the Little Red Reviewer

Long Hidden, Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History

Posted on: June 5, 2014

long hidden anthologyLong Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older

published May 2014

where I got it: Received review copy from the publisher. (Thanks Crossed Genres!)

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I’ve tried for a few days to write an introduction to this anthology that beats around the bush, that avoids the politics. Beating around the bush has proved impossible in the short span of time i give myself to write reviews.

 

So I will be blunt.

 

Unless you live under a rock, you know that historically the vast majority of speculative fiction published in the English speaking world has been written by straight white dudes, and what they wrote and published reflected their worldview.  I have nothing against their worldview, it’s just that I know there are about a billion other (six billion, working on seven, actually) worldviews out there, including my own.  I’d like to hear those voices too.  We (and by we, I mean me, and people like me: white, midwestern, don’t know any language but English) are getting points of view we have never seen before. Our eyes are being opened, and there is a blinding rainbow to be seen.

 

And I couldn’t be happier.  The world’s cultural  history doesn’t belong to just one group, so why should our speculative fiction?  Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History offers over two dozen diverse stories about those who have been brushed aside, marginalized, been told that people aren’t interested in their stories, in too many cases been told to go away and shut up. Well, I might be a white girl from the midwest who led the easiest life you can imagine, but damnit, I am interested in these stories.

 

Yes, this is speculative fiction, but it is also historical fiction. Along with beautiful and sometimes haunting artwork,  each story in Long Hidden is subtitled by a place and a year, connecting and cementing everything that happens in this book with events that shaped history, many of which circle around colonialism, exploitation, slavery, and institutionalized dehumanization. Geographically, the stories range from India to Denmark, to China and Guatemala, and everywhere inbetween, offering a literal planetary scope of points of view. Dazzling prose, fascinating characters, and nearly everything I read had me running to the internet, Google, Google Maps, Wikipedia, typing in places, dates, names, and events. The internet isn’t an ideal source to be sure, but a collection of stories that has me asking myself “what was happening around this story? What is the context, why are these people so afraid, what else is happening here?” and instantly wanting to know more of the non-fiction that the fiction pointed to, that certainly that had to be one of the many purposes of this collection. I hope that you too will be interesting in doing further reading on your own, to further understand the contexts of these stories.  Because without context? it’s just a story. And nothing in Long Hidden is just a story. And that’s the point.

This collection is so large (over 25 stories!) and so varied, that I simply have to review it in parts.  Here is the first part, in which I talk about a selection of my favorite stories from the first portion of Long Hidden.

The collection opens with Sofia Samatar’s “Ogres of East Africa”, which takes place in Kenya in 1907. Alibhai is secretary, guide, and assistant to a blustery, patronizing, ignorant, and racist British big game hunter, referred to only as “my employer”. Alibhai is interviewing a villager, Mary, who claims to know all about ogres, and he is writing down his formal research and his observations. The story itself is the list of ogres and their descriptions, with Alibhai’s notes and observations in the margins. Anything his employer isn’t interested in, gets pushed to the margins, pushed outside of the attention sphere. Read that last sentence a few times, okay? As the big ogre hunt gets closer, Mary passes on her knowledge about how Alibhai can protect himself from the ogres.

 

We then move to  Thoraiya Dyer’s “The Oud”, which takes place in 1633 in The Ottoman Empire, where oud player Zahara finds herself torn between issues both national and deeply personal. She can’t even publicly mourn her late husband, as that would give people reason to ask why she needs more food and firewood than just a woman and tiny daughter would need. Zaraha is helping hide rebels in the caves in the woods. She brings supplies, and plays music to ease their fear. Born a Muslim, Zahara converted to Christianity out of love for her husband, yet still follows many of the local customs which are seen as pagan and witchcraft by both religions.  She’s not Christian enough to be accepted by his family, nor do her people accept her any longer, as she plays music in the presence of men, doesn’t cover her face, and follows other Christian customs. On top of that, she follows the older ways, and needs to build a particular song on the Oud, and pass it to her daughter, it’s the only way her daughter will survive. A foot in many worlds, Zahara is considered a member of none, and it was her very personal story that gripped me.

