enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.

I read this book about 27-Aug-2006. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2006. This note was last modified Monday, 04-Sep-2006 13:21:33 PDT.

This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.


Subtitled "The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon". A biography of Alice Sheldon, who wrote as James Tiptree Jr. and as Racoona Sheldon. Non-fiction books do not, by my definition, have spoilers; I hope you aren't upset to learn who Tiptree was.

We nearly certainly would have ended up with this book in the house eventually, and I probably would have read it; but in fact we got it right away, and I read it first, because the picture of the Del Rey's near the end of the second photo section (the pages in the photo sections are not numbered) is mine, and we received my contributor's copy promptly, and I started reading it (I also got paid).

This book received an exceptional review from John Clute, and got serious treatment on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. Now that I've read it, I see why. Alice Sheldon is a fascinating subject, having a complex and fascinating life before she ever got involved in science fiction, and Julie Phillips has done an excellent job relating it.

This book got me thinking all sorts of politically incorrect thoughts—like wondering just how much of Sheldon's constraints as a woman were really enforced by society, and how many were in her own head (arguably programmed deeply enough to be hard to remove during her childhood). Sheldon was considerably older than me, and things may have changed more before (and even during) my life than I can really see. Or be worse for women now than I seem to see. This book came closer than anything I can remember to conveying something of the feel of feeling you're not a person, in the ways described by many women.

And I wanted to shake her mother, and ask her why she wouldn't let Alice do the things necessary to acquire the skills that her mother had and used and was proud of.

Although Phillips never mentions the word, it sounds to me like Sheldon was experiencing a strong case of gender dysphoria. She talks about living in her body as an alien, and similar statements. Since Sheldon had a PhD in psychology, I'm a little surprised she didn't mention the term herself (though I don't know if it was much in use in the 1970s).

This is an excellent biography, and an excellent case study for people interested in gender issues in the 20th century, and of course of interest to people interested in James Tiptree Jr. and modern science fiction as well.

[dd-b] [dd-b's books] [book log] [RSS] [sf] [mystery] [childhood] [nonfiction]
[dd-b] [site status] [pit]

David Dyer-Bennet