James Tiptree, Jr. was the pen name of science fiction writer Alice B. Sheldon.
The previous sentence is probably the least complicated information about Alice Sheldon.
The first fiction under the Tiptree name appeared in the 1960s. Most of her work was in the short-story form, stories of science fiction, fantasy or horror. This was in the era of the “New Wave,” when sex was beginning to show up in science fiction. Tiptree was believed to be a male writer by the public, and she did nothing to dissuade that belief. Several famous science fiction writers asserted that the kind of stories Tiptree wrote could only have been written by a male. Tiptree explained years later that she had gotten tired of being identified as “the first woman to” during her years in intelligence work.
Although she didn’t use the term, she was probably bisexual.
There are conflicting stories about how the secret behind Tiptree’s pen name was exposed. In one; Tiptree’s publisher mistakenly reprinted a Tiptree story under one of her other pen names; Raccoona Sheldon. In another; Sheldon’s mother, also a writer, passed away and Tiptree mentioned it in “his” correspondence leading people to find Sheldon’s real identity in the obituary.
In an (alas!) unsubstantiated story; Tiptree published a story in which “he” described a male, uh, self-gratifying himself in zero gravity in a way that betrayed the scene as written by somebody with no experience in the matter.
The 1990 Arkham House collection “And Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” presents most of the best of her short fiction, including “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” “The Woman Men Don’t See,” “The Screwfly Solution” as well as the title story.
Tiptree has been remembered over the last few decades with the James Tiptree Jr. Award, given for science fiction that explores gender roles, awarded to Ursula LeGuin and Joanna Russ among others. The award has recently been renamed the Otherwise award due to concerns over the deaths of Tiptree and her husband, Huntington “Ting” Sheldon.
And this is the unavoidable part of Tiptree’s story; burdened with failing health in 1987 Tiptree, no, Alice Sheldon shot her husband to death and then shot herself after calling the authorities. She had talked (in letters) about ending her life for at least a decade previous. It’s possible she and her husband may have made a suicide pact.
One of Tiptree’s last stories appeared in the November 1987 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The introduction to the story quoted an obituary about Tiptree:
“’Bullets End 2 Fragile Lives’ said the headline on page one of the Washington Post, and they also bring an end to one of the most powerful voices in science fiction.”
In 2006, a well-researched biography of Sheldon/Tiptree appeared, written by Julie Phillips: “James Tiptree, Jr; The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon.”https://www.amazon.com/James-Tiptree-Jr-Double-Sheldon/dp/0312203853/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=James+Tiptree%2C+Jr%3B+The+Double+Life+of+Alice+B.+Sheldon&qid=1581657393&s=books&sr=1-1
And Tiptree’s stories are still available.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
Jeff Baker blogs about reading and writing about sci-fi, fantasy and horror around the 13th of each month. He is happily married to Darryl Thompson. He posts fiction on his blog http://authorjeffbaker.com, and is on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/Jeff-Baker-Author-176267409096907/