Long Hidden anthology, part 3
Posted June 9, 2014on:
Welcome to the third and final part of my review of Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older. With over two dozen pieces of fiction, I would have been cheating everyone if I tried to talk about all of my favorite stories in just one post. If you like what you read here, check out part one, and part two.
To unpack the subtitle of the anthology just a little bit, what are “the margins of history”? Among other things, it’s the edges, the background, the stories that haven’t been told, the viewpoints that were pushed aside. We’ve all heard the phrase “history is written by the winners”, and those “winners” often only tell their side of the story, their interpretation. The margins are what the writers of the history books left out, most often women and minorities. the writers of the history books may call themselves the winners, but look at what they’ve lost! By pushing people and cultures and religions and stories into the margins, we get such a narrow view of the world. And isn’t this exactly what speculative fiction is supposed to be about? Widening our horizons, seeing everything that’s out there?
While you are chewing on that I’ll give you some thoughts on some of my favorite stories that were in the final third of the anthology:
(Knotting Grass, Holding Ring), by Ken Liu – Easily one of my favorites in the collection, as I am a huge Ken Liu fan. in the mid 1600s, in Yangzhou China, two women are on the way to their client. Half porter, half assistant, Sparrow’s job includes carrying instruments and parcels, and making sure the client pays up. Green Siskin on the other hand, is the beautiful entertainer, carried through the city on a palanquin, as walking with bound feet is very difficult. Green Siskin offers the military men she has been hired to entertain a Tanci story, one of a prince who decided to save his father’s favorite concubine. Sparrow burns with jealousy, but even she’s got to admin that Green Siskin knows a thing or two about how to flatter men, how to get them to do exactly what she wants. The men flatter her back, but they see her as a lowly whore. The Manchus are on the march, and soon the city is under siege. With the subtle elgance of a tanci song, Green Siskin quietly saves all the women she is able. She knows what she’s capable of, she knows how to get men to do what she wants. As always, Liu’s prose is as gorgeous as blossoms falling from a tree on a perfect day. Green Siskin knows exactly what people think when they look at her. She knows the women in the prison courtyard want her to feel ashamed of herself, to be disgusted by what she does. She never complains, never brags, never asks for pity, never even asks to be seen as anything more than a whore with bound feet. She just saves as many people as she can from death and violence.
“It’s War” by Nnedi Okorafor (April 1929 Nigeria) – Nigeria has always been three steps ahead of everyone else when it came to equality of the sexes. Women owned their own property, took their own animals to market, were allowed to marry (or not marry) anyone they wanted, and ganged up to shame and embarrass any male who crossed them. That is, until the British came along, and instituted local Warrant Chiefs, who among other thing, abused the locals as much as possible, and forced women into subjugated roles. The women got angry, they rebelled, they boycotted, they demanded attention, many of them were arrested and shot. Arro-yo doesn’t think any of this has anything to do with her, after all, she can just fly away if things get too heated. But a loved one, Margaret, has gotten involved with the Women’s War, and Arro-yo wants to make sure Margaret is safe. There is a great scene where it is related that when asked by an uppity warrant chief who asked if her animals had been counted, she replied “was your mother counted?”. That really happened. The story starts out intimate and small, the prose flying along as Arro-yo does, checking on her family, indifferent but curious as to what Margaret is up to, but it builds towards Nigeria’s Women’s War, one of the first steps in Nigeria’s independence.
“A Wedding in Hungry Days” by Nicolette Barischoff (Rural Village Outside Shandong Province, 1900) – The daughter couldn’t possibly be causing the drought, or her mother’s pains, or killing chickens. It’s impossible for Ling to tell her mother she’s not responsible, because she’s been dead for these past eight years. One day a year, on Ghost Festival, the living serve the dead, literally. Families prepare huge feasts for the deceased ancestors, who on this one day a year, are able to move, fly, touch things, enjoy tastes and smells. Ling has always been with her family, but she has one day a year to learn how to walk, how to speak, how to be a big girl. Ling’s mother wants to marry her off, daughters are supposed to get married, aren’t they? But who would marry a warped wooden tablet? And Ling has no interest in living with strangers. Ling is too young to understand what her mother is going through, too young to understand the danger of having an older brother who embraced Christianity. His ghost is no where to be found. Ling’s parents trick a Fisherman’s son into becoming betrothed to Ling, it’s absolutely heart-wrenching how innocently kind he is to her. How do you celebrate a wedding during a drought, when the bride is a ghost? Barischoff writes with an atmospheric and lyrical flair, bringing all the dust, and hunger, and fear, and the love of two teenagers right off the page.
“Medu” by Lisa Bolekaja (Ellsworth Kanses, 1877) – Lil Bit helps her father round up the cattle. The hat she wears is more to keep people from seeing her bald head than it is to protect her from the sun. She can’t grow her hair out until she learns to control it. This is an 1880s Medusa tail, and a damn brilliant one at that. Her father, Gabriel, loves her, but he’s afraid of her too. She can’t help but feel ashamed of what she is, especially since she’s not so good yet at controlling her hair. They’re running the cattle into Ellsworth, but they’re also on the run. Gabriel had been a Buffalo Soldier, and when he had to choose a life to save, a white man or a Native American, he chose the Kiowa-Apache. The right decision was a wrong one, and he’s been on the run ever since. Now you tell me, how are a bunch of cowboys supposed to raise a young lady who’s not kidding when she says she’s got Medusa hair? Only a few of her father’s friends know the family secret, everyone wants to protect her. The story gets SFnal twist when mutilated bodies show up on the prairie, and the bounty hunters catch up with Gabriel and his family just as they are journeying to an all Negro town. Lil Bit is going to have to take off her hat, and be very brave. it’s time to grow up and accept the legacy of what she is. If Medusa is still roaming the prairie, then who knows what else is?
“Lone Women” by Victor LaValle (Montana 1914) – In the empties of Montana, Adelaide Henry is pretty sure she can hide from the world. No one has asked her any questions along her journey, the only odd she’s noticed is a family with four blind children. Once she gets settled into her cabin, she gets to know the neighbors, and realizes that everyone who came out here for the solitude has found that, and so much loneliness. The place even has it’s own courting rituals, and soon Adelaine finds herself a boyfriend. She nearly old enough to be his mother, and good for her! But there’s the little issue of Adelaide’s trunk, the one with the triple locks on it? She never pays it any attention, but everyone she meets seems so damn curious about it, Matthew included. What’s inside the trunk? What’s with the newcomer to town who lies about being a childless widow? In the single room of a Montana cabin, two sisters will find forgiveness and love, and a new start. This was another of my favorites.
Surely there are plenty of popular and political reasons to read this anthology. But if you’re just looking for some damn good speculative fiction that will have you heading for the non-fiction section next time you visit the library? that’s just as good of a reason, and I say go for it.