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Author Topic: Pseudopod 400: The Screwfly Solution  (Read 19269 times)

Bdoomed

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on: August 23, 2014, 12:34:42 AM
Pseudopod 400: The Screwfly Solution
400!  What?!

by James Tiptree Jr.

“The Screwfly Solution” first appeared in the June 1977 issue of Analog, won the Nebula award for Novelette in 1978 and has been reprinted multiple times since then. In 2006 it was adapted by Sam Hamm and Joe Dante as an episode of Showtime Network’s Masters of Horror series. It is being podcast with the permission of the Tiptree estate through the Virginia Kidd agency.

JAMES TIPTREE JR. was the pseudonym of Alice B. Sheldon (1915-1987). She was a photo-intelligence officer in WWII as well as a CIA agent, which formed the bulk of her career before academia. This experience was influential on her stories, including her in-depth understanding of national and international responses to crises. After her career with the CIA, she achieved a doctorate at George Washington University in Experimental Psychology in 1967, and her doctoral dissertation was on the responses of animals to novel stimuli in differing environments. You can see this reflected in her work and in this story. It was at this time that she started writing science fiction stories under a pseudonym to protect her new academic career, and chose a male name to fit in better at the magazines. In addition to James Tiptree, she published under the pseudonym Raccoona Sheldon. Tiptree also won two more Nebulas, two Hugos, and a World Fantasy Award. She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012. In 1991, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award was named in her honor, and recognizes speculative fiction that expands or explores our understanding of gender. This story was later collected in HER SMOKE ROSE UP FOREVER. If you only pick up one Tiptree collection, and you should, this is a great place to start..

Your readers on this special episode include Matt Franklin as Alan, Tina Connolly as Anne, Anna Schwind as Amy, Matt Weller as Barney and Rish Outfield, Eric Luke, George Hrab & Jarus Durnett in supporting roles.

Please consider helping out P.G. Holyfield’s family here.

We mourn the loss of Larry Santoro. Please visit http://www.cancer.org/ and http://www.imermanangels.org/ to learn more about cancer support.

Also, Saladin Ahmed could really use your help.



“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.”




Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2014, 01:05:17 AM by Sgarre1 »

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


Fenrix

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Reply #1 on: August 23, 2014, 01:43:58 AM
This is the first story to give me nightmares in years. Great stuff.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #2 on: August 24, 2014, 02:44:18 AM
I thought this story sounded familiar... I remember now. I think I read it in high school, in one of the Analogue Magazines they had in the library. By the Throne... the reading is great, and I want to keep listening, but I'm not sure I can. It really messed me up when I read it, and I can't imagine that listening to it will be any easier.

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Varda

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Reply #3 on: August 24, 2014, 12:27:39 PM
There are so many great things about this story, I don't even know where to start. I guess, in no particular order....

1. Thank you, Alex and the whole PP team, for putting in the work to track down rights for this one.

2. The full-cast reading was great! I especially loved Tina Connolly as Anne, and generally how all the various letters and newspaper clippings were read by different voices. Had a nice, immersive effect.

3. I think what I love about this story as a piece of horror is how it's a story about systematic rape and violence against women that captures why this is friggin' terrifying no matter what your gender is. For men, the fear is being betrayed by your own biological programming, having it hijacked and reprogrammed to murder women you love *BECAUSE* you love them. It seems in this story that the more intense positive feelings a guy has for his female family members, the more powerfully it gets converted into mindless bloodlust (which is why cross-dressing and being anonymous kinda sorta works for Anne at the end). It was absolutely heartbreaking to watch Alan come to the realization that he was the most dangerous thing in the world to his family, and that he couldn't trust himself to see them without hurting them. And even worse when his daughter goes looking for him in a fit of teenage rebellion, not understanding her father wouldn't be able to keep himself from hurting her.

For women, the scary thing about this story is the way the world reacts to the mass murder of women throughout the piece. It's best summed up in this bit here:

Quote
The weird part is that no one seems to be doing anything, as if it's just too big. Selina Peters has been printing some acid comments, like: When one man kills his wife you call murder, but when enough do it we call it a life-style.

For me, this was even more scary than all the dudes of the world becoming rapist-murderers all at once, because it hits a little closer to reality: the way violence against women is so widespread and common that it's practically a non-story. I'm reminded of the #YesAllWomen conversation on Twitter, where women shared personal stories about harassment and violence, and how even just posting to that hashtag was enough to get you a free bonus rape threat from random dudes who feel completely comfortable behaving this way in public. And yet, Twitter as a company still considers rape threats a non-issue, not something to ban an account over. Violence against women isn't crime, it's a "life style", if you will.

