James Tiptree Jr (1915-1987)
Alice Hastings Bradley Sheldon wrote most of her fiction as James Tiptree, Jr – she was making a point about sexist assumptions and also keeping her US government employers from knowing her business. Most of her books are collections of short stories, of which Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is considered to be her best selection. Sheldon’s best stories combine radical feminism with a tough-minded tragic view of life; even virtuous characters are exposed as unwitting beneficiaries of disgusting socio-economic systems. Even good men are complicit in women’s oppression, as in her most famous stories ‘The Women Men Don’t See’ and ‘Houston, Houston, Do you Read?’ or in ecocide. Much of her work, even at its most tragic, has an attractively ironic tone which sometimes becomes straightforwardly comedy – it is important to stress that Tiptree’s deep seriousness never becomes sombre or pompous. Her two novels Up the Walls of the World and Brightness Falls from the Air are both remarkable transfigurations of stock space opera material – the former deals with a vast destroying being, sympathetic aliens at risk of destruction by it and human telepaths trying to make contact across the gulf of stars. She died tragically in 1987.