By December 3, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

A Double Life

james-tiptree-jrJulia Phillips’ book James Tiptree, Jr.: the Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon is a biography of a writer with a man’s name and man’s persona, who unbeknownst to her science fiction readers and editors, was actually a woman. Many readers will pass this book by because they assume it’s only of interest to fans of classic science fiction. That would be a mistake.

Sheldon’s life, as revealed for the first time by author Phillips, was interesting from start to finish. Her parents, a wealthy Chicago society couple, were early African explorers and Alice was the first child taken on such treks and safaris. Later she would briefly work as a painter, as one of the few female photo-intelligence interpreters in WWII, as an analyst for the early CIA, and as a research psychologist. She finally turned to science fiction as a sort of hobby, but was so fascinated by her experience, and by the growing backstory to her nom de plume “James Tiptree, Jr.,” that it became a kind of late life career.

She would eventually reveal her true identity (although she never worked that much to hide it) to astoundment from the editors who had worked with her over the years. Sadly, Sheldon’s private life was never terribly happy (but always fascinating, as you’ll find if you read the book). Eventually, she and her husband Ting Sheldon (also a CIA agent, for much longer than Sheldon herself) completed a suicide pact that they had long planned for the time when they no longer felt they could physically function. He was in his eighties, she in her seventies.

Well written, well documented, and full of unusual twists and interesting period encounters, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon is a biography that book groups should treasure.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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