James Tiptree Jr. is the pseudonym under which Alice B. Sheldon wrote many science fiction books. She used this pseudonym because she got much more acceptance and acclaim when considered a male author rather than was a woman. The James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award was created to honor Alice Sheldon. Some of the books/stories she wrote under the name James Tiptree Jr. are Brightness Falls from the Air and Houston Houston Do You Read?

I remember reading an introduction to one of her books where their was a big discussion as to who exactly James Tiptree Jr was, since she never (as she was trying to hide her identity/gender) made public appearances. In this intro Robert Silverberg went on about how she could not, despite the many rumors to this effect, be a woman because no woman ever write like that. He described her "as an exemplar of manly science fiction writing - 'ineluctably masculine'."* Bet he felt stupid later on.

*the exact quote is:

"There is something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing ... his work is analogous to that of Hemingway ... that prevailing masculinity about both of them -- that preoccupation with questions of courage, with absolute values, with the mysteries and passions of life and death as revealed by extreme physical tests."

Robert Silverberg, "Who Is Tiptree, What Is He?" in Warm Worlds and Otherwise by James Tiptree, Jr., (New York: Ballantine Books, 1975), pp. xii-xv, xviii. As quoted by Joanna Russ in How to Suppress Women's Writing (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1983), p. 44.

She was born in 1915, had a PhD in psychology, worked for the Pentagon, and first published science fiction in 1968. The pseudonym led to a comment by (if I remember correctly) Damon Knight sometime in the early 1970s that all the good new science fiction writers were women except for James Tiptree, Jr. It wasn't until 1977 that her true identity was revealed. (It seems odd, though, that it took this long, since much of her work was intensely feminist, and my dad recalls reading the Nebula-award winning "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" and thinking it was an odd thing to have been written by a man.)

She committed suicide in 1987 after shooting her Alzheimer's disease-afflicted husband.

James Tiptree, Jr. didn't initially set out to deceive anyone.

She considered the initial use of the pseudonym "Tiptree" to be a prank. Many beginning writers will publish their initial submissions under a pseudonym, in order to avoid being pigeonholed by their potentially shoddy early work. According to Alice Sheldon, the "Tiptree" part of her new identity came from a jar of marmalade. The "James" was just a generic name, and the "Jr." was a flourish added by her husband, who was, of course, in on the joke. When Sheldon's stories were well-received, she realized that being generally thought of as male might allow her opportunities unavailable to someone openly writing as a woman. "Tip", as she came to be known in letters and correspondences to fellow authors and editors, gave every impression of being a vigorous, witty, intelligent, and preternaturally observant human being. Tip had impressive credentials: "he" worked for the CIA, was an Army veteran, and was working on a PhD. Perhaps it is something of a statement about the mid-1960s (when Tip's writing career took off) that such a biography immediately implied a "Y" chromosome to most who read Tip's letters.

Tiptree was born Alice Hastings Bradley on August 24, 1915 in Chicago, IL. She was an only child, and spent the first few years of her life traveling the world with her parents. They took young Alice everywhere,

from the then-unspoiled tropical Ituri rain forest to the corpse-obstructed streets of Calcutta; from the broiling, animal-filled vastness of the Semliki savannahs to the orchid-scented, forested hills that were to become Vietnam; the Towers of Silence of the Parsees, vulture-guarded...(Tiptree, 342)

This early exposure to such diverse environments made quite an impression on Alice, and probably planted a seed of curiosity that later made her daydream about the lives and cultures of other worlds. She first encountered science fiction at the age of nine, while on a camping trip in Wisconsin with her Uncle Harry. Her uncle accidentally dropped a sci-fi magazine called Weird Tales ("...with a wonderful cover depicting, if I recollect, a large green octopus removing a young lady's golden brassiere" (Tiptree, 309)). Alice had found a kindred spirit in Uncle Harry, who from then on would loan her all sorts of interesting publications. Though she got such an early start reading science fiction, her first SF story "Birth of a Salesman" was not published until 1968, when she was 53. (A non-SF tale about displaced persons after World War II entitled "The Lucky Ones" had been published under the name Alice Bradley in 1950, in the New Yorker.)

Tip was a lively writer; she amassed a large circle of pen friends, who eagerly looked forward to her letters. Eventually, however, some began to think it odd that Tip would not attend science fiction conventions with other authors, or talk on the phone, or meet any of his friends in person. Tip led a double life: that of a self-described "nice old lady" known as Alli, and that of a well-travelled male science-fiction writer. In reading some of Tip's essays and stories, I am quite surprised that more people did not suspect that she was a woman. A fair number of her works dealt with gender issues, and had a decidedly feminist tone. However, her style was considered masculine, so the acceptance of Tiptree as a man continued for years.

I first heard of Tiptree in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, a sort of coffee-table book containing overviews of different subgenres of sci-fi, historical timelines, and mini-biographies of authors. Tiptree's mini-bio stood out: not only because of her gender-bending, but because of her rather violent death. I wanted to read something of hers: at the very least, I expected it to be interesting. I found an example of her work in Again, Dangerous Visions, an anthology collected and edited by Harlan Ellison. The stories in the Dangerous Visions anthology duo were primarily by new writers on the scene. I enjoyed reading these anthologies, but to this day I can't remember many of the stories. I do remember Tiptree's contribution, though: a study in xenophobia called The Milk of Paradise. This one grabbed me from the very outset: its imagery was vivid and immediate. Tiptree wrote beautiful, searing prose; the only other author I can compare her to in this respect is Harlan Ellison himself. Her writing was fearless, passionate, and often graphic; sex and violence often figured prominently in her stories, but somehow never seemed gratuitous.

