Falling in Love with Hominids - Nalo Hopkinson

Hopkinson's stories always make for an interesting read. I love the way her fiction tends to blend Jamaican folklore, urban life, and a critical look at social justice issues. As Hopkinson herself puts it in her foreword,

"I see the ways in which science fiction is too often used to confirm people's complacency, to reassure them that it's okay for them not to act, because they are not the lone superhero who will fix the world's ills. And yet, humanity as a whole is not satisfied with complacency."

Many of Hopkinson's short stories are about ordinary people with ordinary lives that just go a little bit strange. They aren't imagination-stretchers like Rajaniemi or Egan; instead, they focus on the social issues that pervade our lives and will continue to do so.

 

My favourite story in the collection was easily the first in the collection. "The Easthound" is a post-apocalyptic tale told from the perspective of a child that carries the reader into a breathlessly creepy unreality and carries an emotional punch far out of its weight class. My other favourites included "Blushing," a creepy retelling of a familiar folkstory, "Emily Breakfast," one of the most purely playful stories in the collection, and "The Smile on Her Face," an interesting melding of Middle Eastern myth and modern school-life and a sweet story of self-acceptance and embracing one's culture.

 

The stories tend to be very short, almost more like kernels of ideas than fully-developed realizations. Several are so very succinct that any summary will give away the whole thing. "Soul Case," a glimpse of a maroon nation's confrontation with an invading force, gained vividness from the story's abrupt ending. "Herbal" is equally brief; according to Hopkinson, it was begun as an example for students on how to

"Never give the reader the time to disbelieve."

In some cases, I think the brevity left the stories a little wanting. "A Young Candy Daughter" is a short "what if God walked amongst us" story, and without the time to fully develop the characters, even Hopkinson's version felt familiar. "Snow Day" was part of a CBC promotion, and while it does what it set out to do, it feels a bit forced and underdeveloped to me. However, stories like "A Raggy Dog, a Shaggy Dog" benefited from the limited space, leaving the impression of a story so creepily, gloriously odd that I have no words to describe it.

 

The longer stories tended to invoke myths and folktales to explore themes of loss and acceptance. "Ours is the Prettiest" is one of the longest stories in the collection, and a contribution to the shared fictional world of Bordertown, so I think it is intended to appeal to people already familiar with the world and characters. I don't think I've really read many Bordertown stories, and certainly not enough to fully enjoy the story. For me, the most interesting part was Hopkinson's foreword, where she pointed out that while Bordertown was intended to be diverse and open to all races and cultures, the Fairie side is

"As British as bangers and mash and white as a snowstorm."

"Left Foot, Right" is a story of loss and forgiveness, and harnesses Jamaican folk myths in a way reminiscent of The Salt Roads. "Shift" is a retelling of The Tempest that invokes cultural traditions and themes of intolerance and racism, and will likely be more appreciated by people who actually remember the original play. "Message in a Bottle" is in some ways about the narrator's resistance and acceptance of change, both in terms of his own life, and the strange child he befriends. As he puts it,

"The one thing that really scares me about kids. This brave new world that Cecilia and I are trying to make for our son? For the generations to follow us? We won't know how to live in it."

Hopkinson's stories are always unique and make for an enjoyable change of pace from the spaceships-and-steel-cities side of speculative fiction. The stories of Falling in Love with Hominids are unified by their themes of acceptance, both of oneself and of diverse cultural heritages, and by the ways she melds cultural myths and traditions with modern life.

 

~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Tachyon Publications, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and although they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they reflect the spirit of the book as a whole.~~