon's voluminous papers and more than 40 existing interviews with the author, Phillips ably handles the contradictions of Sheldon's personae, negotiating with uncommon grace and confidence the complexities of a woman best known as a man. Although Sheldon's readers may already know the story behind her strange life, Phillips keeps the material fresh. James Tiptree, Jr. will find fans even among those who have never read science fiction. The quality of the writing and Phillips's insights are apparent from the single criticismthat the biographer may have delved too deeply into Sheldon's life.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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