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Books  >>  Biography

Julie Phillips

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life Of Alice B. Sh

Julie Phillips James Tiptree Jr. The Double Life Of Alice B. Sh
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Biographical note:

JULIE PHILLIPS is a journalist who has written on books, film, feminism, and cultural politics for Newsday, Interview, Mademoiselle, and for Ms. and The Village Voice

Excerpt from book:

Introduction: Who Is Tiptree, What Is He?

No one [...] has, to my knowledge, ever met Tiptree, ever seen him, ever talked with him on the phone. No one knows where he lives, what he looks like, what he does for a living. [...] He volunteers no information about his personal life, and politely refuses to answer questions about it. [...] Most SF people [...] are wild to know who Tiptree "really" is.
---Gardner Dozois, 1976

In 1921 in the Belgian Congo, a six-year-old girl from Chicago with a pith helmet on her blond curls walks at the head of a line of heavily laden native porters. Her mother walks next to her, holding a rifle and her daughter's hand.

In 1929, the girl huddles under quilts in a cabin in the Great North Woods, reading Weird Tales. The candle by her bed flickers as an alien gently removes a young human's brassiere.

On Christmas Eve 1934, a nineteen-year-old in a white beaded evening gown makes her debut. At the party she meets a handsome, dark-haired boy in a tie and tails. She makes a joke; he laughs, and makes another. Five days later they elope and marry.

In 1942, a divorcée wearing three-inch heels and a fox fur jacket goes down to a Chicago recruiting station and enlists in the army.

Sometime in the near future, a woman and a man meet an extraterrestrial exploring party. The man tries to protect the woman. The woman says she doesn't believe in women's chances on Earth, and asks the aliens to take her away.

In 1970, a man who does not exist sits down at a typewriter. He writes, "At last I have what every child wants, a real secret life. Not an official secret, not a Q-clearance polygraph-enforced bite-the-capsule-when-they-get-you secret, nobody else's damn secret but MINE."

James Tiptree, Jr., appeared on the science fiction scene in the late 1960s, writing fast-paced, action-filled stories about rocket ships, alien sex, and intergalactic bureaucratic anxiety. He was a brilliant and original talent, with a voice like no one else's: knowing, intense, utterly convinced of its authority and the urgency of its message. No one had ever seen or spoken to the owner of this voice. He wrote letters, warm, frank, funny letters, to other writers, editors, and science fiction fans. His correspondence was intimate and revealing, yet even his closest friends knew little more about "Tip" than his address: a post office box in McLean, Virginia.

He was rumored to be a government official or secret agent. He did seem to know a lot about spooks around the water cooler: his characters worked in "an unimportant bit of C.I.A." or remarked, "Paranoia hasn't been useful in my business for years, but the habit is hard to break." He had opinions about fishing, duck hunting, and politics. He was courtly and flirtatious with women. When one of his friends, the writer Robert Silverberg, sent him a letter on his wife's stationary, Tip answered that he had "shaved and applied lotion" before reading on. Silverberg pictured Tip as "a man of 50 or 55, I guess, possibly unmarried, fond of outdoor life, restless in his everyday existence, a man who has seen much of the world and understands it well." Men looked up to him. His women friends fell in love.

The stories that came out of PO Box 315 became more and more brilliant and disturbing. It wasn't the sex, and it wasn't the death, but it was the combination of the two. His stories read like urgent messages from some haunted house on the corner of Eros and Mortality. Humans meet aliens---and abandon their very souls for a chance to sleep with them. A man in love with the Earth kills off the human race, including himself, to sav
"An incredible life, done elegant justice. Tiptree-Sheldon is one of the century's astonishing figures, somewhere between Katharine Hepburn, Philip K. Dick, and Billy Tipton."

- Jonathan Lethem, bestselling author of The Fortress of Solitude

"An examplary biography of a fascinating life -- the brilliantly elusive woman who, as a writer, called herself James Tiptree Jr. Never oversimplifying, never overinterpreting, Julie Phillips illuminates a formidably complex psyche wihout invading it. "

- Ursula K. Le Guin, Hugo and National Book Award-winning author of The Dispossessed

"The meticulous, emotionally intelligent biography of an extraordinary writer. Alice Sheldon is easily the most intriguing figure in late 20th-century American science fiction. Julie Phillips has given 'Tiptree' the book she deserves.”

- William Gibson, New York Times Bestselling author of Pattern Recognition, and Hugo Award Winning author of Neuromancer

"A fascinating subject, an engrossing read. Philips provides sharp, insightful portraits of the real Alice Sheldon, the fictional James Tiptree, Jr, and the complicated partnership of their work and lives. This is a biography written with equal parts sympathy, respect, research, and honesty. And a real page-turner, too."

- Karen Joy Fowler, the author of SARAH CANARY, SISTER NOON, and THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB

"Why can't a woman be more like a man?" Professor Henry Higgins famously asks in My Fair Lady. In this deeply thoughtful, rivetingly readable biography of "James Tiptree Jr." Julie Phillips traces the life and work of a woman whose self-presentation in her writing made her seem so much "like a man" that she confounded our culture's myths of gender and genre, convincing even the most sophisticated readers that "Tiptree"--in "real" life a woman called Allie Sheldon--was and had to be "really" a man. This is a fascinating investigation of a fantastic literary career."
- Sandra Gilbert, distinguished scholar and Editor of Norton Anthology of Literature by Women

 
"Documents not only an extraordinary life but all the faultlines of what it meant to be female in the twentieth century.  I think this may be the rare case when a biography actually exceeds what I expect from a novel…. I hope everyone reads this book.
 
– Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out Of Carolina
"It is a first-rate biography, important and rewarding to everyone interested in science fiction or Tiptree's work or women's writing or Alli herself. It's a solid, scholarly job , and shows great sensitivity to Tiptree's life and work."

- Joanna Russ, Author of The Female Man


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