Memento Mori

Letters to Tiptree — Alexandra Pierce & Alisa Krasnostein

Tiptree-letters

Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein’s 2015’s Letters to Tiptree delivers exactly what it promises in the title … and more!

While women have always written science fiction, their presence in the field grew phenomenally in the 1960s and 1970s. And many of these new writers were very talented. I remember looking at a stack of new SF novels I had just purchased and realizing that none of them had been written by men.

But there was one major talent to whom the men could point, a male talent who proved that men were still players in the top leagues. To quote Ted Sturgeon1

“nearly all of the top newer writers, with the exception of James Tiptree, Jr., were women.”

For those of you tuning in late, James Tiptree, Jr. was the pen-name of Alice Bradley Sheldon. But this book isn’t so much about Tiptree, exactly2. It’s about how she affected her friends and readers … which includes the readers who might have been her friends had she not shot herself on May 19, 1987.


There are four sections:

Section One: Alice, Alice, Do You Read?

This is an assortment of modern day letters written to the deceased, but still read and remembered, Tiptree.

Authors featured (a daunting list!):

  • Kathryn Allan
  • Marleen Barr
  • Stephanie Burgis
  • Joyce Chng
  • Aliette de Bodard
  • L. Timmel Duchamp
  • Amanda Fitzwater
  • Lisa Goldstein
  • Theodora Goss
  • Nicola Griffith
  • Valentin D. Ivanov
  • Gwyneth Jones
  • Sylvia Kelso
  • Rose Lemberg
  • Alex Dally MacFarlane
  • Brit Mandelo
  • Sandra McDonald
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Karen Miller
  • Judith Moffat
  • Cheryl Morgan
  • Pat Murphy
  • Sarah Pinsker
  • Cat Rambo
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Justina Robson
  • Nisi Shawl
  • Nike Sulway
  • Lucy Sussex
  • Rachel Swirsky
  • Bogi Takács
  • Lynne M. Thomas
  • Catherynne Valente
  • Élisabeth Vonarburg
  • Jo Walton
  • Tehani Wessely
  • Tess Williams

Also included are short biographies of the letter-writers.

Section Two: I Never Wrote You Anything But The Exact Truth

This section comprises letters between Ursula K. Le Guin and Alice Sheldon / James Tiptree Jr. (written between 1976 and 1977) and letters between Joanna Russ and Alice Sheldon / James Tiptree Jr. (written between 1976 and 1980).

Section Three: Everything But The Signature Is Me

Included: Le Guin’s introduction to Star Songs Of An Old Primate, Swanwick’s to Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, some excerpts from Justine Larbalestier’s The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, excerpts from Helen merrick’s The Secret Feminist Cabal, Wendy Guy Pearson’s The Text of this Body: “Reading” James Tiptree Jr. as a Transgender Writer, and Tiptree’s own Everything But the Signature is Me.

Section Four: Oh Joanna, Will I Have Any Friends Left?

This book’s editors writing to Tiptree: Alexandra Pierce (“Dear Tip” and “Dear Alli”) and Alisa Krasnostein (“Dear Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr. / Raccoona Sheldon).

General comments:

I am at a loss as to how to tackle a project like this. Were I to discuss each piece, I would end up with a review so long as to be unreadable. I am going to settle for the view from fifty thousand feet, while acknowledging that this misses a lot of important detail.

The contemporary authors writing to Tiptree have had little or no contact with her during her life. A number of them are too young to have known her. They are addressing an imaginary Tiptree, a persona constructed from Tiptree’s essays and fiction. Who they see says something about each of them.

The letters between Le Guin and Tiptree, and Russ and Tiptree, sadden me. Not anything IN the letters, just the knowledge that someone’s nosiness cost Tiptree her safe hiding place. Which is usually how I feel after reading anything about Tiptree. The cost, to her, of that revelation far outweighed any possible benefit.

(Also, there’s an odd bit where they are rather mean about Dolly Parton. How can any writer not like Parton? She funds literacy! But maybe not back in the 1970s.)

This is an interesting collection and one that was, the last I checked, very affordably priced. It can be acquired here.

1: I thought Damon Knight said this, and have in the past credited it to him. Apparently it was Sturgeon. Or perhaps they both said variations of the same thing?

2: For more details on her remarkable life, read Julie Phillips’ 2006 biography, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon.



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