[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
ROBERT J. SAWYER
Hugo and Nebula Winner


SFWRITER.COM > Nonfiction > Consider Her Ways

Introduction to
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. —Proverbs 6:6-8

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.

[Consider Her Ways cover] 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 final novel.

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 information").

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 satiric SF.)

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 — isn't SF.

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.


[2001 bionote:] 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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