April: Natural History

And so it’s 2003.

2003 yielded a bumper crop of admirable science fiction novels written by women, with three books. 2004 was the only other year with more than one on the final list of 11.

I wonder to what degree this might be a reflection on human memory. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not arguing with the merit of the works on the list so much as musing on being human. Five of the books were published in 2003 or 2004.  Is six or seven years the necessary length to digest, judge, and yet still remember reading a given book?

Back in January, I scrounged around with the months of 2003. Which book had been published first? I ignored place of location and went for global first publication. Plenty of people were importing buzzy books in both directions. My notes tell me that Natural History came out in April of 2003.


I’d like to invite you to join us in reading Justina Robson’s Natural History this month, part of a year-long chronological reading of the novels nominated as the best science fiction novels written by women in the last ten years.

The book was well-received, collecting a group of notable award nominations, if no wins. It was shortlisted for the BSFA for the best book published in 2003; nominated for the Campbell award in 2004; and for the Philip K Dick Award in 2005. It was Robson’s third novel.

Apropos of Chris Priest’s Clarke Award-winning novel that year being dedicated to Paul Kincaid, the award’s administrator, David Langford commented, “Justina Robson, already twice nominated for the Clarke Award, thoughtfully provides future gossip-bait for The Spectator in her third novel Natural History – featuring a vast, lumbering, obsolete and not very bright terraforming engine, called Kincaid.”

Coincidentally, this month is a good one for focusing on a work by Justin Robson. She’s going to be one of the Guests of Honour at Swancon, in Australia, over Easter weekend.


On 23 January 2003, NASA lost contact (as expected) with Pioneer 10, the first space probe to go beyond the asteroid belt. In February, the shuttle Columbia burned up during atmospheric re-entry. The first Chinese manned space mission was completed, and Mars was as close to Earth as it will be for another 50,000 years. Wars in Darfur and Iraq were just beginning. The Human Genome Project completed sequencing human DNA, and Dolly-the-Cloned-Sheep passed away. There was the SARS scare,  Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California, the Concorde made its last commercial flight, and in the UK, mobile phones had become common enough that their handheld use while driving was specifically outlawed.

I will be leading the discussion later this month. I hope you will join me in reading and discussing it.

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