“The Screwfly Solution”, James Tiptree, Jr.

AP/Nassau: The excursion liner Carib Swallow reached port under tow today after striking an obstruction in the Gulf Stream off Cape Hatteras. The obstruction was identified as part of a commercial trawler’s seine floated by female corpses. This confirms reports from Florida and the Gulf of the use of such seines, some of them over a mile in length. Similar reports coming from the Pacific coast and as far away as Japan indicate a growing hazard to coastwise shipping.

That cheery fragment is actually one of the less upsetting pieces of text in Tiptree’s “The Screwfly Solution”. It’s a fairly hard-hitting story, especially when you (for example) go in thinking that while it’ll probably be a good story, it’ll be a little dated and there’s no reason to think it’d make more of an impression than others you’ve read.

(I was corrected. To borrow a phrase from another work, I was corrected harshly.)

That short story’s remarkable to me at least in part because I honestly feel like the last few lines weaken the horror of it. Partly that’s surprising because I find most of Tiptree’s work is remarkably consistent and builds well on itself; partly that’s interesting because I’ve got a class on beginnings and endings tomorrow, and I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately.

Tiptree wrote a great many stories, and it’s hard to choose what to recommend first, but after “The Screwfly Solution” you could do worse than go with “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!”, “The Man Who Walked Home”, and “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”.

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