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Nalo Hopkinson

By / February 17, 2017 / no comments

If the stories of Nnedi Okorafor retain the cadences and myths of West Africa, the voice we hear in Nalo Hopkinson’s work is Caribbean, both in the language and in the characteristic use of voodoo and other mythic figures.

Brown Girl in the RingHopkinson was born in Jamaica but moved to Canada while still in her teens, and the resultant culture clash is played out in her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring.  It is set in a run-down, near-future Toronto where the rich have abandoned the city for their safe high-tech suburbs, while the inner city has become a wasteland ruled by criminal gangs. When the powerful want to harvest body parts from the poor for transplant, a young, black single mother finds herself at the centre of the conflict in which voodoo figures become an integral part of the battle for the soul of the city.

Midnight RobberAs with Okorafor, what is particularly interesting about Hopkinson is the way that distinctions between science fiction and fantasy break down. A different worldview informs their fiction, one in which technology and mythology are not necessarily separate. This is noticeable in her second novel, Midnight Robber, which tells the story of a young girl growing up first on the colony world of Toussaint, and then on New Half-Way Tree where convicts are exiled. Abused by her father from a young age, she eventually kills him and flees into the bush, where she takes on the traditional role of the Robber Queen to defend others from abuse. All her life is shaped by traditional stories drawn from Caribbean and Yoruba culture, and by the end of the novel the heroine has herself become the star of a new set of stories.

The Salt RoadsThe importance of story, tradition, culture in shaping people is at the heart of her next novel, The Salt Roads. The novel alternates the stories of three black women, a slave in 18th century Haiti at a time of slave revolts, the mistress of the poet Charles Baudelaire in 19th century France, and a slave and prostitute in 4th century Jerusalem, but the women are all in their way avatars of Lasiren, the fertility goddess of the African Ginen people. The three women are all guided by the goddess to discover different forms of freedom.

The New Moon's ArmsThe New Moon’s Arms, which won Canada’s Prix Aurora and Sunburst Awards, ventures towards magic realist with a story of an old Caribbean woman who may be related to the shape-changing sea people, and who has the ability to make lost things reappear. Then a four-year-old boy washes up on the shore, and suddenly her life changes dramatically. But her two more recent young adult novels,Sister Mine Sister Mine which won the Andre Norton Award and The Chaos, are both more overtly fantastic. In Sister Mine, Makeda and Abby are the conjoined twin daughters of a demigod and a human; but Abby is the one who has inherited all the magic, and as a result Makeda is the one who feels isolated from her own family. The ChaosThe Chaos is also about someone of mixed heritage, who consequently does not feel as if she belongs. In this instance, the sticky black substance that starts to cover her skin is only the supernatural events that threaten her and her family.

Skin Folk   Report from Planet Midnight (Outspoken Authors)   Falling in Love with Hominids

In addition to these novels, Hopkinson has written a number of short stories , which have been collected in Skin Folk (which won the World Fantasy and the Sunburst Awards), Report from Planet Midnight and most recently Falling in Love with Hominids. But equally important is her contribution as editor of three major anthologies that have highlighted the work of different writers of colour: Whispers from the Cotton Root Tree: Caribbean Fabulist FictionMojo: Conjure Stories, and So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy which she co-edited with Uppinder Mehan. If you want an introduction to contemporary writers of colour, this last collection in particular cannot be faulted.

Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction   Mojo: Conjure Stories   So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy

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