Review: The Biography of James Tiptree, Jr. by Julie Phillips

Byline: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 0312203853
ISBN 13: 9780312203856
Published: 2006
Pages: 469
Format reviewed: Hardback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

This was read whilst working on the Letters to Tiptree collection published by Twelfth Planet Press, edited by Alex Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein, both books which absolutely blew me away. Sheldon’s life had everything – from a young age she travelled through Africa with her parents and that set the tone of her life – the unbelievable. She was an artist, a chicken farmer, a World War II intelligence officer, a CIA agent, an experimental psychologist. She eloped at a young age, moved on to a second husband, and eventually, inevitably took her own life – the only question was ‘when’.

She’s mostly known for her writing under the name James Tiptree Jr. and it was here that she was heralded as the new name in science fiction where she was celebrated for ten years. That was, of course, until the truth was uncovered. Once editors knew she was female the exact same work they had loved was then dismissed.

I love reading biographies, and autobiographies. I’ve possibly read more than your average joe, but this would easily be my favourite. Phillips does an extraordinary job at showing many aspects of Sheldon’s life – both her flaws and where she faed injustice. We get to see papers and photos from her life, the correspondence she kept with those closest to her (such as Joanna Russ and Ursula K. Le Guin), and Phillips keeps them in a flowing order where it’s almost impossible to put the book down – even at some stages you simply have to, given the length of the book, and the amount and weight of knowledge you’re taking on.

Sheldon wasn’t always a nice person. Troubled, complex, extraordinary – we get to see clearly exactly what she thought of herself, and it isn’t always comfortable. You can always feel sympathy for her though, and an increasing urge to read everything she put out there.

Highly, highly recommended, and bravo to Phillips for an excellent job on this biography – seriously, first class and deserves a dozen awards.

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