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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon
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VINE VOICEon May 17, 2014
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 author known as James Triptree,
Jr. It's amazing that the author was able to find so much material
and interview so many people who knew this mostly-reclusive woman, and
achieve such depth of understanding of her. How I wish that Alice had
found a truly insightful psychiatrist who could have led her to face
herself, get off speed and treat her emotional problems directly.
Sadly she saw male doctors who all-but-ignored her sexuality, and her
fear and attraction to death.

Minor quibble: the author repeatedly states that Alice is "flirting"
with her correspondents in her letters to science fiction authors,
editors, etc. Nothing that she quoted seemed to me to be flirting,
just compliments and praise, with little innuendo.

Anyone who enjoys biographies, especially of interesting and
strong-but-tragic women, will love this book. Unfortunately it's
a tragic story that caused me to cry several times. Nevertheless
I loved it.
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on November 7, 2017
A beautifully written and fascinating book. Phillips does an excellent job of bringing every part of Tiptree/Sheldon's life into context, giving both psychological insight and great historical detail. I really recommend reading it in conjunction with a collection of Tiptree's stories - you'll no doubt find yourself reading about a story and its background and then aching to read it yourself.
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on November 2, 2017
Very well-researched book. Unbelievable life led by a premier writer.
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on December 21, 2006
This book is a delight. I would go so far as to say it is the best biography I have ever read (not that I've read a great number). Philips has presented an exhaustive but not exhausting account of the life of Alice B. Sheldon, aka James Tiptree Jr., aka Racconna Sheldon. This is a comprehensive work at over 400 pages of smallish print. One gets the feeling that Philips has done the job almost to perfection.

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.

One funny thing about this book is that Tiptree's writing career is made to seem almost like an afterthought, or a not-entirely successful experiment. This is strange because most readers of this book will come to it thinking of Tiptree as one of the greatest writers in SF history (which 'he' is). But although Tiptree garnered the Hugos and Nebulas in quick time, none of it was much comfort to Sheldon. Here, again, one can sense Sheldon's dissatisfaction with her creations. A slight criticism of this book, in my mind, is that Philips spends little time addressing the themes and ideas in the stories themselves. It is almost as though the author of the biography does not quite appreciate the value of the stories to the extent that many of Tiptree's readers do. Stories like 'A Momentary Taste of Being' and 'Her Smoke Rose Up Forever' are surely some of the greatest in the English language.

It may be that in not coming from a SF background, Philips sees Tiptree's writing in the context that Sheldon herself may have seen it in. OK I am speculating, but Sheldon was clearly not content with having written these fabulous stories. As Philips makes clear, Sheldon 'meant it' when she wrote about death again and again. The ending to this book, which deals with the circumstances of Sheldon's murder of her husband 'Ting' and then her suicide, is simply shocking. Not knowing the details of Sheldon's death in advance, I was floored by this ending. This make me realise that while a reader such as myself finds enlightenment (or even redemption) in Tiptree's fiction, Sheldon herself drew little comfort from it.

This is an essential book, not only for those interested in Tiptree's SF career, but also for anyone interested in twentieth century history. It is useful especially in regard to the history of the so-called 'sexual revolution,' which came a few decades late for Alice B. Sheldon.
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on November 7, 2013
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.
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on August 17, 2006
Alice Sheldon was a loner and her science fiction reflected that aloneness. It also makes this biography a bit elusive as she had few friends, avoided publicity and kept to herself. Her decision to write under the pen-name of James Tiptree, Jr. was a liberating one as she became the best short story writer within science fiction. It also meant that she hid her identity for a decade. Ms. Phillips makes it clear that the Alice Sheldon battled against sexism her entire life and hated the limitations that her culture placed upon her. At nearly 500 pages, this book will be considered the definative biography.
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on January 25, 2014
This is an amazing story about someone I knew nothing about! And I'm a sci-fi fan! I highly recommend this read.
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on March 31, 2015
Julie Phillips does an excellent job of exploring the life of this captivating 20th century science fiction author. James Tiptree Jr./Alice B. Sheldon has quite a story -- this book would probably make an excellent film!
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on April 13, 2014
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.
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before I began reading Phillips biography of Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree, and I still have no interest in it! But Julie Phillips has written a compelling book about an incredibly complex woman whose life included youthful explorations of Africa with her parents in the 1920's, though two marriages, war work with the WACs, social science work ending with a doctorate, to, finally, her emergence as one of the most important SF writers in the late '60's and '70's.

She began writing as a man, almost as a lark. As with many SF writers, she took a pseudonym to avoid attracting attention in her "day job". She stayed a "man" until unmasked in the late '70's.

Phillips does a great job with her biography.
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