Over the next couple of weeks I’m running a feminist science fiction series. It’s not quite as fantabulous as I would have liked, but sometimes being disabled does that to you! I’m sharing thoughts on some of my favourite pieces of fem SF writing. Enjoy! Here’s the first post.
On 19 May 1987, in the early hours of the morning, Alice Sheldon, one of the best writers you’ve never heard of, killed herself.
I think it will take me a few years yet to understand what I feel about this woman. Her “The Women Men Don’t See” made me a feminist. She introduced me to the phrase “zero at the bone”. Her life, her writing, her glittering mind have made their substantial place in my psyche.
‘The chinks of your world machine…’ “The Women Men Don’t See”: perfect perfect perfect. How come I couldn’t articulate these oppressions before? It took me weeks to finish this because it kept touching a nerve.
“Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!” is powerful and underrated. We’ve no need of dystopias: we’re in one.
Oh, and “The Screwfly Solution”. The most famous Raccoona Sheldon piece. Clever, tight and terrifying. It’s a perfect horror story because it takes no great leap to imagine it happening. This has the scariest closing line ever.
“The Last Flight of Dr Ain” is quiet, abrupt and wonderful. It launched James’ career.
“The Girl Who Was Plugged In”! The founding text of a genre; we wouldn’t have cyberpunk but for Tip. I like what Julie Phillips said, that it’s ‘a horror story about performing the feminine: the beautiful, numb outer self, the female impersonator, houses the unacceptable true self’.
“Love is the Plan the Plan is Death” is my favourite, the first I read. I don’t know why I like it so much.
But the life and the consciousness that gave her such appalling, brilliant thoughts was unsustainable. Alice Hastings Bradley, Alice Bradley Davey, Dr. Alice B. Sheldon, James Tiptree, Jr., Raccoona Sheldon, Alli. She lived many lives that never quite fit. And even though I never met her, I miss her like anything.
I’m afraid this post isn’t quite a review or an advertisement for Tiptree, more a personal expression. I’ll be writing more on her in future. Here are some resources, because you absolutely go read her.
James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips (2006) is really something. This biography took her ten years to write and you can see why on reading it. The above quote is from page 260.
David Lavery has a nice little site.
“Zero at the Bone,” collected in Meet Me at Infinity (2000) is an essay of hers that obviously holds significance for me! As much as I don’t like to link to Amazon, you can “flip through” the book there and find the essay. It’s just…
A number of her stories are available at scifi.com: “The Women Men Don’t See”, “Painwise”, “Beam Us Home”, “The Screwfly Solution” and “Love is the Plan the Plan is Death”.