Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Andrea Barrett’s “Archangel”: historical fiction about science

A book review from:  http://seattletimes.com/html/books/2021613805_andreabarrettarchangelxml.html

Genetics research, early aviation, controversies over Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, controversies over Albert Einstein’s Relativity Theory, battlefield applications of early X-ray technology...

These aren’t the usual focuses of literary fiction.

But in “Archangel” by National Book Award winner Andrea Barrett (“Ship Fever,” “The Voyage of the Narwhal”), they’re not only addressed but obliquely linked.

“Archangel” consists of five novellas, ranging in time from 1873 to 1939, that might all be described as historical science fiction — that is, historical fiction about science. Each mixes imaginary characters with figures (or scenarios) drawn closely from the historical record.

While the connections between one story and the next aren’t shouted out, they’re there. Curious, troubled 12-year-old Constantine Boyd, a witness to G.H. Curtiss’ early flight successes in upstate New York in 1908, becomes an outraged World War I soldier wondering why he’s stuck fighting the Bolsheviks in 1919 Russia, long after most of his fellow soldiers have gone home.

Another youngster, Sam Cornelius, is glimpsed as a supporting player in a story about his widowed mother, then reappears as a geneticist in a tale that takes the destruction of the Athenia, the first British ship to be sunk by the Nazis during World War II, as its starting point.

Read the full review at the link above.

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