I never even heard of this guy… I mean woman… I mean, er, author. And I fancied myself a bit of a science fiction buff. “Tiptree” (really Alice Sheldon) corresponded with Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin and Harlan Ellison!
Julie Phillips biography of Tiptree/Sheldon sounds like a fun read.
Ms. Phillips actually opens âJames Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldonâ? with a string of exotic vignettes, hoping to hint at the rampant eccentricity of her highly changeable subject. As a 6-year-old, Alice was toted from Chicago to the wilds of Africa by her adventurous mother, a writer and hunter who expected the girl to show no fear when encountering the alien and unfamiliar. âThe first time Alice saw âStar Trek,â â? Ms. Phillips writes, âshe recognized it at once as a story about her childhood.â?
The daughter would grow up in the shadow of her motherâs success and flamboyance. âShe didnât provide a model for me, she provided an impossibility,â? Alice once said. Something else that gave Alice a sense of impossibility was her lusty interest in women: âI like some men a lot,â? she said, âbut from the start, before I knew anything, it was always girls and women who lit me up.â?
Eventually, Ms. Phillips writes, this would mean: âTiptreeâs stories often concern an intense, erotic longing for a frightening union with another. The other is expressed as unattainably (and literally) alien; whether it is consummated or not, the yearning invariably ends in disaster.â?
Aliceâs twisting path to those Tiptree fantasies led her through two open marriages to men. (âAnyone who shoots a real gun at you when drunk and angry is simply not husband material, regardless of his taste in literature,â? she said of the first.) It also led her to show up at a Chicago recruiting office in 1942 and enlist for a wartime stint in the Womenâs Auxiliary Army Corps. And it later led her to the Pentagon, where she analyzed aerial photographs for the C.I.A.
Factor in the years she spent running a chicken hatchery in Toms River, N.J., and you see a busy, changeable life but also a reticent one. âThe pattern of Alli Sheldonâs life from 30 to 50 is one of making up her mind to speak,â? Ms. Phillips writes.