College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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James Tiptree Jr., science fiction, feminist science fiction, gender ambivalence, masculinity


James Tiptree, Jr.’s fiction which first appeared in the SF world in 1968 presents a paradox. Having established herself as an influential science fiction male writer for a decade, Alice Sheldon successfully defied preconceived notions about masculine and feminine writing styles. Her two adopted textual personas, Tiptree and Raccoona Sheldon, reflect different facets of her personality, and the writing produced under each pseudonym explores gender issues convincingly from both perspectives. While Tiptree’s stories can lend themselves to feminist themes, or challenges to feminism, the supposed male author’s ‘ineluctably masculine’ narrative style and the revelation that Tiptree was a pseudonym make the issue fascinatingly complex. This thesis examines gender ambivalence as an expression of identity fragmentation with a focus on the 1976 award winning novella “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” Published against the backdrop of the second wave feminist movement, the story explores the decade’s contested topics of gender difference and inequality. The male narrator’s ambivalent masculinity opens up new ways to investigate how the paradigms of an old patriarchal society and a new matriarchal one intersect to question, explore, and redefine humanity. The importance of Tiptree’s addition to the canon of early feminist science fiction and the outing of the author's identity helped spur the debate over what is masculine or feminine style to culminate in 1991 with the creation of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award honoring any work of science fiction or fantasy that expands our understanding of gender.

Available for download on Friday, November 13, 2020