The following paragraph is the opening to the short story, "The Girl Who Was Plugged In."

Listen, zombie. Believe me. What I could tell you - you with your silly hands leaking sweat on your growth-stocks portfolio. One ten lousy hacks of AT&T on twenty-percent margin and you think you're Evel Knievel. AT&T? You double- knit dummy, how I'd love to show you something. Look, dead daddy. I'd say. See for instance that rotten girl? In the crowd over there, that one gaping at her gods. One rotten girl in the city of the future. (That's what I said.) Watch.

This is typical Tiptree: her stories seem designed to grab the reader, to make you wonder what the hell is going on.

The Tiptree persona persisted for ten years: from 1967 to about 1977. Tiptree was inadvertently unmasked by her mother's death; Tip's mother was a prominent and influential figure in her letters to friends. The details in Mary Wilhelmina Hastings Bradley's obituary made it possible for a few curious friends to figure out exactly who the "one surviving daughter" was. Sheldon became a bit less prolific after the character of Tiptree was retired, but continued to write science fiction until around 1986.

Alice was married twice; she described her first husband, William Davey, as an "alcoholic poet". They were only married for 4 years; the pair divorced in 1938. Her second, more successful marriage was to Huntington Denton Sheldon, whom she met while working in the military and married in 1945. Alice was passionately in love with Huntington, and remained married to him until the day she killed them both in 1987. One one level it seems rather shocking that this incredibly talented, creative woman would eventually commit suicide after fatally shooting her Alzheimer's-afflicted husband, but on another level it is certainly easy to see how she became desperately depressed. Her husband's quality of life was declining rapidly, and Alice could not imagine life without him -- so she took matters into her own hands. She was not one to leave this world quietly.

Published Works of Alice Sheldon / James Tipree Jr.

Star Songs of an Old Primate (1978)
Up the Walls of the World (1978)
Brightness Falls from the Air (1985)
The Starry Rift (1986)
Houston, Houston, Do You Read? (1989)

Neat Sheets: The Poetry of James Tiptree, Jr.
Ten Thousand Light Years from Home (1942)
Warm Worlds and Otherwise (1975)
The Fiction of James Tiptree, Jr. (1977)
Out of Everywhere: And Other Extraordinary Visions (1981)
Byte Beautiful (1985)
Her Smoke Rose up Forever (1985)
Tales of the Quintana Roo (1986)
Crown of Stars (1988)
Meet Me at Infinity (2000)

Anthologies containing stories by James Tiptree Jr:
Great Science Fiction of the 20th Century (1968)
The Year's Best Science Fiction 3 (1969)
The Best Science Fiction of the Year 3 (1974)
Final Stage (1974)
Nebula Award Stories 9 (1974)
Women of Wonder (1974)
The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction 22nd Series (1976)
Nebula Winners 12 (1978)
The Best of New Dimensions (1979)
Aliens! (1980)
A Century of Fantasy 1980-1989 (1980)
Universe 10 (1980)
The Best Science Fiction of the Year 10 (1981)
Timegates (1981)
Fantasy Annual V (1982)
The Road to Science Fiction 4: From Here to Forever (1982)
Future Earths : Under South American Skies (1984)
The Year's Best Fantasy Stories 10 (1984)
Visions of Wonder (1985)
The Year's Best Science Fiction Third Annual Collection (1985)
Terry Carr's Best Science Fiction of the Year 15 (1986)
Universe 17 (1987)
The Science Fiction Century (1988)
Invaders! (1993)
The Mammoth Book of Modern Science Fiction: Short Novels of the 1980s (1993)
The Norton Book of Science Fiction (1993)
The Ascent of Wonder (1994)
Explorers: Sf Adventures to Far Horizons (1994)
The Furthest Horizon (1994)
New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow (1994)
Aliens Among Us (1995)
The Good Old Stuff (1995)
The Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy by Women (1995)
Cybersex (1996)
Bangs And Whimpers: Stories About the End of the World (1999)

Short stories :
Beam Us Home (1969)
The Last Flight of Doctor Ain (1969) Nebula (nominee)
The Snows Are Melted, the Snows Are Gone (1969)
I'm Too Big But I Love to Play (1970)
Mother in the Sky with Diamonds (1971)
And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side (1972) Nebula (nominee) Hugo (nominee)
The Man Who Walked Home (1972)
The Milk of Paradise (1972)
Painwise (1972) Hugo (nominee)
The Girl Who was Plugged in (1973) Nebula (nominee) Hugo
Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death (1973) Nebula Hugo (nominee)
The Women Men Don't See (1973)
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1974)
A Momentary Taste of Being (1975) Nebula (nominee)
Houston, Houston, Do You Read? (1976) Nebula Hugo
The Psychologist Who Wouldn't Do Awful Things to Rats (1976)
Time-Sharing Angel (1977) Hugo (nominee)
Slow Music (1980)
A Source of Innocent Merriment (1980)
Lirios: A Tale of the Quintana Roo (1981) Nebula (nominee)
The Boy Who Waterskied to Forever (1982) Hugo (nominee)
Beyond the Dead Reef (1983)
The Only Neat Thing to Do (1985) Nebula (nominee) Hugo (nominee)
Second Going (1987)


Tiptree Jr., James. Meet Me At Infinity. Ed. Jeffrey D. Smith. New York:
Tor Books, 2000.

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