Karen Joy Fowler is one of the key figures in science fiction. She is one of the founders of the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and has edited some of the Tiptree Award anthologies. Her first short story, “Recalling Cinderella”, didn’t win the Writers of the Future Contest, but ended up attracting far more attention than the actual winner. Her first novel, Sarah Canary, wasn’t shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, but received a special commendation from that year’s judges, one of only two books ever to receive such a commendation.
The quality of the stories in her first collection, Artificial Things, led to her winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her short stories have won two Nebula Awards and a Shirley Jackson Award, and two of her short story collections have won World Fantasy Awards. Her novels are more likely to be mainstream than sf, and even when they are sf they tend to be written with a mainstream sensibility that leaves their fantastic elements tenuous, just on the edge of being understood. And yet, altogether her work takes science fiction in new and interesting directions that you really don’t want to overlook. These are three novels and three short story collections that really do demand to be read by any sf fan.
Her first short story collection was a stunning debut, including “Recalling Cinderella”, “The Lake was Full of Artificial Things” and “The View from Venus”. Aliens look at human sexuality, a child travels to a strange and deadly world, a theatre where it is impossible to tell the real from the unreal.
Her first novel is a haunting story of a mysterious woman who appears to a group of Chinese labourers in the Pacific North West of America in the late-19th century. Without uttering a word, the word known as Sarah Canary, travels between groups of the disenfranchised and outcast, from the insane to women, having an unexpected effect upon all of them before transforming into an angel or an alien.
Her second short story collection won the World Fantasy Award. It includes 15 stories, such as “The Faithful Companion at Forty” in which Tonto and his self-centred boss reach middle age; “The Elizabeth Complex” in which Elizabeth turns out to be three people at once, Queen Elizabeth, Elizabeth Taylor and Lizzie Borden; and “Lieserl” in which letters to Einstein about his daughter reflect the effects of relativity.
After the international success of The Jane Austen Book Club, a subtle but non-science fictional comedy of manners, her next book seemed rather lightweight. Wit’s End is the story of a young woman who goes to stay with her godmother, a bestselling novelist, to find out the truth about her recently dead father. But slowly the novel turns into a complex novel of virtual reality and internet snooping where it is never entirely clear what is real.
This collection is another World Fantasy Award winner. The twelve stories include “Booth’s Ghost” about Edwin Booth, the younger brother of John Wilkes Booth, and “Standing Room Only” in which time travellers gather to watch the assassination of Lincoln. The title story is Fowler’s response to “The Women Men Don’t See” by James Tiptree, Jr.
Her most recent novel won the PEN/Faulkner Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It tells the story of a girl who, as a small child, was raised with a chimpanzee as her sister, before the chimpanzee was abruptly taken away. It was an experiment to see if the chimpanzee would learn to behave like a human, but what we see is that the girl also learned to behave like a chimpanzee. The split is something that has haunted the girl ever since, and the book is a wonderful and very moving examination of the connection between human and animal.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.