!!!!SPOILERS!!!!LEAVE!!!!SPOILERS!!!!YOU SHOULDN'T BE HERE ANYWAY!!!SPOILERS!!!!LEAVE!!!!
One of the more outstanding and marvelous achievements in the genre of Science Fiction was the body of work under the alias of James Tiptree, Jr. The author's real name was Alice Hastings Bradley Davey Sheldon who lived a life as private and passionate as her fiction. Robert Silverberg's faux pas is legendary when he added to the querying mystery of the reclusive Tiptree's gender by stating, "It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing"(1).
The three short stories that make up Tales of the Quintana Roo are given to us by an elderly gringo of unnamed gender. Unidentified, yet it is clearly "Alli" relaying these fanciful ghost stories concerning the revenants of the sea. These are not the type of stories that cemented author Tiptree's reputation back in the '70s for fireworks prose, strong feminine portrayals, or moralist issues germane to deploring bigotry and social exclusivity. No, these are more gentle and detached accounts based in a wondering vocabulary of the sea's spirituality coming to possibly sing the siren's song of disgruntlements, whether they be human pollution ruining the reefs or a romantic notion of lost horizons.
None of the pertinent action happens to the narrator. In "What Came Ashore at Lirios", an alluring recollection from a sun-baked wanderer with "steady, clear, light hazel" eyes, tells the "old Gringo" of a spectral encounter with a shipwrecked Spanish aristocrat definitely not from this or any close century. The charm is in the reception of this fascinating stranger and the narrator's unsettled speculations about his easy and natural carriage. As the piece closes, it is noted that this anomalous beachcomber was never seen in the Roo again. It is left as a matter of fortuity: maybe the visitor "was at this time in some special relation to a force obscure and powerful", held in a significantly vulnerable position by an enchantment from a sentient entity,
In closing, this "ghost story" is far less scary than it is beguiling; it is harmony in its haunting. The revenant conquistador is little more than a prop or mouthpiece to ensnare its active enthusiast. After all, the young and amenable trekker believes "anything you need" comes from the sea. "Our blood is its very substance, moving in our veins."
The following stories—"The Boy Who Waterskied To Forever" and "Beyond the Dead Reef"—are lesser entries. TBWWTF relays the story of Maya scuba fishermen re-claiming their civilization's glory days by water sking from Cozumel to the Tulum ruins on the coast, a feat that has never been accomplished. The skier—a strong and determined boy named K'o—gets more than he probably bargained for when he finally hits the beach and looks up to see "buildings, fresh and new. And voices, people shouting . . . all strangely dressed, or rather ornamented." Viewed from the reverse, ancient perspective, it is The Diving God, K'o, returning from the sea, nailed into modern sensibilities by the fact that a transom fresco not found at any other Mayan ruin site depicts "strange wrist ornaments", resembling a modern day diver's watch.
"Beyond the Dead Reef" is a chance meeting between the "old Gringo" narrator and a younger man "in a very decent sports jacket" occupying the only empty table at a boisterous non-locals, Whitey bar. It is a testament that "nothing in the Quintana Roo is to be granted perfect trust." The narrator is going on a scuba diving trip in the morning, and, when her table companion hears of her destination, he steps in with a story. A coupla years back, he went diving with a young couple. They were dropped by the Dead Reef—an area of tons of litter and oil and chemical wash that's killed the coral and sealife—but, finning farther, they find an underwater paradise of non-basura beauty. The storyteller thinks he's following the cute and brightly-clothed derrière of Ann, but it turns out to be a Judas something leading him away from his fellow divers and into certain death. He finds himself facing a giant mash of submerged detritus in the rough shape of a woman with "one eye a traffic reflector and her mouth a partly rusted can." But, "she was alive," he tells her, with junkyard arms gesturing against the current, "and other moving things like nothing in this world." He escaped the sea's revenge and the night cap is provided by the "old Gringo".
The prose is smooth and stylish, creating a sense of awe and true wonderment for a location that still hides transcendent mystery and great, ancient power in this world. Or, as Alli says at the end of her Introduction, "Most of the matter of the stories set down here is simple fact. And of the fiction remaining, who could swear it was not carried in the four-thousand-year-old voices that whisper and murmur in the nights of the Quintana Roo?"
addendum: I believe these are not Tip's stories. These are Alli's.