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.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.