Nalo Hopkinson is the Nebula Award willing author of several novels and short stories. Falling in Love with Hominids (published on 11 August by Tachyon Publications) is a collection of the latter. It’s the first time I’ve read any of Hopkinson’s work, but I’ve heard a lot of the buzz surrounding her as an exciting and diverse voice in contemporary speculative fiction.
Hopkinson styles herself as an outsider even within a genre that attracts outsiders. She is a black woman (she was born and raised in Jamaica, before moving to Canada as a teenager). She has a life-long passion for SF and writes from within a rich Afro-Caribbean cultural heritage. She also writes complex LGBT characters. All of these things enable her to explore and interrogate familiar SF tropes in a new and thought-provoking way that draws attention to issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and privilege.
“I frequently use Afro-Caribbean spirituality, oral history, culture and language in my stories, but place my characters within the idioms and settings of contemporary science fiction and fantasy. When I was starting out, it was my way of subverting the genre, which speaks so much about the experience of being alienated, but still contains relatively little writing by alienated people themselves.” Nalo Hopkinson
My favourite piece in the collection is “The Smile on the Face”. It’s a coming of age story about Gilla and her friend Kashy. Gilla is coming to terms with changes to her body and her changing relationship to her friends and peers. Her physical and social awkwardness is well-portrayed. But the power of the piece is in its portrayal of a young girl finding power and agency, and coming to terms with herself and her place in the world.
“Soul Case” deals explicitly with issues of slavery and colonialism. It casts the descendants of escaped slaves as heroes defending their land and freedom, albeit that the magic they use to do so exacts its own price. “A Young Candy Daughter” reimagines the Biblical Mary as a contemporary black single mother, examining the changed perspectives that may bring. “Shift” retells the story of Ariel and Caliban from The Tempest, casting both of them as oppressed slaves, albeit that Ariel never examines her position, focusing instead on her relative privilege compared to Caliban. “Ours Is the Prettiest” deliberately brings greater diversity to the shared-world setting of Bordertown, which exists on the borders of our world and faerie.
Traditional time travel themes are the basis of “Message in a Bottle”, but it articulates issues of parenthood as well. Greg’s relationship with his friends Babette and Sunil changes as they age together and deal with the challenges of raising children. Motherhood comes up again in “Left Foot, Right” as a young woman grieves the loss of her sister and her unborn child, both killed as the result of a car accident.
Hopkinson’s prose is muscular and powerful, particularly in those stories dealing with issues of female sexuality. In particular, “A Raggy Dog, A Shaggy Dog” is the story of a woman who breeds orchids using them to find herself a lover. This story, and others, is firmly rooted in the physicality of being a woman.
The acid test is whether this collection makes me want to pick up more of Hopkinson’s work. The answer is an unequivocal yes.
Goodreads rating: 4*