Sunday, November 27, 2016

Speculative Shorts by Hopkinson & Taylor

To end my recent streak of short story reading, I have two collections of speculative/Science Fiction stories to share, both with a strong thread of diversity informing them. Though they're very different from one another, I enjoyed both.

Falling In Love With Hominids / Nalo Hopkinson
San Francisco: Tachyon, c2016. 
222 p.

I really loved Hopkinson's now classic novel Brown Girl in a Ring, and have read some of her short stories before, here and there. So when this collection came into my library, I knew I had to read it. 

It's a trippy experience. Hopkinson's imagination is vast, her references to Caribbean culture infuse her stories with myths and lore that are not common in fantastical stories, and her method of simply throwing the reader into her created worlds and expecting you to catch up makes the reading experience both rush by you and grab you simultaneously. 

I felt as if I should stop and take a breather now and again. But I just couldn't put it down. That said, some of the very short (ie: 2 page) stories didn't work as well for me, as they felt like ideas just being doodled on the page for now -- still immensely imaginative ideas but not fleshed out. 

Nonetheless there are some pretty wonderful and terror-ful pieces here! I both loved and was completely creeped out by "The Easthound". It starts so simply, with a group of children together around a campfire; then you discover that anyone old enough to hit puberty "sprouts" -- and becomes the terror that hunts them all. It was a terrifying story, with intimacy and betrayal and unfathomable changes that Hopkinson doesn't waste time explaining -- it's just the way it is.
Other stories like "Message in a Bottle", about a man who isn't all that fond of kids but ends up befriending his friends' adopted daughter - who turns out to be a time traveller - or "Delicious Monster", with a young man having to come to terms with his divorced father's new relationship with a man who is more than he first seems - or "Left Foot, Right", in which a twin struggles with the drowning death of her sister -- all these were also fabulous and unforgettable. There do seem to be a fair number of twins in her work, a reflective concept that matches up with her habit of turning a reality inside out to show two sides of everything.  

There's one story, "Snow Day" that was written in response to a challenge from Canada Reads one year, where she was asked to write a story that included the titles of all five of the books on the Canada Reads list that year, but not using any AS a title. Although the books were listed at the end of the story, I challenged myself to see if I could pick them out before checking. I did, but came close to missing one! That was a bit of fun. (Coincidentally it was the 2005 list, the year my cousin Sherraine was defending one of the titles).

There's also a complex story that was written as part of the Bordertown series -- a shared setting which many authors contribute to. It features a lesbian love triangle of sorts, with humans and faerie all jumbled up in the strangeness of this border town. It was complex, fascinating, and had some great characters in it. I like how Hopkinson's writing incorporates her own voice so strongly with many LGBTQ+ characters who are all individual, and also not all young and beautiful, and how the multi-ethnic nature of the world is both assumed and stated directly by her in some of her intros. This collection is definitely one to search out and read.

Take Us to Your Chief and other stories / Drew Hayden Taylor   
Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, c2016.
160 p.

I loved this idea when I first heard it: classic science fiction tropes retold from an Aboriginal perspective, from a playwright & humorist who has written in many genres before. And I love that cover! 

I just finished this collection and was unfortunately a bit underwhelmed by it. I liked it, and a couple of the stories really caught me, including "Petropaths", about a young man who discovers time travel through local petroglyphs, or "Lost in Space", a quiet, meditative story about another young man working alone out in the asteroid belt.

Out of the nine stories, though, only a handful were really strong. I did appreciate the ideas behind the stories, the classic references to science fiction from the past, and the way that he's using these frameworks to discuss and highlight current social issues in Aboriginal life. It's a great option to point out some of the similarities in "first contact" stories, and he does use that opportunity. 

In the intro, he states:
Part of my journey in this life both as a First Nations individual and as a writer is to expand the boundaries of what is considered Native literature. I have always believed that literature should reflect all the different aspects and facets of life. There is more to the Indigenous existence than negative social issues and victim narratives... Collectively, we have such broad experiences and diverse interests. Let's explore that in our literature.
He's certainly expanded boundaries in this collection, and written in a style I haven't seen much of yet in my reading of Indigenous authors (although Harold Johnson's dystopian novel The Cast Stone is another genre read that comes to mind). It's a fun read with some echoes of the equally dark/slapstick humour that he uses in his novel Motorcycles & Sweetgrass - so while not quite a five star read for me, still a satisfying, thought-provoking one.

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