Sunday, August 16, 2015

Falling in Love with Hominids - Nalo Hopkinson

Tachyon Publications publishes a lot of very interesting fiction for which there is a limited market. Novellas and short novels, single author collections and themed anthologies for the most part. It is not material that is likely to end up on best-seller lists but for the real fan of fantasy and science fiction, it is a treasure trove of works that would otherwise easily be overlooked. I've been reading a couple of these a year since I joined NetGalley. Tachyon doesn't seem to have a problem with me being located in the Netherlands. Where I get frequent refusals because of my location from other publishers, Tachyon is generous with advance copies. So in the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of Falling in Love with Hominids from the publisher in exchange for a review.

This collection is my first encounter with Nalo Hopkinson's work. She is originally from Jamaica but has lived in several other places as well before ending up in Canada. In 2011 she relocated to California, where she currently resides. Falling in Love with Hominids collects eighteen pieces of short fiction, all previously published between 2002 and 2014. There is no overarching theme or link between the stories. There are a few recurring elements of course, and some of them are linked to Hopkinson's novels, but other than that the pieces all appear to stand alone.

Hopkinson's writing is very diverse. It ranges from post-apocalyptic to surreal and from historical to contemporary fantasy. There are a few things that keep coming back in the stories though. There are references to Caribbean/African tradition and folklore in several stories, although Shakespeare and western mythologies pop up too. Hopkinson also uses a very varied cast of characters, people of all races, genders and sexual orientations appear in her stories. Although she doesn't emphasize it in most of the stories in this collection, there is a sensitivity to issues relating to racism and sexism in her writing. For some reason, I also get the impression that Hopkinson's home is full of house plants.

There's a few pieces that connected with me in particular. For some reason most of the ones I liked best are in the first half of the collection. The first is the one that opens the collection. The Easthound (2012) is a post-apocalyptic tale seen from the point of view of a child. It is a very creepy story. The author uses the point of view of the main character to throw the reader off balance. Without adults around, the children create their own view of the world, one where stories and fantasy mix with the deadly reality of their situation. The characters are children and at the same time wise beyond their years. An absolutely brilliant piece of writing.

Soul Case (2007) is more of a historical fantasy in which Hopkinson describes an assault on a community of escaped slaves. The story is based on a number of real communities that existed in various places in the Americas. Most of them were eventually destroyed by the colonial powers. I came across the story of the Jamaican Maroons in Maryse Condé's historical novel Children of Segu a while ago. She focusses on a different part of their history than Hopkinson does. The story is related to the novel Hopkinson is currently working on. I will have to keep an eye out for Blackheart Man. A novel length treatment of this topic could be a very interesting read.

In The Smile on the Face (2004) Hopkinson takes us in a very different direction. Although there is a reference to an early Christian saint it is much more contemporary. In essence it deals with a young girl whose changing body is getting her unwanted attention and is making her feel insecure about her looks. The guy in the story seems to be a bit too good to be true but it is a good look into the mind of a teenage girl and the bullshit they have to put up with in an age that seems to value appearance over anything else.

The final story I want to mention is Old Habits (2011). It is a ghost story set in a rather dreary mall. The main character was unfortunate enough to loose his life there and now he is stuck with a bunch of other ghosts who shared the same fate. They can't see the living, can't interact with them, and can't leave the mall. Or they can but what awaits them outside is just as uncertain as what awaits us after death. Most of the ghosts are not in a hurry. The loneliness and desperation of the ghosts is worked into this story very well. They strike you as a bit peculiar in the opening stages. Hopkinson then proceeds to make them almost inhuman in their hunger for a taste of life, and then shows us the tragic demise of the main character, bringing him back to being human again by killing him. Very disturbing.

A collection of such diversity as Hopkinson delivers here, will always contain a few stories that don't connect with the reader. There were a few that did little for me but overall I very much enjoyed Hopkinson's imaginative and varied approach to storytelling. In just over 200 pages she travels the length and breadth of speculative fiction. Falling in Love with Hominids is as good an invitation to delve deeper into an author's oeuvre as you are likely to get. I think I am going to take her up on that. It would appear that once again the to read stack has grown.

Book Details
Title: Falling in Love with Hominids
Author: Nalo Hopkinson
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Pages: 222
Year: 2015
Language: English
Format: E-book
ISBN: 978-1-61696-199-2
First published: 2015


  1. Great review. I regret not picking this up on NetGalley now... :(

    1. Even you can't read everything ;) It might still be available anyway. Tachyon doesn't remove them too quickly.