The Women Men Don’t See

I’ve just finished an interesting biography: James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon.

If you’re a science fiction fan like me then you might know the name James Tiptree, Jr. He was an American who wrote some popular and critically acclaimed sci-fi back in the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s. Fans who were reading Tiptree at the time were curious about him: he never made public appearances despite winning awards, and was known only through his stories and through his extensive letter-writing to other authors in the field like Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison and Ursula K. Le Guin. His correspondence led people to believe that he was connected to the US government in some shadowy way.

The truth – which wasn’t discovered until nearly a decade after Tiptree become popular – was that he was in fact an older woman, Alice B. Sheldon. And her life was more fascinating than anyone could have guessed: long safaris in Africa as a child, a socialite as a young woman, a member of the WAC in WWII, a CIA analyst, a chicken farmer, a Ph.D. and researcher, and a lifetime of depression and gender curiousity.

Author Julie Phillips does an excellent job of presenting all the info evenly and interestingly. You can see how Sheldon’s privileged but odd upbringing affected her as an adult. You can perceive quite clearly how Sheldon created Tiptree on a whim, but was led (not unwillingly) into continuing the charade for years by her insecurities and confusion.