Beyond the Dead Reef
by James Tiptree, Jr
My informant was, of course, spectacularly unreliable.
The only character reference I have for him comes from the intangible nuances of a small restaurant-owner’s remarks, and the only confirmation of his tale lies in the fact that an illiterate fishing-guide appears to believe it. If I were to recount all the reasons why no sane mind should take it seriously, we could never begin. So I will only report the fact that today I found myself shuddering with terror when a perfectly innocent sheet of seaworn plastic came slithering over my snorkeling-reef, as dozens have done for years—and get on with the story.
I met him one evening this December at the Cozumel Buzo, on my first annual supply trip. As usual, the Buzo’s outer rooms were jammed with tourist divers and their retinues and gear. That’s standard. El Buzo means, roughly, The Diving, and the Buzo is their place. Marcial’s big sign in the window reads “DIVVERS UELCOME! BRING YR FISH WE COK WITH CAR. FIRST DRINK FREE!”
About the Author
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, notably “The Screwfly Solution.” 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. “The Screwfly Solution” 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.
About the Narrator
Amy H. Sturgis holds a Ph.D. in Intellectual History from Vanderbilt University and specializes in both Science Fiction and Indigenous American Studies. She is regular staff with the StarShipSofa podcast, editor in chief of Hocus Pocus Comics, and faculty at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She lives with her husband in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.