This book is absolutely bonkers. Mad. And completely wonderful.
This was Tiptree’s first novel, but naturally enough many of the concerns and interests of his short stories are present here as well. I am so sad that he did not write more novels; this made me so happy, as did Brightness Falls from the Air, that I do wonder what else could have come from that amazing brain.
Let’s start by talking about the authorial situation and get that out of the way. This was published in 1978. Tiptree had been revealed as Alice Sheldon at the end of 1976. I was surprised therefore to discover that the brief bio in the end flap (oh hard backs I really do love you) makes no mention of him being her, although it does acknowledge Tiptree as a pseudonym. But I guess that pre internet, how are people going to know about the identity? Via Locus maybe, and fanzines, and word of mouth. Tiptree was not such a big deal that the New York Times was going to run an expose. Presumably therefor with this publication your more casual, less crazy SF fans aren’t going to know who Tiptree ‘really’ is – and Tiptree is enough of a name (… and male…?) to make it worth keeping the pseudonym. But THEN I turned to the back and the back cover image is Sheldon! Now I’ve seen the pic before and it’s quite obvious to me who this is; but others have suggested that this could, actually, be an ambiguously gendered person. I’m not entirely convinced. But anyway, there’s that.
Now, to plot. I’m going to be entirely spoilery because I really want to think about what Tiptree is doing here.
I felt like a traitor giving this book only three stars on Goodreads. But it has to be said that I don’t feel the anthology lived up to what it was setting out to do.Does that make me a heretic? Possibly.
In the introduction, Susan Janice Anderson discusses how hard a lot of people said they found the topic. That they had to invent an entirely new society in order to talk about men and women being actually equal (to which in my head I say, duh; you’re writing SF aren’t you? Maybe that’s a bit harsh). It was very interesting reading about what they wanted to avoid (female monsters), and how hard it was to find models of what they did want. The Dispossessed and “When it changed” were of course mentioned.
It is Tiptree month, because yesterday Alice Sheldon would have turned 100. I am completely ensnared in All Things Sheldon/Tiptree at the moment because of Letters to Tiptree, which was launched yesterday for Sheldon’s birthday and which has been consuming much of my time over the last few months. I’m immensely proud of this book and still incredibly honoured that Alisa asked me to co-edit it with her.
A few people have written articles about Sheldon and Tiptree, so here – have some links:
Leah Schnelbach on What James Tiptree can teach us about the power of the SF Community
Brit Mandelo on Where To Start with the Works of James Tiptree, Jr
Tansy Rayner Roberts on Raccoona Sheldon’s “The Screwfly Solution”
Galactic Suburbia on the amazing biography written by Julie Phillips a few years ago
Alisa talked about Tiptree and other things over on the Three Hoarsemen podcast
Not sure you’re interested in reading a whole bunch of letters to Sheldon/Tiptree? Here are some examples:
Gwyneth Jones (includes one of the greatest lines ever)