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Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett
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Ship Fever (1996)

by Andrea Barrett

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This is a very lovely, well written group of stories. I enjoyed them a great deal. Each story in this collection shares a theme in that each gives a glimpse into the life of a scientist, focusing more on their humanity than on their scientific discoveries. Barrett’s stories touch on Mendel, Wallace, Linnaeus, Darwin, and others. Most times, when we learn about the famous scientists of the past, all we are taught is an equation. Or a theory. Or a law. Maybe some dates for context. This always bothered me a little bit when I was in class. Sometimes I’d wonder about these people and the conditions that they lived in that allowed/forced them to come up with their great ideas. Barrett seems to have had similar feelings. By extensively researching these scientists and the times/surroundings that they were immersed in, and mixing in her prodigious writin’ skills, she was able to produce stories that had both a very high degree of authenticity/realism and were a delight to read.

For the rest of this review, you can click on this link, if you want to --> http://andrewhideo.com/2014/01/29/a-book-review-ship-fever-by-andrea-barrett/ ( )
  andrewreads | Feb 11, 2014 |
Brilliant. Understated, disturbing and very well-written. The stories are infused with science and scientific theories but it's the characters who linger after the book is closed. Highly recommended, and many thanks to Susann for leaving this on my to-read pile. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
There's been a lot of talk lately about a fourth culture that would put science and the humanities in productive conversation. There's plenty of art that does this, for example, the work of Steve Kurtz or Eduardo Kac. I know of some literature that does this too, and not only Paradise Lost: Richard Powers' The Goldbug Variations, in which DNA is a great symbolic ediface, comes to mind, as do the several episodes in Byatt's Frederica Tetrology that concern artificial intelligence, "deep grammar," fibonacci numbers, and ecology. Because of a shared concern with 19th-century naturalism, Byatt's Angels and Insects is probably the closest to Ship Fever.

All this is a long-winded way of praising Barrett for this set of stories about science, and natural science in particular, but also a way of saying, too, that many of the calls for "fourth culture" that I've seen (and I confessedly haven't read that many), seem to keep calling for a fourth culture without, however, speaking much about the various ways that artists have already been engaged in putting science--whatever that is--and the humanities in productive conversation. Highly recommended, then, for correcting this, and for its feminism and political engagement (especially in its title story: good for the angry anticolonial Irish who should be in all of us) and also, in its stories about Linnaeus and the (fictional) Marburg Sisters, for its very human concern for memory and loss and memory as a kind of having. ( )
  karl.steel | Apr 2, 2013 |
Her characters are realistic. She deals with the sadness of real life - how things don't work out and how real people deal with it - growing old and dying but losing your memory first, giving up a marriage for a love you don't understand and regretting it, sisters and the connection between them, and the struggle to become what you were suppose to be. They are well developed - good examples of what a short story should be ( )
1 vote trinityM82 | Jul 14, 2010 |
The stories collected here are about scientists and explorers, but tend to be pretty bleak. ( )
  wanack | Jun 30, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
A dark chill permeates the stories of Ship Fever, including those that take place in summer or in the tropics. It’s a seductive, bracing chill, one I’ll take over volumes of lush and sultry.
 
Ms. Barrett's narrative laboratory is stocked with a handsome array of equipment. She tells her stories through alternating voices, diaries, letters -- whatever seems to hint at the most promising results. Seen against a larger fictional landscape overpopulated with the sensational and affectless, her work stands out for its sheer intelligence, its painstaking attempt to discern and describe the world's configuration. The overall effect is quietly dazzling, like looking at handmade paper under a microscope.
 
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For thirty years, until he retired, my husband stood each fall in front of his sophomore genetics class and passed out copies of Gregor Mendel's famous paper on the hybridization of edible peas.
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His mind, which had once seemed to hold the whole world, had been occupied by a great dark lake that spread farther every day and around which he tiptoed gingerly. When he reached for facts they darted like minnows across the water and could only be captured by cunning or indirection.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393316009, Paperback)

In 1764, two Englishwomen set out to prove that swallows--contrary to the great Linnaeus's belief--do not hibernate underwater. But they must be patient and experiment in secret, such actions being inappropriate for the female of the species. In 1862, a hopeless naturalist heads off for yet another journey, though he can't seem to rid his conscience of the thousands of animals that have already died in his service. In 1971, a pregnant young woman, ill at ease with her socially superior husband and his stepchildren, hears of a Tierra del Fuegan taken hostage by the commander of the Beagle in 1835. This unwilling specimen was, we read, "captured, exiled, re-educated; then returned, abused by his family, finally re-accepted. Was he happy? Or was he saying that as a way to spite his captors? Darwin never knew."

Many of the characters who populate Andrea Barrett's National Book Award-winning collection, Ship Fever, feel similarly displaced in the world. They long to prove themselves in both science and love, but are often thwarted by gender, social position, or the prevailing order. In "The Behavior of the Hawkweeds," the wife of a genetics professor has learned that each narrative of discovery is matched by one, if not more, "in which science is not just unappreciated, but bent by loneliness and longing." Barrett's astonishing tales of ambition and isolation convey the meaning and feeling behind the patterns--scientific and emotional--but slip free of easy closure. The two women in "Rare Bird," like the swallows, depart England for more conducive climes, or so the brother of one believes. The reader is left to hope, and imagine. Much has been made of Andrea Barrett's interlacing of history, knowledge, and fact--and rightly so. But equal attention should be paid to the brilliant serenity and exactitude of her style. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:19 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

One novella and seven stories dealing with science and set in the 19th Century. In The Behavior of the Hawkweeds, the spirit of Mendel, the discoverer of the laws of heredity, haunts a geneticist of whose work Mendel disapproves, in Birds with No Feet, Darwin's theory of evolution provides a zoologist with consolation for his personal misfortunes, while in The English Pupil, Linnaeus, who brought order to botany, must deal with the mental disorder of his advancing age. By the author of The Middle Kingdom.… (more)

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W.W. Norton

Two editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393316009, 039303853X

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