Book: James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon

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James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon

Author: Julie Phillips
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

James Tiptree, Jr. burst onto the science fiction scene in the 1970s with a series of hard-edged, provocative short stories. Hailed as a brilliant masculine writer with a deep sympathy for his female characters, he penned such classics as Houston, Houston, Do You Read? and The Women Men Dont See. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego: James Tiptree, Jr. was really a sixty-one-year old woman named Alice Sheldon. As a child, she explored Africa with her mother. Later, made into a debutante, she eloped with one of the guests at the party. She was an artist, a chicken farmer, a World War II intelligence officer, a CIA agent, an experimental psychologist. Devoted to her second husband, she struggled with her feelings for women. In 1987, her suicide shocked friends and fans. This fascinating biography, ten years in the making, is based on extensive research, exclusive interviews, and full access to Alice Sheldons papers.


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What could be better than getting two biographies for the price of one? In essence, that’s what Julie Phillips has given us with this spellbinding portrait of Alice Sheldon, the extraordinary woman who created stunning works of science fiction under the pen name of James Tiptree Jr. Sheldon, whose unconventional life included a childhood filled with exotic adventure, a stint in the CIA, and an eventual murder-suicide, assumed Tiptree less as a pseudonym than as a masculine persona that allowed her to express many facets of her complicated personality, including profound gender confusion and a fixation with sex and death that surfaced in her brilliant, disturbing stories. Ten years in the making, this biography does elegant justice to an enigmatic literary figure whose double life remained a secret for nearly a decade. In a word, it’s unputdownable.

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