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About Alice Sheldon (Bradley)
James Tiptree, Jr. (August 24, 1915 – May 19, 1987) was the pen name of American science fiction author Alice Bradley Sheldon, used from 1967 to her death. She also occasionally wrote under the pseudonym Raccoona Sheldon (1974–77). Tiptree/Sheldon was most notable for breaking down the barriers between writing perceived as inherently "male" or "female" — it was not publicly known until 1977 that James Tiptree, Jr. was a woman.
Bradley came from a family in the intellectual enclave of Hyde Park, a university neighborhood in Chicago. Her father was Herbert Bradley, a lawyer and naturalist, and her mother was Mary Hastings Bradley, a prolific writer of fiction and travel books. She travelled the world with her parents from an early age. She was a graphic artist and a painter, and—under the name "Alice Bradley Davey"—an art critic for the Chicago Sun between 1941 and 1942. She was married to William Davey from 1934 to 1941.
In 1942 she joined the United States Army Air Forces and worked in the Army Air Forces photointelligence group. In 1945 she married her second husband, Huntington D Sheldon, and she was discharged from the military in 1946, at which time she set up a small business in partnership with her husband. The same year her first story ("The Lucky Ones") was published in the November 16, 1946 issue of The New Yorker, and credited to "Alice Bradley" in the magazine itself, but to "Alice Bradley Sheldon" in the magazine's DVD index. In 1952 she and her husband were invited to join the CIA. She resigned in 1955 to return to college.
She studied for her Bachelor of Arts degree at American University (1957–59), going on to achieve a doctorate at George Washington University in Experimental Psychology in 1967. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on the responses of animals to novel stimuli in differing environments.
Sheldon had a complex relationship with her sexual orientation, putting different terms to use over the years. "I like some men a lot, but from the start, before I knew anything, it was always girls and women who lit me up."
Science fiction career
Unsure what to do with her new degrees and her new/old careers, Sheldon began to write science fiction. She adopted the pseudonym of James Tiptree Jr. in 1967. The name "Tiptree" came from a branded jar of marmalade, and the "Jr." was her husband's idea. In an interview, she said: "A male name seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I've had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation."
The pseudonym was successfully maintained until the late 1970s. This is partly due to the fact that though it was widely known that "Tiptree" was a pseudonym, it was generally understood that its use was intended to protect the professional reputation of an intelligence community official. Readers, editors and correspondents were permitted to assume gender, and generally, but not invariably, they assumed "male." There was speculation, based partially on the themes in her stories, that Tiptree might be female.
"Tiptree" never made any public appearances, but she did correspond regularly with fans and other science fiction authors through the mail. When asked for biographical details, Tiptree/Sheldon was forthcoming in everything but gender. Many of the details given above (the Air Force career, the Ph.D.) were mentioned in letters "Tiptree" wrote, and also appeared in official author biographies.
After the death of Mary Hastings Bradley in 1976, "Tiptree" mentioned in a letter that his mother, also a writer, had died in Chicago — details that led inquiring fans to find the obituary, with its reference to Alice Sheldon; soon all was revealed. Several prominent science fiction writers suffered some embarrassment. Robert Silverberg had written an introduction to Warm Worlds and Otherwise, arguing on the basis of selections from stories in the collection, that Tiptree could not possibly be a woman. And in an introduction to Tiptree's story in his Again, Dangerous Visions anthology, Harlan Ellison opined that "[Kate] Wilhelm is the woman to beat this year, but Tiptree is the man." Silverberg's article in particular, by taking one side, makes it clear that the gender of Tiptree was a topic of some debate.
The revelation of her gender had less adverse impact on people's opinions of her talent than she had feared; her final Nebula Award (for "The Screwfly Solution", published under her other occasional pseudonym, Raccoona Sheldon) was awarded in 1977.
Up the Walls of the World published in 1978 was her first full length novel, up until then she worked and built a reputation only in the field of short stories.
Description of works
Tiptree/Sheldon was an eclectic writer who worked in a variety of styles and subgenres, often combining the technological focus and hard-edged style of "hard" science fiction with the sociological and psychological concerns of "soft" SF, and some of the stylistic experimentation of the New Wave movement.
