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James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon Paperback – June 12, 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
What makes this book so amazing? Firstly, the subject, Alice Sheldon, is fascinating. This is much more than a biography of a science fiction writer (although it is that too); it is a chronicle of a difficult and ultimately tragic life. It would be hard to read this book and not feel for Sheldon, who 'lived inside her body as though inside an alien artifact.' Sheldon's lack of comfort in her own body is palpable in these pages. One can sense her dis-ease. Philips presents this difficult material sympathetically, correctly asserting that Sheldon's life is indicative of the changing landscape of sexual politics in twentieth century America.
The various sections of Sheldon's life are interesting in themselves. For example, the chapters on Africa are fascinating, as is the material on Sheldon's mother, Mary Hastings Bradley (who I'd never heard of, although she was a famous writer in her day). 'Alli's' life is overshadowed by that of her successful mother, and the older woman's presence hangs over these pages. By the time we finally get to Sheldon's own writing career, more than half the book (and half her life) is over. This enables us to see the ephemeral figure of 'James Tiptree Jr.' in the context in which he was concieved.Read more ›
Julie Phillips did a remarkably good job of collecting the details of Alice Sheldon's life, and in presenting them in a way that brought this woman to life. Ali was interesting in her own right: independent (yet overwhelmed by her accomplished mother), creative and artistic (but somewhat directionless), willing to take risks (some foolhardy, others courageous). Some of the story is disturbing, because this woman was -- in a bunch of ways -- rather screwed up. But it's also a positive story, because she didn't let herself be a victim to her weaknesses.
What struck me particularly about Ali Sheldon's story was the woman's need to separate her identities into very different personae. After struggling with the social roles available to her, she remarkably managed to turn the prism of her personality conflicts and sexual confusion into the most creative of efforts: to create new and groundbreaking science fiction stories that, ironically enough, often dealt with "women's issues" from the outside.
Tiptree lived only in his/her writing, either as an author or as a snail-mail correspondent. (Just imagine what "he" would have done with e-mail and online forums.) Tiptree created close friendships that respected the author's desire for anonymity (though most people thought it was because he worked for the CIA or another government agency) -- raising good navel-gazing questions about how one can be close to another person and not know the most "intimate" facts about them.Read more ›
Last week I spotted Richard Ellmann scouting the MLA conference for penniless, amoral grad students who might be willing to swap a hit for a really good letter of recommendation.
Just kidding: he's been dead for almost 20 years. Nevertheless, the premiere literary biographer of our day has a serious rival. His specialty was bringing difficult figures to luminous life on the page. Julie Phillips has done the same for a character who seems too far-fetched to be real: the blonde Chicago debutante who became a chicken farmer, the first white child to trek through the Congo who grew up to be a suicidally depressed devotee of Dexedrine, the Army major and CIA analyst who was also a gifted artist, the battered teenage bride who earned a PhD in psychology, the reclusive male SF writer who turned out to be a middle-aged housewife in McLean, VA.
It would be easy for a biographer to get lost among the many masks of Alice B. Sheldon, or to be dazzled into idolatry by her flashing surfaces. Or, most likely, to choose one mask, one surface, as the Real or True or Important one, relegating the others to obscurity. Phillips never makes this mistake: she deals fairly with all the faces she mentions, and she examines the interplay of masks, emotions, gender identity, sexuality, and behavior with genuine insight.
Alice Bradley's parents were characters straight out of a 1920s film: dashing socialites who were also daring explorers. Her mother, Mary Hastings Bradley, was a superb raconteuse, expert markswoman, noted beauty, and very successful writer of both popular fiction and travel/adventure books. (I wonder if this book will bring her writing back into fashion.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
From p. 255 (Hardback edition):
In late 1970, Tiptree wrote that he envied the kind of writer, like Norman Mailer or Harlan Ellison, who wrote about himself, "whose... Read more
Julie Phillips does an excellent job of exploring the life of this captivating 20th century science fiction author. James Tiptree Jr./Alice B. Read morePublished 10 months ago by R. George
Alice Sheldon is in danger of becoming a "lost" science fiction writer. As James Tiptree, she carried on for nearly ten years a career that included Hugo and Nebula awards,... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Dan'l Danehy-Oakes
This brilliant biography unravels the life of Alice Sheldon, a
brilliant, beautiful, talented but very broken woman who became the
successful and edgy science fiction... Read more
The author, Julie Phillips, never gets in the way and lets the story tell itself. Tiptree is a fascinatingly conflicted, adventurous and original character. Highly recommended.Published 22 months ago by SEGER BONEBAKKER
This is an amazing story about someone I knew nothing about! And I'm a sci-fi fan! I highly recommend this read. sci-fiest.comPublished on January 25, 2014 by Lee Costello
Alice Sheldon--aka James Tiptree Jr.--is a fascinating subject, and this biography examines her entire life as well as her writing. I read it every day for a chunk of the summer.Published on November 7, 2013 by Jackie Byars
James Tiptree, Jr. by Julie Phillips
Reading a biography of an author I admire can be a dicey undertaking, particullary if that author is primary know as a writer of... Read more
I'd read some of Tiptree's stuff in the past. I remember her best stories amazing me--being as good as science fiction gets. Read morePublished on November 11, 2012 by Verbal Drug