4. Usually I loathe the "Surprise, It's Aliens!" plot twist, but this was so well-executed that it got a slow clap from me. I love how Tiptree brings the whole story back around to the fact that all life on Earth is ultimately related, and that anything we do to another species is hypothetically something that could happen to humans, under the right circumstances. Tiptree's stories often explore the theme of biological determinism, but I think this is one of her finest on the subject. (I also love "A Momentary Taste of Being", which is much much longer, but if you want more sick Tiptree sci-horror, I recommend it).

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #4 on: August 24, 2014, 04:08:23 PM
4. Usually I loathe the "Surprise, It's Aliens!" plot twist, but this was so well-executed that it got a slow clap from me. I love how Tiptree brings the whole story back around to the fact that all life on Earth is ultimately related, and that anything we do to another species is hypothetically something that could happen to humans, under the right circumstances. Tiptree's stories often explore the theme of biological determinism, but I think this is one of her finest on the subject. (I also love "A Momentary Taste of Being", which is much much longer, but if you want more sick Tiptree sci-horror, I recommend it).

The trouble with "Surprise, It's Aliens!" is that it's overplayed... this story comes from back in the day before that happened.

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adrianh

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Reply #5 on: August 24, 2014, 04:18:35 PM
The trouble with "Surprise, It's Aliens!" is that it's overplayed... this story comes from back in the day before that happened.

It was pretty overplayed even in 1977 ;-)

But this particular instance was played pretty darn will in my opinion. Especially the foreshadowing with the third-party reports of "angels" earlier in the story.



Varda

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Reply #6 on: August 24, 2014, 04:46:18 PM
The trouble with "Surprise, It's Aliens!" is that it's overplayed... this story comes from back in the day before that happened.

It was pretty overplayed even in 1977 ;-)

But this particular instance was played pretty darn will in my opinion. Especially the foreshadowing with the third-party reports of "angels" earlier in the story.

Yeah, this. :) It's tired enough that I even roll my eyes when it pops up in classic SF (knowing it must have been fresh at some point in time), but I genuinely liked how it unfolded in this story. Certainly Nebula-worthy. :)

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #7 on: August 24, 2014, 04:52:03 PM
Guys... I'm listening to the rest of the story. The reading is too good, even though I know how it ends. I'm going to need a hug when all this is over.

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Varda

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Reply #8 on: August 24, 2014, 04:59:41 PM
I'll just leave this right here for when you're done. :)


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Varda

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Reply #9 on: August 25, 2014, 02:19:47 AM
The reason that this is awesomely good horror is because it makes you think about all the times you had the impulse to whack some annoying bitch. You didn't do it (presumably) because you knew that it would be wrong (I'm assuming) and you also knew that the consequences would be problematic (at best). But still, the impulse was there, and wouldn't it have been satisfying to indulge it?

I'm not sure who you meant by "you", but I for one have never had the impulse to "whack" a "bitch", and I don't think most of the folks on this forum have had the desire to violently assault a woman, either.

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Fenrix

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Reply #10 on: August 25, 2014, 01:08:41 PM
It's interesting to consider how this story plays with expectations. We're led to believe that Ann is the stereotypical flighty housewife of the 50's waiting with martini and slippers for her husband. One prone to go into hysterics, who just needs a good slap to bring her back to normalcy. Yet by the end we're shown that she's self reliant and was a doctor in her previous life. How we perceive Ann seems to be an inkblot test. One of many in this story.

One of the core principles of horror is powerlessness and its presentation. There's powerlessness here to sink its claws in everyone. The method in which information is parceled out, both by the author and the restrictions in the world (Facebook is filtering negative stories from your feed). A congressional committee report declaring that all is well. The inability to protect or even interact with your family. The lack of control due to some warped bit of DNA. The thought that we are no more than a fly with larvae growing in the naval cavities and brain.

The most chilling bit for me was the military driver being glad that the epidemiologist was not sexually violated (almost in a fashion where he would have been disgusted by the concept of a sexual act) but he was totally fine with the wounds and all the implications they held. So many layers to everything, but this was the section that opened the flood gates.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


Unblinking

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Reply #11 on: August 25, 2014, 01:30:50 PM
Damn, this was good.  I think this is only the ummmm... third story by Tiptree that I've read, but I need to read more, obviously.  In some ways her versatility and crazed imagination remind me of PKD, one of my favorite authors, but she has a very unique feel to her work. 

