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Review: “The Screwfly Solution (1977)” by Raccoona Sheldon a/k/a James Tiptree, Jr. a/k/a Alice Sheldon (short story) (4 1/2 Stars)

An epistolary narrative unraveled with increasing tension as terror reigns abomination with insect horror.

Our protagonist is concerned. She’s worried for her scientist husband who is conducting important research in the southern hemisphere. Her words reveal more than just the feelings of affection she has for him. She also makes mention of strange doings happening back home and around the world. Terrible things concerning strangers and family alike. The world, it would seem, has lost its marbles.

This story is told mostly through letters from the wife or her husband, however these are intermixed with article clippings passed along by a friend and fellow scientist. So, too, are point-of-view narratives in between the letters and periodicals. The technique allowing for personal impressions, those of strangers or authoritative voices, as well as the pure insular workings of the inner mind as the characters grapple and struggle with society devolving around them. The result being that, in a very short time, this author manages quite deftly to turn order into chaos for not only our characters, but the entire planet.

Character emotion is described strongly throughout the story. With these emotions the plot is carefully measured. Whether through the written words of letters or articles or inner monologue, there is no distance here. Every emotional beat is meted out to drive the tension forward.

But the science! And the numbers! The journals and the facts! This is hard science fiction at it’s best. A biological puzzle, a mystery—an outbreak rivaling any modern thrillers, yet holding much tighter to a poetic tone. Somehow, some way, the words used by this author paint themselves against the cosmos of the brain. They hold the heavy weight of scientific jargon, but with a vengeance that feels personal and familiar even to the wary head of a lay person such as myself. You experience the meanings, the fear behind them, the profound realizations.

These fantastical plots are ground in real life curiosities and knowledge. Researched and realized. Go ahead and look up about the germ of an idea which the story is based. It is the stuff of nightmares for sure. And here, the author, has plucked one of those nightmares and drawn forth the shadows which give them life so that we may see this horror in a new lens. Creating a horrifying tale that goes beyond simple jump scares.

Deep themes are plumbed here. Light is shined on issues of gender and on what makes a strength and what makes a weakness. These were areas which the author often preferred to explore in her own unique and subtle way. And yet, this tale is not an exercise in didactic commentary, no more than any other piece of good literature. Questions and possibilities are investigated.

In classic rhythm with all the joys of old school pulp fiction this story reaches high and far. It gazes out from one’s mind into the distant horizons of possibility for that wonderful notion of consideration that too rarely follows a reader after the last page is turned and the work is set aside. Returning in a moment of quiet contemplation of “What if….” and the thrilling silent shudder of terror which follows. Leaving an emotional resonance. Possibilities, possibilities, possibilities. Oh horror!

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/05/21/review-the-screwfly-solution-james-tiptree-jr

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Posted by on May 21, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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