When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

20 August 2006

Meet Alice Sheldon

Even in a science fiction writer’s most inaccurate predictions, there are sometimes valuable truths to be gleaned. In an introduction to “Warm Worlds and Otherwise,” a 1975 collection of short stories by the elusive and enigmatic James Tiptree Jr., his editor and fellow author Robert Silverberg attempted to sketch a portrait of a cult figure who had never been seen in public, and whose only tangible connection to the known universe was a steady stream of letters originating from a post office box in McLean, Va. Though some fans believed that the mysterious Tiptree was actually J.D. Salinger or Henry Kissinger, Silverberg speculated that the writer was probably employed as a federal bureaucrat, around 50 or 55 years old, and enjoyed the outdoors. Furthermore, Silverberg wrote: “It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing. I don’t think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman, and in the same way I believe the author of the James Tiptree stories is male.

As science fiction readers would learn just a few months later, Tiptree was closer in age to 61 but was an avid traveler and gun enthusiast who had worked for the United States government. Also, James Tiptree Jr. was a woman named Alice Sheldon.
A fascinating story about a literary double life, richly lived. In her actual identity as Alice Sheldon, she worked as a counterintelligence analyst with the C.I.A. and earned a Ph.D in experimental psychology, among other things; as James Tiptree, Jr., she wrote science fiction stories that attracted a cult following.

Alice's Alias: New York Times Sunday Book Review, August 20, 2o06

Related: James Tiptree at Amazon.com

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