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Frederick Philip Grove's
Consider Her Ways
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 2001 by
Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief, officer or ruler, she prepares her food
in summer, and gathers her sustenance in harvest.
Bakka Books, the store after which
this publishing imprint is named, makes no bones about its pedigree.
The signs out front of the shop on Toronto's Yonge Street proudly
proclaim it to be a science-fiction store.
And now Bakka Books is bringing out a new edition of an important
mid-20th-century Canadian novel, Consider Her Ways. The
author, Frederick Philip Grove (1879-1948), is well known in
Can-Lit circles; you'll find entries on him in The Oxford
Companion to Canadian Literature and The Canadian
Encyclopedia, and both of them, of course, mention this, his
What they don't mention, though, are the words "science fiction."
Likewise, the scholarly introduction to the last edition of this
book, McClelland & Stewart's 1977 New Canadian Library offering,
says nothing about this being a science-fiction work.
But, of course, it is. Consider Her Ways is told entirely
from the point of view of intelligent ants an alien
perspective if ever there was one. And, indeed, the book is
replete with hard science a graduate-level course in
myrmecology is sprinkled through these pages. The scientific
background infused into the text reminds one of Jules Verne's
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Kim Stanley Robinson's
Red Mars (which, according to one of Stan's own favourite
reviews of his book, contains "a brutal overload of
Grove's novel, published in 1947, just before he died, was
conceived of in 1892 or 1893, when he was a schoolboy. It sits
at the distant end of a continuum that embraces countless other
works of science fiction, including the intelligent simians of
Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes (1963) and my own
talking dinosaurs of Far-Seer (1992).
Besides having animals taking the role of humans, all the books
on this continuum have another sure connection with Grove: they
are satires; although ostensibly stories about animals, their
true purpose is to wryly comment on what it means to be human.
(Grove was no stranger to satire, although this one book is
usually catalogued as his sole contribution to that genre; in his
youth, he'd translated into German the works of Jonathan Swift
and H. G. Wells who, with his The Time Machine,
lampooning the British class structure, created the subgenre of
Consider Her Ways takes the form of an epic quest, leading
from the forests of Venezuela to of all places the New York
Public Library, where the ants discover the joys of human poetry
and mystery fiction.
Over the years, a few brave souls have pointed out that
Consider Her Ways is indeed a work of science fiction.
The indefatigable John Robert Colombo excerpted it in his seminal
1979 Other Canadas: An Anthology of Science Fiction and
Fantasy. But, despite Colombo's spotlight, the Can-Lit crowd
still refrains from acknowledging that this is SF, just as they
try to pretend that Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale
winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best science
fiction novel published in Great Britain and a finalist for the
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award
But of course they both are, and perhaps now in this Bakka Books
edition, Grove, at least, will finally be recognized as a writer
in that noble field. And as they read this book, perhaps at
least a few stodgy academics will come to understand that whether
the characters are pointed-eared Vulcans, two-headed puppeteers,
or philosophical ants, science fiction is really always about
that most baffling thing of all, the human condition.
Robert J. Sawyer of
Mississauga, Ontario, won the Nebula Award
for Best Novel of 1995 (for The Terminal Experiment) and
has been nominated five times for the Hugo Award. In addition,
he's won seven Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards
("Auroras"), as well as the top SF awards in France, Japan, and
Spain. His latest SF novel, Calculating God, was a
national top-ten mainstream bestseller in Canada. Visit his web
site at www.sfwriter.com.
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