I found myself without another BFSA Award nominee to read until the shipping gets shipped, so I decided to start in on the Nebula Award nominees. I’d already read The City and The City, the only book nominated for both awards, so I started reading Christopher Barzak’s The Love We Share Without Knowing. You might ask why I started with this one, and then I’d point out to you that it’s called The Love We Share Without Knowing. Not too many science fiction award nominees have names like that.
The opening tempered my enthusiasm a little. He starts with a little rant about how he’s not going to make you feel good or answer any questions with this book. I thought this was unnecessary and unhelpful. First of all, he doesn’t step into the narrative like this again at any point and, if anything, this opening detracts from the elegant, almost breathtaking book that follows. If there’s one thing I could change about this book, it would be that first page.
Actually, I was pretty unimpressed through the whole first chapter. I didn’t like where the plot seemed to be going. The language seemed to flow between barely sufficient and overwritten. The main character was too angsty by half. All in all I had it pegged as a young adult book with some magical undertones.
And then the second chapter was completely different. And I mean completely, with a new character, a new voice, a completely different direction. The book (which I’ll call it because I don’t want to keep writing that title and you don’t want to keep reading it) jumps from perspective to perspective, giving you different insights into life in modern Japan, through the eyes of the Japanese, as well as several Americans that temporarily make the island nation their home.
Barzak rarely returns to the same character twice, but rather inhabits many different people, finding the exact voice and style to tell their tale. It’s a dark story, full of loss and sadness and grief, covering suicide and sex, fidelity and hopelessness. There are elements of magic and mysticism in the book, suggesting a spirit world that runs alongside modern life in Japan. But the spiritual elements don’t offer much wonder or joy. They even seem to add to the world’s burden.
This is a heavy book and not one I’d normally expect to see on a list like that. It’s also a spectacular piece of fiction that I’d highly recommend.
I’m hoping the rest of the books this year live up to the lofty heights of these first three books I’ve read. I’m not sure if it’s been a spectacular year for science fiction or if I just should have started reading something other than the Hugo nominees years ago.