 

Going forward in time and moving to the United States, we then get “Free Jim’s Mine”, by Tananarive Due, which takes place in the city of Dahlonega Georgia in 1838.  Lottie is a run away slave, William is the Cherokee father of her unborn baby.   On the run from her owner, she hopes to find her Uncle Jim, the only free black man she knows. And he’ll surely help her, right? They do find Uncle Jim, and Lottie is shocked to see white men at the mine take orders from her uncle, and treat him as nearly an equal, or at least as a person. Both Lottie and William want one thing: the Freedom to choose their own path in life, to not be told where they must live, who they must work for, that they can’t make decisions for themselves. Uncle Jim isn’t sure he can save the two of them, but agrees if they sleep in the mine overnight, he will help them in the morning. There are whisperings that Jim’s freedom came at a terrible cost, but he’s not talking, and Lottie doesn’t really care.  In the morning, in the silence of the mine, only Lottie remains.

 

The next story is “Ffydd (Faith)” by S. Lynn, which takes place in Wales in 1919, and features a family trying to pick up the pieces after World War I. One brother has lost an arm, a sister has lost her husband, and one sister and her husband spend time in prison for refusing to fight or support the war effort.  But now, they are all together again, finally, trying to make life work.  She should be happy to have a husband home at all, seeing how so many women didn’t have anyone come home to them. But he’s changed, Trevor has.  Almost like a blind man, he needs help shaving, needs help brushing his hair.  What happened to him? How is that he has no reflection, and watches the chickens in the yard with such hunger in his eyes?  Author S. Lynn gives us a story of post war pain, yet all of the characters are able to smile, find humor in every day occurrences, and realize that if their lives are to continue, they must be the ones to make everything continue.

 

We then have “Across the Seam”, by Sunny Morraine with takes place in Lattimer Pennsylvania in 1897. Simply put, I loved this story and it is one of my favorites in the anthology. Iwan is a young immigrant who finds himself working at the Lattimer Mine. He barely speaks English, and is treated like shit by those who do. When accused of expecting “special treatment”, Iwan thinks to himself that the ethnic slurs and insults he fields are special treatment of a sort. It’s heartbreaking, really, how truly alone Iwan is. How is this a  better life than the one he left before? He is visited in his dreams by Baba Yaga, and no matter how many times he corrects her, Baba Yaga insists on referring to Iwan as a daughter, a sister. Baba Yaga wants to welcome her Iwanka into her arms, she wants to provide love and safely, or a sort, for this wayward child. Against the background of the Lattimer massacre, Iwan will  finally see himself for who he, or rather she, really is.

 

Skipping forward a bit,  I had a mixed reaction to Meg Jayanth’s “Each Part Without Mercy”, which takes place in Madras, India in 1746. This story is gorgeously atmospheric, you can smell the food, hear every echo, but it included so much local dialect that it took me a while to figure out what some of the words meant. And once I figured out that “thanthai” means “father”, everything made more sense. The British, French, and Portuguese are all fighting over the port city, and young Cani just wants to be safe with her family. She’s visited in her dreams by a dream-walker, and her family allows the dreamwalker sorcercers to take her to study with them. Each foreign power wants the natives on their side, there is a subtle false of security lurking just slightly off camera on nearly every page of the story. Cani thinks of the folk stories of her youth, and how her folk heroes may have been betrayed in similar ways. The dreamwalkers haunt the dreams of these foreign naval commanders, hoping to push their decisions one way or another. What will it cost Cani and the other dreamwalkers to keep their country safe?  The further I read into this story the more I liked it, however I felt that the second half of this story did not match the first half.

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That’s all I’ve got for you today, stay tuned for more of my thoughts on Long Hidden.

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9 Responses to "Long Hidden, Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History"

Sorry, but here it is. Why does the gender of the author make any difference? I don’t care about race, religion, gender, physical stature or anything else about the author. It’s what’s between the covers that matters. That and only that. The argument that “women didn’t write enough, or get published enough” is just as sexist as “men wrote too many or got published too much”. I don’t hear arguments that not enough men wrote romance fiction, or gothic fiction, or children’s books. For that matter the Golden Age mystery authors were mostly women but no one complains. I’m glad of a wonderful anthology has come out, but I don’t care about the gender, etc. Just of the fiction is good.

