Part 2 of my review of the Long Hidden Anthology
Posted June 7, 2014on:
The Long Hidden anthology edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older is diverse, globe spanning, fascinating, inspiring, and gloriously long. so long in fact, that it would be impossible to talk about my favorite stories in just one blog post. So I’ve split it into three. This is part two, click here for part one.
If you’re just joining us, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History includes over two dozen stories that aren’t usually told, or at least don’t typically make it to the mainstream. If you’re looking for some variety in your reading, and looking to support a worthy project of one of the smaller publishing houses, this is the anthology for you. Global points of view, characters of all genders and preferences, characters who maintain their dignity in front of the worst humanity has to offer, people who were brutalized and/or executed for standing up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves. These are the stories of people who stood up and were heard, when surrounded by people who told them to shut up and sit down, if they deigned to speak to them at all.
As I mentioned in the first article on Long Hidden, many of the stories had me doing web searches to learn more about what really happened. To that end, I have included some weblinks in the hopes that you too will be interested in learning more about the contexts in which these stories swim. Some of the characters might be fictionalized, but none of their circumstances are.
Here are some thoughts on my favorites of the middle of Long Hidden:
“The Witch of Tarup” by Claire Humphrey (Denmark 1886) – Dagny has just recently come to the hamlet of Tarup, and a few weeks after she wed Bjorn Moller, he suffered an apoplexy (perhaps a stroke?) that rendered him unable to speak. The wind has stopped blowing, the windmill has stopped moving, and with no way to grind it the wheat will rot. Dagny is desperate for the assistance of the village’s local witch, and visiting the local wives for information. On a lyrically repetitive wild goose chase they send her, offering hints and suggestions, of who to get a scarf from, and who to have coffee with, and the like. A method of communication with her husband is finally suggested, and she learns who the witch is. This is one of the more light hearted stories in the collection, and quite fun to read.
“Diyu” by Robert William Iveniuk (Hell’s Gate, Fraser Canyon, British Columbia, Canada 1883) – Diyu is a Chinese word for Hell, and Wu Xiao-Li is in more of a hell than Hell’s Gate Canada is named after. An immigrant working on the Canadian Pacific railroad, Xiao-Li is treated like less than dirt, humiliated by the white supervisors who speak to him as if he is a stupid child. Embarrassed by a crime he committed in his past, and only hinting at a strict Buddhist upbringing, Xiao-Li doesn’t tell his fellow countrymen what he did back home, so even they see him a lazy lay-about. The company owner’s visiting niece offers him a job as a gardener at her estate, and even that, is completely patronizing, even though she doesn’t see it that way. There is an explosion where they are blasting for the railroad, and many people, white and Chinese, are killed. The company owners are only interested in retrieving the bodies of the whites from the wreckage. Their treatment of the Chinese made me absolutely furious! Turns out it was something SFnal that caused the explosion, something is down there, picking people off, leaving destroyed bodies behind. And the something speaks Mandarin. Xiao-Li may find redemption yet.
“Collected Likenesses” by Jamey Hatley (Harlem 1913) – Her granny, Clementine, was born a slave, only to become a famous seamstress. Two things granny Clementine passed onto her granddaughter – an understanding of sharp things, and her legacy. A legacy of cut figures, little paper men and women, likenesses of those who sinned against Clementine. She tells her granddaughter to be patient, but to destroy the likenesses as time goes by, to rub out those, or if they are dead, their next of kin, who owe a debt. The granddaughter learns how to stay silent, how to listen between the lines, gets a job as a domestic servant, escapes to a better job in cosmetology, gets a boyfriend. But the cutting, it goes both ways, and she’s not the only one who doesn’t know who her father is. Written in second person, everything that happens feels very intimate, very physical. I am unsure of the implications of the final scene, but that’s ok.
“The Colts” by Benjamin Parzybok (Hungary 1514) – The dead of the Kuruc Revolt have risen, and three of them are watching a horse farm, contemplating what brought them there, and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their undead lives. The story starts out rather pastoral, and even momentarily funny, but quickly takes a turn for the dark. None of these farmer conscripts knew anything about fighting when they were rounded up and had their families threatened if they didn’t comply. Suddenly called soldiers, they weren’t given proper weapons or shields of any sort, just thrown on the front lines to face the invaders after the public torture and execution of György Dózsa. The story goes back and forth from rather lighthearted humor and meaningless bets to the gravity of the situation. But what of our undead gentlemen? Are they zombies, or simply ghosts of a history that will never think twice about them?
“Nine” by Kima Jones (Phoenix Arizona, 1902) – Tanner owns the Star Motel, one of the very few places on the highway that’s friendly to colored folks. She and her women, Jessie and Flora, and Flora’s son Newt, keep the place running and take care of anything that needs taking care of. Easiest for sure for Tanner to act as the business owner, as she is tall enough and broad enough to pass for a man. And it’s more than passing, even little Newt calls her Uncle Tanner. Against the background of these three black women being treated like crap by the other business owners, is a fun supernatural element with involves a curse that keeps the women from leaving the property, and a bunch of dead guys buried in the backyard. But what I most liked about the story? Was that no one really makes a big deal of Tanner’s lifestyle. No one questions her sexuality or gender identity. She dresses how she wants, sleeps with who she wants, accepts both “Uncle” and “Girlfriend” as terms of endearment, as descriptive of who she is. Was something very nice to run into.
“The Heart and the Feather” by Christina Lynch (Innsbruck, Austria, 1589) – After a slightly disconcerting opening, our narrator offers a detail flashback to how her father came to his position at King Henri II’s court, and her childhood. Her father’s name isn’t mentioned, but this is the daughter of Pedro Gonzales, who suffered from Ambras Syndrome and passed it on to his children. As a child, Pedro was presented as gift to King Henri II, and treated as a domesticated, yet exotic pet. For anyone to treat him as human, Pedro would have to be twice as smart, twice as polite, twice as dignified, all in the face being seen and treated as a thing, a toy, a novelty. (I cringe to think about what he went through, and then realize that even now, plenty of people are told by their parents they must be twice as smart, twice as polite, twice as whatever, to be treated as merely an equal). Pedro does more than survive, he marries (I won’t tell you how that first meeting went), and raises his children to proper and dignified. His family is shuffled around, from the homes of nobles to those of merchants, often put on display. When rumors of werewolves begin to surface, someone is perfectly happy to point fingers at a family that while overly hairy, is completely innocent. But it’s so easy to blame the weak, isn’t it? If it wasn’t for the werewolf, this one would be pure historical fiction, as all of these are real people.
Brutality, conscription, slavery, prostitution, racism, institutionalized abuse. When I run into these in an epic fantasy novel, they are often viewed as edgy, cool, even risque, glorifying the grimdark to an extent. Pretty sobering, when thought about in contrast to Long Hidden.