Wednesday, April 25, 2007

James Tiptree. Jr.

I was thinking about some of the science fiction I used to read, and I started going down the whatever-happened-to path. Needless to say, most of the SCI-FI authors I read are dead, but I am struck by how much their lives and works resembled Kilgore Trout's. James Tiptree had an even stranger life: see her Wikipedia entry . What I didn't know at the time was that Tiptree was the pen name of Alice Sheldon (photo right), a bisexual behaviorist and former CIA analyst, who committed suicide after first killing her elderly husband. Her stories and novels were considered New Wave sci-fi at the time and had a literary style that seemed drug induced (see this example). Every base library had a collection of her works, and I admit they used to puzzle and disturb me, but now no more so than the author herself. There's a biography available by Julie Phillps, "The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon" (reviewed by the NY Times). I wonder what ever became of New Wave science fiction?
(Photo: Mary Hastings Bradley Papers, University of Illinois, Chicago)


Steve said...

New wave crested (excuse the pun) because it was dark and cynical. Not that there is a fatal flaw in being dark and cynical, but the problem is if you don't believe in the future there isn't much you can do with science fiction in the long term. This is because sci-fi depends on technology to take the characters to new places. For example, '1984' works for one book, but you'd have trouble making it into a trilogy.

New wave was also very 60s in its tone and view. It didn't take long for it to look as outdated as Beatle boots and granny glasses.

In addition, the 70s brought on layoffs, decay of cities, and gas shortages. Suddenly a gloomy future didn't look like the stuff of fiction, but a very real and scary present.

Thus, I would say New Wave lost it momentum because: it was too often and too much, the taste of the reading public changed, and the reading public from grim futures all too real and unattractive.

Steve said...

Let me correct that to: '...too often and too much cynical,.....and the reading public found grim futures all too real...'

Excuse my typos.