Death: May 19, 1987.
Comments: Alice B. Sheldon was a prominent American science fiction author who wrote primarily under the pseudonyms James Tiptree, Jr. and Raccoona Sheldon. Sheldon's life story is one that, if it appeared in a work of fiction, would likely not be believed. After getting married a very young woman, Sheldon left her husband after seven years together and joined the Air Force in 1942, eventually rising to the rank of major, which made her quite pioneering for the era. In 1945 she married her second husband and soon left the Air Force to set up a small business and began writing fiction. She joined the CIA for a brief time, but left to pursue her education, earning a B.A. from American University and a Ph.D. from George Washington University. After she earned her doctorate, she pursued a career as a fiction writer full-time, adopting the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. in order to prevent her fiction writing from impinging upon her academic reputation.
Sheldon never made public appearances, and her gender was generally assumed to be male until her true identity was discovered by fans in 1977. Before the revelation, Robert Silverberg asserted after reading through Tiptree's work that the author was definitely a man, while Harlan Ellison famously contrasted Tiptree with Kate Wilhelm, naming Wilhelm the "woman to beat", and Tiptree the "man to beat". Sheldon also sometimes wrote science fiction under the name Raccoona Sheldon, with only slightly less success than when writing as Tiptree. While it seems that her use of pseudonyms was entirely driven by a desire to maintain her professional credibility as an academic, it seems that she was probably bisexual, although there seems to be little evidence one way or the other that she ever acted upon these feelings.
Sheldon's fiction often deals with gender issues, and is often dark and pessimistic. When she was seventy-one, she killed her ailing eighty-four year old husband and then took her own life, leaving a suicide note she had apparently written many years earlier. After her death, Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy created the James Tiptree, Jr. award in her honor, which recognizes works of science fiction and fantasy that expand or explore our understanding of gender. The Tiptree award has an official website named James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and Sheldon has a website dedicated to her and her works named James Tiptree, Jr. World Wide Website.
My reviews of Alice B. Sheldon's books:
Other books by Alice B. Sheldon that I have read but not reviewed:
Short fiction by Alice B. Sheldon appearing in works that I have reviewed:
The Girl Who Was Plugged In found in The Hugo Winners, Volume 3, Book 2
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