Sarah Canary Q8 – 'In 1871, strange events took place in the skies...'


How would you classify this novel? It definitely has picaresque elements, but how neatly does it fin into that genre? It was nominated for a Nebula award, but is it really Sci-fi?


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    Historical fiction, I guess.

    It's baffling to me that it was treated as science fiction. This is not an attack on the book, which I liked (uniquely in the club?). If the book is science fiction, that's because the reader has projected the desire for it to be science fiction onto it - which is very in keeping with the book's main theme.

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    I saw it as more psychological. The same basic story - the uncommunicative central character around whom an unlikely group of others cluster, attempting to understand what's going on - could be dressed in many costumes without in any essential way changing the plot.

    This happened to be in late 19th century Seattle, but I don't get a strong sense of place. The same story could have been situated in ancient Egypt, or the time of Beowulf, or during the Crusades, or in the Age of Enlightenment, or one of the world wars, or in a near future solar system, or in Asimov's Galactic Empire... any place or time in which people had the opportunity and means to travel about without serious constraints, and where one's knowledge of the world as a whole was limited.
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    I think it also needs the idea of outsiders who people are openly prejudiced against without repercussions. But I agree it's not particularly firmly rooted in a notion of time and place.

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    I see it as both a Picaresque novel and historical fiction and Speculative fiction. I like the possibility of Sarah Canary as an alien, or possibly an angel fallen to earth. This could be read as a 'first contact' novel, which is how it was introduced to me.

    Interestingly, I understand that the author intended for the novel to read as SF to fans of SF, but as mundane fiction to fans of general fiction. And you can certainly read it both ways. However, it fails in some regards as an SF novel because I think a lot of SF fans really just want a rip-roaring story set against a fantastic background, and this novel is not that. So, in the end, I think it fails as Science Fiction in that it doesn't meet the needs of the community. As speculative literature, though, I think it's great.

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    Maybe an example of magical realism? Even though I'm still not sure of the definition.

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    I can't see why it would be considered SF. If it's a novel of first contact, it seems to be a failed attempt at contact. We have no idea what Canary thinks of the people she's interacting with, and she seems to have no lasting effect on anyone she interacts with.

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    Even a failed first contact is still a first contact. And what reason do we have to believe a first contact should succeed in drawing two civilizations together? Even in the Martian Chronicles, the very first contact between humans and martians was spectacularly short.

    I think the real reason to question this as a first contact isn't that we don't know what Sarah Canary things, so much as that she doesn't really seem to be trying to make a connection with anyone at all. She remains aloof. The human characters want to connect with her, but she doesn't show any desire to want to connect with them. Of course, if she is an alien, we ought to expect very alien behavior, no?

    I'm not married to her as an alien - in fact I don't think she requires any explanation at all. I do think this book falls under 'speculative fiction' even in not strictly 'science fiction'.

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