The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler

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The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler

Category: Short Stories
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An unfortunate introduction to a renowned author, or a surprise left-field pick of works by a major best-selling name, or a delight to the charmed completist – you choose. Unfortunately, for me it was option A.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 128 Date: November 2013
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 9781604868258

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I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The most fun when facing a new author, especially a big name one, is to come through the underground, tackling the smaller works, the quirkier output, the less representative sections of her or his oeuvre. And for those who have or haven't read The Jane Austen Book Club, there is plenty of potential for that with the rest of Karen Joy Fowler, for her output includes almost as many selections of short stories as it does very successful novels, and what's more they carry the science fictional banner. A long time ago there was a teenage me very happy to be reading Lord of the Flies and writing an essay about how sci-fi it was, and I do relish the mainstream author entering a genre, or the inverse of that. But boy, I normally come away a lot happier than I did here.

While this volume presents itself as the subterranean subterfuge of finding a leading name author via the back door, which completely fits in with my ethos, the results are very poor indeed. The longer stories here are old – even if they aren't easy to find. 'The Further Adventures of the Invisible Man' is completely sci-fi free, despite the book plugging the genre tradition in Ms Fowler's short works, meaning this story of a boy reluctantly forced into shoplifting and then as a consequence baseball should be filed nearer Ralph Ellison than HG Wells.

The proportion of the book that is new is of very dubious quality, too. A new interview with this series' editor matches Smash Hits banality with relevant questions, so that everything seems like a non-sequitur. There's a short essay, which is eminently forgettable, and the title piece, which reads as a friendly essay about Mary Anning, the well-known fossil collector and dinosaur studies pioneer, who was little served by pre-Victorian sexism and is little served by being patched into Jane Austen details, seemingly only because the title borrows a quote from that author. Apparently here it's almost true, but we can't tell where it becomes faction, nor for what purpose.

That leaves the best piece, by a country mile, to be the fairly recent work, 'The Pelican Bar', a tale of capture and prolonged 'treatment' of a teenage girl being re-educated in a horrendous form of institution. It belongs to the genre of sci-fi that grew in the 1960s that is only sci-fi because someone calls it thus – it reads perfectly well as a non-genre piece, and it exists perfectly in this (our) world, and practically demolishes any efforts this book, its editor or the author herself has made in delineating the genre of science fiction as separate from any other kind of literature.

And even though it's the nearest content this book has to anything that is memorable, it is probably not worth a second look. There's a debate that's partly in, and partly courtesy of, these pages, as to whether the real Ms Fowler is the novelist of great public appeal, or the feminist sci-fi speculative writer (and I name her thus because in this present market it must always be speculative as to whether a short story will pay its way and find an audience). What she undoubtedly is, is a much better author than this little volume suggests, and these pages may well appeal to a completist collector, but trust me – for once, my own rule about feeling your way in via the unexpected route is demolished by the evidence here.

I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.

For short stories with science in them - as well as copious sections of real life - you can't best The White Road by Tania Hershman.

Buy The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler at Amazon.com.


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