Title: “So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy”
Editors: Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
Publication Date: October 2004
Number of Pages: 304
“Arguably, one of the most familiar memes of science fiction is that of going to foreign countries and colonizing the natives, and as I’ve said elsewhere, for many of us, that’s not a thrilling adventures story; it’s non-fiction, and we’re on the wrong side of the strange-looking ship that appears out of nowhere. To be a person of color writing science fiction is to be under the suspicion of having internalized one’s colonization…”
“So, a little while ago, Uppinder approached me about co-editing an anthology of postcolonial science fiction short stories written exclusively by people of color…”
“What you hold in your hand is the result: stories that take the meme of colonizing the natives and, from the experience of the colonizee, critique it, pervert it, fuck with it, with irony, with anger, with humor, and also, with love and respect for the genre of science fiction that makes it possible to think about new ways of doing things.”
Source: Nalo Hopkinson in the introduction to So Long Been Dreaming
I really enjoyed reading this book and I felt that most of the stories the various authors came up with were all interesting in their own ways. There were a couple I ended up skipping for one reason or another (I discuss the stories individually later in this post). Some may say that the ideas expressed are heavy handed but I didn’t think so, mainly because I thought the authors were being honest about how they feel. I also enjoyed it because this is the kind of science fiction I love – the kind that makes you learn something about someone unlike yourself, and makes you think.
I think that any science fiction fan would do well to read more stories like these, the stories that look at the other side of the same old story. The ones that deal with what it’s like to be on the wrong side of that strange-looking ship that appears out of nowhere. It’s easy to find the stories that are all about the white hero going out and doing battle with unknown worlds and people. That gets boring after a while, don’t you think? Science Fiction is about thinking of new ways of doing things – how about thinking about someone other than yourselves?
There are 19 stories in all, written by leading African, Asian, South Asian, and Aboriginal authors, as well as North American and British writers of color. Some of the authors I’m familiar with from Nalo Hopkinson’s other anthology – “Mojo: Conjure Stories” – which I reviewed previously, while others are new. Once again I have several new authors to check out and I intend to see what else they’ve written.
The book is broken up into sections: The Body, Future Earth, Allegory, Encounters with the Alien and Re-imagining the Past. Below I’ve listed all of the stories in the book, a short description of each (taken from the introduction page of each section), and my own thoughts about them. In addition, I’ve tried to link to the author’s web site, if they had one, or if not a Wikipedia Article or some other profile that I could find. Unfortunately, there are a couple authors where I couldn’t find much of anything to link to.
“Deep End” by Nisi Shawl (Web Site) – “a black jailed woman struggles with questions of identity and community as she hurtles towards a new planet.”
While this on was a little vague on the details I think it make a lot of sense for it to be. Wayna, the point-of-view character is dealing with both her new body and others in her community who would rather stay in “freespace” (virtual reality, but unconnected from real bodies). The story focuses specifically on Wayna and her situation so really there wasn’t a lot of need for more details.
“Griots of the Galaxy” by Andrea Hairston (Web Site) –“makes literal the figure of the griot as the embodiment of communal memory.”
Before the story, Hairston explains that the “Griots of West Africa are musicians, oral historians, praise singers negotiating community. They stand between us and cultural amnesia. Through them we learn to hear beyond our time and understand the future”. In the story the point-of-view character has been dropped into a person in the past without any knowledge of who the person is. Her struggles to figure out who she has become reminded me much of Sam’s struggles in Quantum Leap – only there was no Al to guide her. Nor was it about “fixing things that went wrong” but rather simply dealing wiht events as they unfolded.
“Toot Sweet Matricia” by Suzette Mayr (GoodReads Author Profile) – “appropriates an old Irish folktale in an attempt to address her post colonial hybrid identity.”
The Irish folktale is that of the Selkie, and while I understand the original story I’m not sure I fully understand this one. I feel that it’s meant to be about someone who is of two worlds – mixed race perhaps – and who is not sure of their real identity or has been forced to pretend they are something they are not. Maybe it is that simple (and that complicated).
“Rachel” by Larissa Lai (Offical Web Site) – “a replicant’s attempt to understand her implanted memories racializes that neutral but somehow always white construction, the android.”
I could have done with more details on this one – more information about who Rachel is and how she came to be. She’s a replicant but it’s not clear if she always was one or if she was created to replace someone else. She speaks of an accident where her mother died but it’s not clear exactly why that memory is so important.
“Terminal Avenue” by Eden Robinson (Wikipedia Article) – “explores a future Canada where First Nations people face an increasingly apartheid life.”
A depressing but honest look at the reality of an apartheid life and how things only get worse.
“When Scarabs Multiply” by Nnedi Okorafor (Web Site) – “follows a young African girl as she puzzles through the bounds of love and hate in a reborn society that quickly degenerates into patriarchal stagnation.