(gets off soap box)

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no prob, the internet is about soap boxes, right? :) Some readers don’t care about the gender/race/country of origin of an author, others do care. For the most part, i don’t care. But i do like seeing other points of view, and don’t want someone to think their voice isn’t important, so i guess in a way, I do care? An author or for that matter, character’s gender/race/sexual preference/county of origin/etc is just the tip of the iceberg of “it’s complicated” for me.

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I’m an OLD white guy (so I’m supposed to be drinking tea party rhetoric by the gallon; but I don’t), and have read and followed not just one genre — sf — but also horror and mystery/thrillers for more than 50 years. So when I say that there _was_ more overt discrimination in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond, I’ve seen it and definitely believe it was there. Today (going back, I dunno, maybe 30 years) things have changed — there is less discrimination everywhere you look, within and without literature of any variety. But does that mean there shouldn’t be anymore protests about marginalization? If that marginalization exists at all, someone should speak up about it. The backlash against “Political Correctness” is often reflected in people who are trying to downplay any remaining prejudices or biases, and feel that all forms of media have given too much time and effort to those who still speak up.

Richard does make an interesting point or two. I remember talking with a woman who wrote several Harlequin Romance novels, and was upset that men had inserted themselves into that sub-genre via female pen-names, and taking advance money and/or royalties that should have gone to her gender. In the so-called “Golden Age” we read stories by several “male” authors who were actually women — James Tiptree, Jr. anyone?

The book Redhead reviews is full of stories by women, some of whom are “of color” and locations and historical timeframes that should deal with discrimination of one kind or another. I’m waiting for the generation of even more literature, genre or otherwise, on the on-going cultural atrocities found in India, Africa, and Pakistan, just to name three countries. Discrimination may be on the wane here in the US (and I believe it is, but will take a few more generations before it’s reduced to near-zero), but it is alive and well elsewhere in the world. People should write about it, and protest it, and friggin’ try to do something to end it. You can’t just say stop, I don’t want to hear about it.

(another soapbox heard from)

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That was supposed to be “just IF the fiction is good.”

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Excellent review!

@Richard: “I’m glad of a wonderful anthology has come out, but I don’t care about the gender, etc. Just [if] the fiction is good.” (made the correction you mentioned for you.)

If that’s truly how you feel, there’s really no reason to express that point. Seriously. If the larger political implications of this collection aren’t interesting to you and you only care if the stories are good, Due, Samatar, Okorafor, Liu, and the others in the collection are award winning and talented authors well worth your time. They definitely write with an intent to fire your curiosity which, for me, is one of the biggest reasons I love speculative fiction. If that’s not something that interests you, well…

For me, the question of why the author’s gender/ethnicity/ etc… matters is really only asked when people are uncomfortable with addressing those realities. The statement of an author’s gender/ethnicity/ etc… is made as a means of shifting the perception that SFF is a genre strictly for straight white males. It’s an intent to raise people’s awareness that the genre is demographically expansive, and celebrate that variety of available voices, including some that historically haven’t had access to a platform at all. People questioning why they need to be reminded of that may simply feel it’s unnecessary additional information, but some question it out of fear a widening demographic means less room for them. Which is silly, because we’re talking about a literary genre, not an 8X10 room.

If you just feel it’s unnecessary info and aren’t interested in engaging in the philosophical aspect of speculative fiction, you don’t have to engage in the conversation this collection is suggesting. You can read (or not) and enjoy the stories in it (or not), but it really doesn’t say much to tell people you’re not interested in the humanity of the authors of these stories and just want to be entertained. At least, it doesn’t say anything about the anthology.

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[…] Discovery blamed on: Little Red Reviewer […]

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[…] Long Hidden, Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History […]

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[…] talk about all of my favorite stories in just one post. If you like what you read here, check out part one, and part […]

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[…] —the Little Red Reviewer shares in a series of posts on the short story anthology Long Hidden: Speculat…ited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older (2014). “This is speculative fiction, but it is also historical fiction. Along with beautiful and sometimes haunting artwork,  each story in Long Hidden is subtitled by a place and a year, connecting and cementing everything that happens in this book with events that shaped history, many of which circle around colonialism, exploitation, slavery, and institutionalized dehumanization. Geographically, the stories range from India to Denmark, to China and Guatemala, and everywhere in between, offering a literal planetary scope of points of view. Dazzling prose, fascinating characters, and nearly everything I read had me running to the internet, Google, Google Maps, Wikipedia, typing in places, dates, names, and events.” […]

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