Tales of the Quintana Roo

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Arkham House Publishers, 1986 - Fiction - 111 pages
"The Quintana Roo is a real and very strange place. It is the long, wild easternmost shore of the Yucatan Peninsula, officially but not psychologically part of Mexico. A diary of daily life on its jungly beaches could sometimes be taken for a log of life on an alien planet, " writes James Tiptree, Jr., in the preface to this new collection of three talismanic tales of the supernatural. During the late 1970s, Tiptree -- one of the greatest American authors of short imaginative fiction -- lived for months on the eerie windswept shore of the Yucatan, and the true protagonist of this book is neither the Tiptree narrator nor the manifestations of ancient Maya civilization, but rather the Quintana Roo itself as a living, pulsating entity that envelops the reader within a uniquely alien ambience. Following Tiptree's introduction are these unforgettable nouvelles of weird fantasy: "What Came Ashore at Lirios, " "The Boy Who Waterskied to Forever, " and "Beyond the Dead Reef."

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This book is "good," even solid -- but the reason it earns five stars is for its namesake story (renamed from its original appearance in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine as "What came ashore at Lirios"). This story just completely blows me away -- I can go and spout academia-like babble like "magic realism" and "gender duality," but at the end of the day, the story wafts you back and forth through the centuries, makes you ponder what reality really is -- perception? tangibles? -- and how we interact with it. In a sense, I suppose, it's the best ghost story I've ever known.
It was a good 25 years after the first time I read it before I even realized one little nuance that gives even a little more zing: you never know the narrator's gender. Not terribly important, no, but I'm sure it took a lot of work on the author's part to hide it as well as... well, as the author's gender, itself.
To wrap it up, I'll include a snippet that starts the story; only peripherally related, but really does help set the tone:
Tourists throw spent Polaroids
Where Spaniards threw spent slaves;
And now and then a tourist joins
Four thousand years of graves.
For loves it's wiser to avoid
Smiles from those brilliant waves.


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About the author (1986)

James Tiptree, Jr., was actually Alice Hastings Bradley Sheldon (1915-1987), a fact she kept secret for the first ten years of her meteoric career under the Tiptree pseudonym, as she won awards and acclaim. The truth came out in 1977. She also wrote as Raccoona Sheldon. She was born in Chicago, but spent much of her childhood in Africa and India. Her father was a lawyer and traveler. Her mother, Mary Hastings Bradley, was a well known geographer, traveler, and author of 35 books, who also wrote a successful children's book of which Alice was the heroine. After leaving her first career in the CIA in 1955, Sheldon got a Ph.D. in experimental psychology in 1967 and began her writing career. She won the Hugo, Nebula and Jupiter awards for her short fiction. Today, the annual Tiptree Award, for SF that explores and expands gender roles, is given in her memory.

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