After writing several stories in more conventional modes, she produced her first work to draw widespread acclaim, "The Last Flight of Doctor Ain", in 1969. One of her shortest stories, "Ain" is a sympathetic portrait of a scientist whose concern for Earth's ecological suffering leads him to destroy the entire human race.
Many of her stories have a milieu reminiscent of the space opera and pulp tales she read in her youth, but typically with a much darker tone: the cosmic journeys of her characters are often linked to a drastic spiritual alienation, and/or a transcendent experience which brings fulfillment but also death. John Clute, noting Tiptree's "inconsolable complexities of vision", concluded that "It is very rarely that a James Tiptree story does not both deal directly with death and end with a death of the spirit, or of all hope, or of the race". Notable stories of this type include "Painwise", in which a space explorer has been altered to be immune to pain but finds such an existence intolerable, and "A Momentary Taste of Being", in which the true purpose of humanity, found on a distant planet, renders individual human life entirely pointless.
Another major theme is the tension between free will and biological determinism, or reason and sexual desire. "Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death", one of the rare SF stories in which no humans appear, describes an alien creature's romantic rationalizations for the brutal instincts that drive its life cycle. "The Screwfly Solution" suggests that humans might similarly rationalize a plague of murderous sexual insanity. Sex in Tiptree's writing is frankly portrayed, a sometimes playful but more often threatening force.
Before the revelation of Sheldon's identity, Tiptree was often referred to as an unusually macho male (see, e.g., Robert Silverberg's commentaries) as well as an unusually feminist science fiction writer (for a male) — particularly for "The Women Men Don't See", a story of two women who go looking for aliens to escape from male-dominated society on Earth. However, Sheldon's view of sexual politics could be ambiguous, as in the ending of "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?," where a society of female clones must deal with three time-traveling male astronauts.
Sheldon's two novels, produced toward the end of her career, were not as critically well-received as her best-known stories but continued to explore similar themes. Some of her best-regarded work can be found in the collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, available in paperback as of 2004.
Sheldon continued writing under the Tiptree pen name for another decade. On May 19, 1987, at age 71, Sheldon took the life of her 84-year-old, nearly-blind husband and then took her own. They were found dead, hand-in-hand in bed, in their Virginia home. According to biographer Julie Phillips, the suicide note Sheldon left was written years earlier, and saved until needed. In an interview with Charles Platt in the early 1980s Sheldon spoke of her emotional problems and previous suicide attempts. Much of her work contains dark and pessimistic elements, which in retrospect can be seen as reflective of her troubled emotions.
The James Tiptree, Jr. Award is given in her honor each year for a work of science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender; funds for the award are raised in part by bake sales.
Quotes about James Tiptree, Jr
"James Tiptree's surface was often airy and at times hilarious, and her control of genre conventions allowed her to convey the bleakness of her abiding insights in tales that remain seductively readable; but she was, in the end, incapable of dissimulation." — from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, by John Clute and Peter Nicholls
"Sheldon was simply one of the best short-story writers of our day....She has already had an enormous impact on upcoming generations of SF writers. Her footprints are all over cyberpunk turf (...)" — Gardner Dozois, in Locus magazine, 1987
"Her stories and novels are humanistic, while her deep concern for male-female (even human-alien) harmony ran counter to the developing segregate-the-sexes drive amongst feminist writers; What her work brought to the genre was a blend of lyricism and inventiveness, as if some lyric poet had rewritten a number of clever SF standards and then passed them on to a psychoanalyst for final polish." — Brian Aldiss, Trillion Year Spree
"'Tip' was a crucial part of modern SF's maturing process (...)'He'(...) wrote powerful fiction challenging readers' assumptions about everything, especially sex and gender." — Suzy McKee Charnas, The Women's Review of Books
"[Tiptree's work is] proof of what she said, that men and women can and do speak both to and for one another, if they have bothered to learn how." — Ursula K. Le Guin, Khatru
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Tiptree,_Jr.#Adaptations (and Major Awards)