Nineteen stories.

Titled from this Harriet Tubman quote.

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“I had crossed de line of which I had so long been dreaming.

I was free; but dere was no one to welcome me to de land of freedom.

I was a stranger in a strange land.”

It describes her experience, the first time she stepped on land on which she was not a slave.

These stories, co-editor Nalo Hopkinson writes, “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 humour, and also, with love and respect for the genre of science fiction that makes it possible to think about new ways of doing things.”

These new ways are further arranged into five sections: The Body, Future Earth, Allegory, Encounters with the Alien, and Re-imagining the Past.

It’s perfect reading for A More Diverse Reading Universe.

The first story that I turned to was Suzette Mayr‘s “Toot Sweet Matricia”.

(Her novel, Monoceros, which does contain magical realism alongside a whole lot of garden-variety realism, was one of my favourite reads last year, and I was impressed — and unsettled — by her bloodily bizarre coming-of-age novel Venous Hum as well.)

“Toot Sweet Matricia” offers a new view of the transformation that I grew up knowing as “The Little Mermaid”, with a fisherman finding the skin of a beautiful sea dweller. The style is scenic, presenting a series of vignettes from the gal-out-of-water’s perspective.

It’s a tough life. “Putting on the skin when it’s not really yours is like putting both arms into a bog and drawing up pieces of corpse.” She is not living as her true self, and the way in which she views the world is not how the majority sees things: it’s empty and debilitating. (And familiar: from yoga classes to Prozac, this tale is set in a world contemporary readers recognize.)

Sea-fragrant Matricia helps her to cope. She is a “very black woman, much blacker than me, her hair scraped back from her face and into an elaborate coil, and I picture the excruciating smoothness of her inner thighs. I dragged her up piece by piece from the bogs of memory and horror.”

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The story which follow’s Suzette Mayr’s was also of immediate interest, Larissa Lai‘s “Rachel”.

(Lai’s When Fox Was A Thousand is a longtime favourite; I’ve re-read it and it stands up beautifully. Salt Fish Girl is also challenging and intelligent and was nominated for the Tiptree Award, among others. The first novel brings to mind works like Kij Johnson’s novels, the latter makes me think of books like Nicola Griffith’s Slow River.)

Knowing the diverse styles and stories that Larissa Lai can tell, I wasn’t surprised to find that parts of “Rachel” have a mythic feel to them, but the story has a futuristic setting.

Rachel’s father is a Western man, who chose her mother from a catalogue of women in China who wanted to marry. Her father is a man of science, her mother was musical. ‘Was’ because it’s only Rachel and her father now, and Rachel is left to assemble the components of her identity without being able to talk to her mother.

Other novels have taken up the theme there, but in Larissa Lai’s story there is another complication for Rachel that arises; the futuristic setting, with sophisticated machinery and technology, allows for another dimension to the search for identity.

“As the night progresses, the object of my fury slowly moves from the policeman to my father. At around three, our artificial owl flies past my window. I see its dark shape and hear the rapid pulse of air and feathers.”

In a world in which photographs are altered so that you can’t tell the subjects’ races, Rachel struggles to understand her true nature.

Wayde Compton‘s The Blue Road: A Fairy Tale” begins in the Great Swamp of Ink, introducing readers to Lacuna; it’s a hostile environment for him, but he is about to meet Polaris, a will-o’-the-wisp, the spirit of the bog.

Lacuna outwits the spirit and tricks him into directing him out of the swamp. But the swamp is not the only danger that Lacuna faces, and he endures many trials.

“The bricks of the road were a beautiful sight, bright and rich, though they were startlingly close to the colour of the ink in the Great Swamp of Ink. Although Lacuna was very happy to have found this Blue Road to the Northern Kingdom, he couldn’t help but wish it were a different colour.”

It would spoil this allegorical tale to discuss Lacuna’s journey to the Northern Kingdom in any detail, but it’s significant that his surroundings are constantly changing, and he must regularly adjust his understanding and renegotiate terms, seeking an opportunity to thrive.

These three stories illustrate the diverse styles and voices in this anthology: some of the stories are poetic and mythic and read like fairy tales, some use familiar settings with isolated distinctions from readers’ times and places, some are overtly futuristic or post-apocalyptic.

Uppinder Mehan, co-editor, refers to the tendency of postcolonial narratives to focus on contemporary reality, and discusses the promise inherent in imagining how life might be otherwise. “If we do not imagine our futures, postcolonial peoples risk being condemned to be spoken about and for again.”

The other authors who are working to imagine these futures in So Long Been Dreaming are: Nisi Shawl, Andrea Hairston, Eden Robinson, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, Vandana Singh, Tamai Kobayashi, Sheree R. Thomas, Karin Lowachee, Greg van Eckhout, Celo Amberstone, devorah major, Carole McDonnnell, Ven Begamudré, Opal Palmer Adisa, Maya Khankhoje, and Tobias S. Buckell. (Detailed bibliography here.)

Have you read this collection, or other works by any of these authors?