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Rated :

Published – Strange Horizons, Sept 2012. Available to read online here.

In 1943 ornithologist Barbara Kenney comes to observe the plovers. It is her third visit to the same area, some of the natives recognise her as that odd woman who looks at strange birds. They usually leave her to herself. She follows the Grinnell Method of recording her observations, hence the title of the story. That is to say that she carries with her a small notebook and notes what she sees in it. Then, before sleep, every night, she rewrites these shorthand notes out again. Observations only, no speculation. Only what you actually see can be recorded.

In among the note taking she remembers her early interest in the natural world. Prompted in many ways by her older brother Tom.

She also recalls how difficult it is for her to be a scientist, for any woman. As Tom said, universities don’t mind educating women, but they don’t like hiring them.

This is a story all about description and describing. Reading it you feel like you are traipsing around that peninsula, seeing the birds, the animal tracks, the damage done by the storm. But there is very little speculation or explanation. Again, I suppose, the hint is there in the title. The Grinnell Method1 is all about telling you what has happened. The concrete details. No speculation as to reasons or whyfors. So don’t be expecting a neat and tidy story here, or even one with an ending :)

It is a beautifully written story, but I am not content to simply see and observe, I’d much prefer to know a little more about the rift that Kenney witnessed. The strange storms, the dead birds, the beached whales. All are mentioned, observed, but why? What’s going on. So yes, I’d recommend reading the story but just be aware, it is a story about observation and an individual, not about the plot and the action. I’m probably not doing this short story much good in this review, because there is a lot to appreciate. The difficulties faced by Kenney as a female scientist. The difficulties faced by any woman who didn’t conform to societies expectations. The impact of death and loss. There is so much to think about here. And all told so beautifully. It just isn’t a plot-driven story.

Read it online at Strange Horizons
Other reviews : io9 ; Ecstatic Days ; Paper Knife

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  1. which Id never heard of before the story so maybe Im getting it wrong