Monday, August 24, 2015

"The genre would have been very different without her": a notable centennial

Today is the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Alice Bradley Sheldon, aka James Tiptree Jr., aka Raccoona Sheldon (August 24, 1915 – May 19, 1987). Since the revelation in late 1976 that James Tiptree Jr. was a 5' 8" sixty-one-year old woman, Tiptree has been a figure of interest more for what Tiptree biographer Julie Phillips calls Sheldon's "double life" than for Tiptree's work. I'm always a little sad to re-discover that many people who know what the Tiptree Award is haven't actually read Tiptree's work. And so I'd like, on this occasion, to quote Jo Walton on that work:

Tiptree was constantly pushing the boundaries of science fiction. “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” (1973) prefigured cyberpunk—it’s one of the three precursor stories, with John M. Ford’s Web of Angels and John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider. “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death” made a space for Octavia Butler’s later writing about aliens and sex and identity. “And I Awoke and Found me Here” did the same for Varley—-- for a lot of the writers who came into SF in the later seventies and the eighties Tiptree was part of their defining space, and the genre would have been very different without her. Science fiction is constantly a dialogue, and her voice was one of the strongest in the early seventies, when everything was changing. She wasn’t a New Wave writer, and in many ways she was very traditional, “And I Have Come Upon This Place” could have been written by Murray Leinster, except for the end. She wrote what she wrote and expanded the possibilities for all of us. Science fiction would be very different without her. (What Makes This Book So Great, p. 318.)

To mark the centennial of this great writer, Twelfth Planet Press is releasing Letters to Tiptree, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce.The volumes includes contributions from 35 persons (who, by the way, number several Aqueduct authors), archived letters from Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and James Tiptree Jr./Alice Sheldon, excerpts from The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms by Helen Merrick, an excerpt from The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction by Justine Larbalestier, and an essay by Michael Swanwick.

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