This story seems to be part of what would eventually become Nnedi Okoafor’s novel “The Shadow Speaker“. Having read the book I know a little more about this story an the characters so I think it changes my interpretation a little. I still enjoyed it though, as it was an interesting look at the characters conflicting feelings about what had happened to her father.
“Delhi” by Vandana Singh (Wikipedia Article – “the protagonist searches for meaning now that he wanders between past and future Delhi.”
I struggled a bit with this story – the description says the main character wanders between past and future Delhi but I missed that the first time I read it. Even knowing that it’s not exactly clear what is going on in the story. That said, not being clear on what happened didn’t stop me from enjoying the story.
“Panopte’s Eye” by Tamai Kobayashi – “the world’s ecological survival is set against an apocalyptic landscape of warlords and slave gangs.
The information before the story mentions that this is an excerpt from a novel the author was working at the time of publication. Knowing that helps because I had struggled to understand what was happening in this story. Don’t know if I would like to read the full novel – not even sure it has been finished yet or not as I can’t find a lot of information on the author.
Allegories tend to go right over my head unless I find information about what they’re supposed to be about.
“The Grassdreaming Tree” by Sheree Renee Thomas (Wikipedia Article) – “a twist on the tale of the ever-familer schisms between parents and children, told from the point-of-view of a group of black colonists.”
I couldn’t get this one – not sure what was supposed to be happening in the story even with the description.
“The Blue Road: A Fairy Tale” by Wayde Campton (Web Site) – “shows the contorted shapes we become as we’re forced to live according to the dictates of the powerful.”
This one worked a lot better for me as it was more clear what the author was trying to say.
Encounters with the Alien
“The Forgotten Ones” by Karin Lowachee (Web Site) – “explores questions of vengeance, dispossession, and land settlement through the perspective of the struggle of a small group of freedom fighters.”
Can’t say much about this one without spoiling the ending but it was a good read.
“Native Aliens” by Greg Van Eekhout (Web Site) – “the title captures the paradox at the hart of his story as a Dutch Indonesian boy in the present and a Brevan-Terran boy in the future both face relocation.”
I really liked this one and the story it tells.
“Refugees” by Celu Amberstone – “picks up the theme of relocation during a planet wide apocalyptic future.”
Another interesting story told from the point of view of aliens who are welcoming human refugees to their planet. Both groups struggle to understand each other and the changes the refugees bring.
“Trade Winds” by devorah major (Red Room Profile) – “an examination of the two very different world-views of the exchange of goods and services.”
Johan struggles to communicate and understand the alien visitors. Things get a little interesting in the end when he finds out how they gather information about others. I enjoyed this one but I think I could have liked a little more information about both sides.
“Lingua Franca” by Carole McDonnell (Blog) – “explores the cultural gains and losses when a new society faces the powerful economic force of the Earthers.”
This one was interesting as it dealt with aliens who are deaf and mute and how their culture is being impacted by Earthers who are hearing and speaking. The point of view character struggles to deal with the fact that her daughter wants to get the equivalent of Cochlear implants (though clearly much more advanced as they actually work perfectly), in order to hear and talk with the others. Something that’s becoming more and more popular among the young of their world. It had more of an impact on me as I am hard of hearing so I understand more about Deaf culture and what the story was all about. It’s an interesting twist on the current controversy over Cochlear implants and it’s impact on Deaf culture.
“Out of Sync” by Ven Begamudre (Wikipedia Article) – “gives us a widow’s transgressive yet hopeful love on a planet facing a looming bloodbath between humans and aliens.”
This is another one where I thought things weren’t as clear as they could be. Reading the description again it’s clear it’s a prelude to a larger untold story so there’s a lot of set up for what could happen. I think I’d rather see the larger story told.
Re-Imagining the Past
“The Living Roots” by Opal Palmer Adisa (Web Site) – “deals with the Caribbean past of slave resistance but with a whole other layer of meaning”
Another not so clear one but I still thought it was interesting. It would seem that a group of Caribbean slaves rebelled by disappearing underground literally. Now they’ve returned to see if things have changed.
“Journey Into the Vortex” by Maya Khankhoje – “links together pre-Columbian history and myth and contemporary Native American realities.”
This one to flows from past to present without a break in the middle. Not entirely clear but still an interesting story.
“Necahual” by Tobias S. Buckell (Web Site) – “the natives – who have had multiple dislocations from their homelands – play a more active role as yet again they face people who see themselves as carrying the white mans burden.”
This story seems to take place very early in the universe he has created with his series thats starts with Crystal Rain. I enjoyed this one as it’s a interesting twist on the usual story. The natives don’t need “saving” this time – they’re doing it all one their own.