Video Short Story Chat: The Screwfly Solution by James Tiptree, Jr.

I tend to pay a lot of attention to gender dynamics in the stories I read.

The roles of men and women, careers, parenting societal norms – these are things that fascinate me.  

Recognizing this, one of my viewers, Buzz Selous, recommended “The Screwfly Solution” by James Tiptree, Jr. (Many thanks, Buzz Selous!)

I’ll keep the review section of this chat brief: “The Screwfly Solution” is good. Really, really good and head-scratchingly complex.

Instead of reviewing this story, I want to dissect it. Split it into tiny pieces and analyze every part of what James Tiptree, Jr (“Tip” to friends) was trying to say. Be warned: there are spoilers here.

This sci-fi short story is not one for speed reading. I actually read and listened to it three separate times and still feel like there are details that I’m missing. Tiptree packs a novels worth of world into these complex short stories.

“The Screwfly Solution” is told mostly in the form of Anne’s letters to her scientist husband, Alan. While he’s away on a research trip, Anne misses him desperately.  

In her letters, she waxes on and on about how much she loves and misses her darling, darling, wonderful husband. Almost to the point of subjugating herself. She even throws in comments about how she’s probably being hysterical.  

It isn’t until the end of the story that we find out that Anne is a doctor. She’s not just the object of her husband’s sexual desire. Not some timid little woman being helped by the family friend, Barney. But a capable, intelligent doctor.  

Meanwhile, mass femicide (murder of females) is spreading across the globe.

 

This story could be a depiction of how women are completely victim to the wiles of men and their violence. Women are viewed to be impure and evil, giving this men’s cult, the Sons of Adam, the justification they need to commit rape and murder.

At the very end of the story, though, we find that this is all a scheme by aliens to take over the earth and exterminate the human population. So perhaps the reading of this text could be that the gender divide and the issues that we are so sensitive to don’t even exist. They don’t matter. They’re irrelevant to the ultimate goal: extermination.

It doesn’t matter if one sex is weak to another. What matters is that the aliens are just going about it in a scientific way to get rid of all humans. Similar to the screwfly solution, this is a method of sterilizing a large population of insects in order to make their propagation peter out over the course of several generations.  

It’s not necessarily a question of male and female rights. It’s more a question of how to kill s species as quickly and efficiently as possible.

BUT…
It was the societal norms that allowed this sterile insect technique to not only work on humans, but to work way too well. There was no mention of any uprising against or even tempering of the Sons of Adam. Femicide was taken as an alarming but accepted new norm because the stage was already set. The subjugation had already been established.

From the clever turns of phrase to the intense world building we can see behind the words, “The Screwfly Solution” is an excellent story.

 

Want an even more compelling, real-life story? Look into Alice B. Sheldon, the woman behind the James Tiptree pen name. her life was remarkable.

Here’s where to read or listen to Alice B. Sheldon AKA Raccoona Sheldon AKA James Tiptree Jr’s works for free:

Listen to “The Screwfly Solution” on Pseudopod.
Read “The Screwfly Solution” online.
Listen to “Houston, Houston Do You Read Me”  
Read “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever”
Listen to “The Man Who Walked Home”
Read “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain”