This year I’m giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler is not, in my opinion, science fiction or fantasy. And yet, it was nominated for a Nebula award. The Nebula awards are meant to recognize the best of science fiction and fantasy published in the previous year, and yet, here we have this book that I don’t find to be either science fiction or fantasy on the list.
I would argue that this book takes place in a contemporary timeline, in a manner that is clearly fiction, in that it did not happen, but clearly not science fiction or fantasy, in that it could have happened. I found everything described within it as clearly within the limits of possibility. That leaves me with the question of why other people, specifically the members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, found this work to be either science fiction or fantasy. Or both.
I try not to read about these books too much before I read them. I don’t want my perceptions to be colored by what other people think. In this case, I unintentionally read some of the library’s description of the book, which contained a significant spoiler, which, warning, I’m about to reproduce here.
The most fantastical aspect of the book is that the narrator was raised alongside a chimp for the first five years of her life. Being so young, she is raised to think of the chimp as her sister. And, in the first few chapters of the novel, the chimp is coyly described simply as a sister. The narrator does explain that she did this on purpose, in order to make the reader keep an open mind about her sister before writing her off as merely as animal, in order to give the reader the experience she herself had.
I’m not sure if I think the technique worked or not, because I read that damn description that spoiled it for me. I was pissed the moment she mentioned sister and didn’t mention chimp, because I already knew about it.
Despite that irritation, and the lack of science fiction and fantasy (because people have actually been raised with chimps, therefore it is within the realm of possibility, and fiction, not fantasy or scifi), I thought the book was overall a good read. For a fiction book and all.