Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Alice in Jungleland, by Mary Hastings Bradley

There is no link available for this book, you may have noticed, and the author link goes to the James Tiptree, Jr. web site. At the risk of preaching to the converted, the deal is this: Mary Hastings Bradley was a prolific author of travel literature and novels. She had a daughter named Alice, who later took the name Sheldon, who wrote science fiction under the pseudonym of James Tiptree, Jr.

If you've not read Tiptree, skip the rest of this and go read some. She is dark and lyrical and original and you are the poorer for not having read her.

Alice in Jungleland, as you may have guessed, is about young Alice. In 1921-1922 the Bradleys took Alice along on a gorilla-hunting expedition. You read that right. Incidentally, if you've read Karen Joy Fowler's story "What I Didn't See," this expedition (and if you haven't, again, go read it), along with the Tiptree story "The Women Men Don't See," was the inspiration for that tale.

There aren't a lot of copies of this book in circulation. I was lucky enough to win this at the Tiptree auction at WisCon last year, and I finally got around to reading it, which is good because since I'm much broker this year I thought I might donate it back to the auction.

So. If the fascination of knowing who young Alice would grow up to be hadn't been there, this book wouldn't have been much of a read. Its tone is patronizing to the presumed child reader, as well as being (and this is as much a sign of the time in which it was written as of the character of its author--whether that is any sort of excuse is open for debate) casually racist and unapologetically pro-big game hunting. But, if you know Tiptree's writing, it's fascinating to read of her adventure and to speculate on how it shaped her future working for Army Intelligence and the CIA, how it influenced her storytelling, or whether it made her brave and resourceful and what Robert Silverberg once referred to as "ineluctably masculine." For that it's worth reading, which is why I'm planning to put it back out there for another Tiptree fan to check out.