James Tiptree, Jr.’s “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death”

Last night’s bedtime story was James Tiptree, Jr.’s Nebula-winning “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death.” It was first published in 1973, but I read it in Tiptree’s collection, Warm Worlds and Otherwise, 1975. The story is an elucidation of an evolutionarily derived plan for propagation of an alien species and the way that one of the members, Moggadeet attempts to rationalize his subversion of the plan with “his” lover, Lilliloo. Moggadeet, who I soon thought of as a male character also identifies himself as mother to Lilliloo. As part of this identification, is the power relationship of Moggadeet subduing Lilliloo by force and binding her while he cares for “her.” However, the plan inverts the power relationship and Moggadeet is devoured by the true mother–Lilliloo. The story is replete with Freudian sexualized imagery made concrete by sadomasochistic behavior combined with fetishistic impulses. This is a bizarre story on the first read, but it’s underlying gendered power struggle and its subversion through a natural plan is well executed indeed!

Another interesting thing about Warm Worlds and Otherwise is that it contains an introduction by Robert Silverberg. In the introduction, Silverberg writes:

It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing. I don’t think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman, and in the same way I believe the author of the James Tiptree stories is male (xii).

Also, it’s interesting how close Silverberg got to the truth, if only he had been willing to admit it to himself. He writes:

All of these are mere hypotheses, based largely on the evidence of the Phantasmicom articles, Tiptree’s own occasional letters, and the stories themselves, which I think reflect much of the authentic Tiptree in characters like Dr. Ain, slinking from airport to airport, or Ruth Parsons of that remarkable story “The Women Men Don’t See,” determinedly tight-lipped about every aspect of her life in government service (xv).

For Silverberg, Sheldon was literally the woman men don’t see. However, it sounds very much like that was the way she wanted it as is reflected in some of her correspondence of the time.

Once the secret was out that Tiptree was actually a woman, I don’t think Silverberg retracted what he had said. As Le Guin has pointed out in the introduction to another Tiptree collection, everyone was fooled.

I’ve been meaning to read the James Tiptree, Jr./Alice B. Sheldon biography by Julie Phillips: James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. I haven’t seen it in any UK bookshops yet, so I’ll probably have to order it from Amazon.

2 thoughts on “James Tiptree, Jr.’s “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death”

  1. You write that “I don’t think Silverberg retracted what he said”. Three years after writing that introduction, Silverberg wrote in a later edition of “Warm Worlds”:

    “Postscript–Three Years Later
    Just before Christmas, 1976, came a letter in the familiar blue-ribbon typing, hesitantly confessing that “Tiptree” is the pseudonym of Dr. Alice B. Sheldon and hoping that I would not be too upset about having gone so far out on a limb with my insistence on “Tiptree’s” maleness. Quite a surprise package; and there I was in print upholding the ineluctable masculinity of “Tiptree’s” writing. Okay: no shame attaches. She fooled me beautifully, along with everyone else, and called into question the entire notion of what is “masculine” or “feminine” in fiction. I am still wrestling with that. What I have learned is that there are some women who can write about traditionally male topics more knowledgeably than most men, and that the truly superior artist can adopt whatever tone is appropriate to the material and bring it off. And I have learned–again; as if I needed one more lesson in it–that Things Are Seldom What They Seem. For these aspects of my education, Alli Sheldon, I thank you. And for much else.
    –Robert Silverberg, February, 1978″

  2. Hey Darrah,

    Thanks for taking the time to type up Silverberg’s postscript in your comment. I was working from the original edition when I originally made this post. This is great stuff, and I’m glad to hear that Silverberg owned up to what he said in his own way.

    -Jason

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