Falling in Love with Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson

>> Friday, September 04, 2015

TITLE: Falling in Love with Hominids
AUTHOR: Nalo Hopkinson

PAGES: 240

SETTING: Various, mostly contemporary
TYPE: Short story collection

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, Skin Folk) has been widely hailed as a highly significant voice in Caribbean and American fiction. She has been dubbed “one of our most important writers,” (Junot Diaz), with “an imagination that most of us would kill for” (Los Angeles Times), and her work has been called “stunning,” (New York Times) “rich in voice, humor, and dazzling imagery” (Kirkus), and “simply triumphant” (Dorothy Allison).

Falling in Love with Hominids presents over a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, much of which has been unavailable in print. Her singular, vivid tales, which mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore, are occupied by creatures unpredictable and strange: chickens that breathe fire, adults who eat children, and spirits that haunt shopping malls.

Nalo Hopkinson is a new author to me. This short story collection was mentioned in a podcast I listen to and it sounded great, so I picked it up straight away.

The book collects some 20 stories written and published over the last 15 or so years. They all mix, to varying degrees, the realistic and mundane with the fantastical. What I particularly liked was the nature of the fantastical that Hopkinson uses. It's not your usual; it feels innovative and imaginative and fresh and often wonderfully weird. I also loved the matter-of-fact diversity of the characters.

That said, I liked the first half of the collection a lot better than the second. In the first half, there was more of the reality. The fantastical was still a huge part of things, but the stories seemed more rooted in reality and a recognisable world. In the first half we get stories such as the very creepy and tragic Easthound, a sort of post-apocalyptic zombie/werewolf story, Emily Breakfast, where Hopkinson combines the sweetly domestic with chickens which are descended from dragons in a very real sense, and Old Habits, where ghosts wander in the shopping mall where they died, periodically reenacting their deaths.

The stories in the second half were much more into the magical realism realm. They were much more fantastical, with weird things happening without anyone batting an eye or reacting how a normal person would. Magical realism is not my favourite thing in the world. I tend to prefer it when there are rules in my fantasy, when it's clear the author has an alternate world fully formed in their mind, and that this world makes sense. When absolutely anything can happen, I tend to stop caring. What's the point? Good magical realism somehow gets around this, and it can work for me, but Hopkinson didn't really pull it off, I'm afraid.

I thought the stories might be arranged chronologically, and that this would explain the difference between the first and second half, but from looking at the copyright dates, it doesn't appear that this is the case.

MY GRADE: A B-. The first half was more of a B+/A-, but the second half was a C, if that.


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