This wonderful story is an example of Slipstream fiction - a piece of fiction that falls somewhere between science fiction and mainstream literary fiction. There has been a lot of discussion on the interweebs of late about what science fiction is (it’s really a never-ending discussion), and this story, a 2003 Nebula winner, is arguably not science fiction at all. There is no specific science fictional element upon which the story turns, yet the characters are all scientists and they do the things they do partially for scientific reasons.
Fowler’s story is told in first person by an old woman who, in the 1920’s when she was younger, was a member of a gorilla hunting expedition to the jungles of Africa. She was one of two women in the group who were brought along for a specific reason. Archer, the man who organized the group, insisted on the presence of women on the expedition because he deduced that gorillas were “sweet natured vegetarians” and not the dangerous creatures they were portrayed to be, and he wanted to prove it.
Archer says: “If one of the girls should bring down a large male it will seem as exciting as shooting a cow. No man will cross a continent merely to do something a pair of girls has already done.” His idea was that he could protect gorillas by having women hunt gorillas. Men simply wouldn’t find it exciting to hunt something a woman could hunt. Of course, after the expedition he’d have a lab specimen of his own to study.
Interestingly, Fowler details two connections between this story and James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon). First of all, Tiptree participated in a similar expedition. Second, the story is written partially as a response to Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See”, which is about two women who, after going unnoticed by a self-important man, prove themselves to be quite well-connected and knowledgeable about big things the man had no idea about. Fowler says, “I wished to add two subsets I felt her story ignored - the women men do see and the men women don’t.” The interaction of genders plays a large and thought-provoking role in both stories.
The story is on SciFiction, which is still online: LINK
Karen Joy Fowler’s website: LINK
The List? Find it here: LINK