Interesting how one might guess at the personal character of Tiptree when reading this story if you thought she was a man or if you thought she was a woman, and might guess differently.

This story has aged remarkably well, and had me going throughout.  The only minor quibble I had is that I thought that the reveal of what the main character's relationship was like was introduced so late in the story, it was kind of a distraction where it was placed.  But great story overall.

I think that much of the reason why "it's aliens" ending worked is that it WASN'T a twist.  There were a lot of solid clues laid throughout to the nature of the problem.  I guessed aliens about halfway through when I realized that what was happening was remarkably similar to the screwflies, and of course then the title tied it all together.  The angel sighting wasn't what tipped me off, though that was certainly a clue in the chain of clues.  Though I figured out that it was aliens before it was stated in the story, I thought this was about the perfect level of clue-laying.  Lay too many clues and the reader figures it out early and gets frustrated when the characters are too stupid to get it (i.e. Parasite by Mira Grant comes to mind), lay too few and it becomes a corny Twilight Zone wannabe that ages badly once you know what happens.  This was the Goldilocks zone of clue-laying.



Dwango

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Reply #12 on: August 26, 2014, 02:58:48 PM
I wasn't so sure it was aliens until the end. I expected something on the poisons used on screwflies affecting humans, a sort of environmental beat on how the chemicals we are using on our food could affect us as well.  It was effectively disturbing with the violence moving beyond sex to family members who are female, and the complete disregard for female life at the end.  The men and boys coming into the shop laughing without any thought that half the human population was gone.

This story and last week's stories were very well related, both dealing with violence to women and both dealing with sexual relations.  I sense a theme going on. 



Loren Eaton

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Reply #13 on: August 26, 2014, 08:52:21 PM
Holy mackerel, what a downer. I mean, it's an incredibly well-written and amazingly performed downer. But the impending extermination of humanity isn't a cheery subject.

I've never read Thomas M. Disch's The Genocides, but it sounds an awful lot like this short.

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Reply #14 on: August 26, 2014, 09:26:02 PM
I wasn't so sure it was aliens until the end. I expected something on the poisons used on screwflies affecting humans, a sort of environmental beat on how the chemicals we are using on our food could affect us as well. 

That crossed my mind as well, and there was a hint in that direction when the description of the screwfly solution stated straight out that humans could eat it with no harm.  It occurred to me there that some chemicals' effects can only be discerned with very long term studies and perhaps it didn't get the testing it deserved.  It also occurred to me that there could be a coverup of any bad results found because profit.

The reason I ended up deciding it must be aliens was that the dispersal pattern appeared to be by dumping large quantities directly in the jetstream.  With the quantity and exact placement I imagined for that dispersal pattern to show, it would have to entirely intentional.  The screwflies seemed like a more local application perhaps by helicopter, not something you'd want to send round the world.  It could have been humans exterminating humans on purpose, I suppose, but I don't honestly think it's that common for a group of people to want to kill everyone including themselves, more to want to kill some subset of the rest of humanity.  But, with the screwfly parallel it would make sense for some kind of more advanced species to be disposing of us as a pest.



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Reply #15 on: August 26, 2014, 10:11:13 PM
This was well-done and a wonderful choice. Congratulations all around!

Not to steal thunder, but have you seen the "Masters of Horror" adaptation? It too is brilliant.



SpareInch

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Reply #16 on: August 27, 2014, 03:42:24 PM
Oh for crying out loud!

Where's my To Read List?

Anyone got a pencil?

"Read Complete works of James Tiptree Jr."

Damned list just keeps on growing! ;)

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eytanz

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Reply #17 on: August 27, 2014, 11:30:05 PM
The complete works aren't actually available in print, unfortunately. But the collection "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" is very much worth reading.



zoanon

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Reply #18 on: August 28, 2014, 12:36:09 AM
It was a while before I could even read the comments, this story messed me up bad.
I had to take a break in the middle for sleep and icecream when the casual mention of abandoned ships full of women's bodies gave me some pretty severe nausea.

so disturbed.

this story is awful especially as a women because we do face such serious and immediate blow back when we challenge problems in real life, just as in this reality nothing was done about the killing except silencing the women trying to bring attention to it.







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Reply #19 on: August 28, 2014, 01:33:54 PM
The complete works aren't actually available in print, unfortunately. But the collection "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" is very much worth reading.

I haven't read anything near the complete list, but had heard another one recently on a podcast, Love is the Plan the Plan is Death:
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/love-is-the-plan-the-plan-is-death/