I’ve just found the solution to a minor mystery; every now and again when I’m reading some old science fiction, I run across a story or a well-conceived book review by H.H. Holmes. This in itself is not terribly surprising; I read a fair amount of older science fiction, and one of the local junk stores sells old magazines, including some back issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction. There are any number of writers whose work I’m vaguely familiar with and whose names hover right below a level at which I’m consciously aware of knowing who they are. I’d have assumed that H.H. Holmes was one of these, a John Wyndham or a Ward Moore, were it not for the fact that Dr. Henry H. Holmes, a Chicago druggist, was also America’s first serial killer, whose house of horrors was exposed in the 1890s after an insurance scam went awry. Pseudonyms seem to be particularly common among science fiction writers, but Anthony Boucher seems to be a special case. Boucher wrote as himself as well as Holmes and "Herman W. Mudgett", the real name of the original H.H. Holmes (who had a number of aliases; a womanizing fraud and bigamist, he needed to duck out on his creditors and the police repeatedly). Boucher was undoubtedly familiar with Dr. Holmes; he was a longtime mystery reviewer for the New York Times and a prominent mystery anthologist. He was also a prominent science fiction editor (and occasional writer) — the founding editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, in fact. In his Rocket to the Morgue, a mystery novel set among pulp SF writers,
[s]everal SF authors and editors appear thinly disguised under their own pen-names: even Anthony Boucher is present, this book being by "H. H. Holmes". Anson Macdonald and Lyle Monroe were pseudonyms of Robert Heinlein; Don Stuart, editor of Surprising Stories and Worlds Beyond magazines, was John W. Campbell of Astounding SF and Unknown; Rene Lafayette was one name used by L. (for Lafayette) Ron Hubbard while still a humble hack, before he made his dubious pile by inventing Scientology. The in-jokes are strictly for the fans, but Boucher’s SF shop-talk paints a lurid picture of those days’ combined ghastliness and delusive grandeur, with unpolished authors mapping the Ultimate Galactic Future of the Human Race at one cent per word….
Even "Anthony Boucher" was a pseudonym; born William Anthony Parker White, Boucher wrote using his his grandmother’s last name for his entire career due to a surfeit of William Whites.
Famously, James Tiptree, Junior was a pen name for Dr. Alice Sheldon (who also published some award-winning science fiction under the name "Racoona Sheldon"). Much, though not all, of her best work dealt with gender roles, including the award-winning stories "The Screwfly Solution" and "The Women Men Don’t See". None of her novels really live up to the punch of her stories, but she was one of America’s hottest science fiction writers from the early Seventies until her death by suicide in 1987 and inspired an award given in her name annually, the James Tiptree Award, for the best story or novel about gender issues. As far back as 1769, critics were warning men away from writing under female names, lest they "claim the bays bestowed upon the Lady." And drag — particularly women dressed as men — was a frequent motif of Renaissance drama, but gender wasn’t a frequent subject in the largely male-oriented world of science fiction before the late Sixties.
In his introduction to Tiptree’s Warm Worlds and Otherwise, which collects both of the stories above, Robert Silverberg noted people’s inability to find a real live human named "James Tiptree" (she had taken the name from her favorite marmalade) and speculated about Tiptree’s identity. Silverberg correctly guessed that she was involved with a three-letter agency (she had worked in military intelligence and for the CIA before getting her doctorate) and desired her privacy because of national security ties. This was not unreasonable; Paul Linebarger had written marvelously as the marvelously named Cordwainer Smith while not developing the modern theory of psychological warfare. Silverberg’s speculation, however, drifted to the "ineluctably masculine" nature of Tiptree’s writing; he dismissed speculation that Tiptree was a woman (and he wasn’t the only one). It’s an error Silverberg surely wishes everyone would shut up about, but given his own experiences writing under women’s names, it’s surprising that Silverberg was so dismissive of the possibility. Tiptree had many Hemingwayesque adventures — her mother was a travel writer, her father an African explorer — and had, after all, spent a year as a field agent for the CIA, but that doesn’t really mean a thing One hopes that Silverberg wouldn’t make the same mistake today, that Tiptree would be one more counterexample to what a character of hers once claimed: "What women do is survive. We live by ones and twos in the chinks of your world-machine."