(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Critics often describe Tiptree’s best writing as predating this collection. None of the stories here has the stylistic and thematic power of “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” (1976), “The Screwfly Solution” (1977), or “With Delicate Mad Hands” (1981). It has been suggested that after her identity was revealed, Sheldon was less successful than she had been as Tiptree. Crown of Stars, though not representative of Tiptree’s very best writing, is nevertheless representative of the author’s major themes and shows her place within both the New Wave of science-fiction writing and the feminist wave.

Tiptree combines a thorough knowledge of science, psychology, and military tactics with exceptional stylistic skills to impart a rare power to the science-fiction short story, thus raising its critical reputation. The author’s ironic and complex studies of human psychology, in particular, are hallmarks of the New Wave of science-fiction writing introduced in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The author’s alignment with feminist science fiction as it began to appear in the early 1970’s was colored somewhat by the use of a male pseudonym, particularly because Tiptree often was described as a singularly masculine writer, concerned with male aggression and sexual conquest, here illustrated by “Yanqui Doodle.” The revelation that Tiptree was Alice Sheldon forced the science-fiction community to examine its presuppositions about “male” and “female” writing.

Tiptree’s themes are often feminist. For example, she treats abortion in “Morality Meat” and young women’s views of sexuality, marriage, and social roles in “All This and Heaven Too” and “Backward, Turn Backward.” Unlike such feminist writers as Joanna Russ, Monique Wittig, and Marge Piercy, though, Tiptree neither offers a utopian separatist paradigm nor provides purely sympathetic female characters. “Backward, Turn Backward” is critical of a society that allows girls to develop a sense of self-worth based only on appearances but features a main female character with whom it is hard to sympathize. Similarly, although Amoretta in “All This and Heaven Too” is in some ways a victim of conventions of romantic love, she nearly imperils the country she rules by marrying the wrong man. Like other feminist writers, however, Tiptree examines the role of women in society, including aspects of their sexual selves long taboo in science fiction.