MIDNIGHT ROBBER MIDNIGHT ROBBER MIDNIGHT ROBBER
, by Nalo Hopkinson (Warner/H.B. Fenn), 394 pages, $18.95 paper. Rating: NNNN
Picture this.... NA spring evening, round about 8 or 8:30. I'm at that library near the corner of College and Spadina (can't remember the name). Came out for the launch of Nalo Hopkinson's Midnight Robber. This book could change a whole heapa thangs in the world of speculative fiction.
It's the tale of Tan-Tan, a six-year-old whose life is about to turn a corner (understatement). Daddy, Antonio, is a mayor. He's successful, busy and unfaithful to Tan-Tan's mummy, Ione. Ione has an amazing wardrobe, too much time on her hands and a buncha sweet boy lovers. She gets caught doin' tha do with one of them. Antonio phreaks, they split up, leaving Tan-Tan without much in the way of affection or attention. Things take off from there.
There's a planetary fete set to happen that would probably put Trinidad's carnival to shame, and a duel -- after which Antonio hightails it to another dimension, with daughter in tow.
Oh! Did I mention that all this is happening on a planet called Toussaint and its "dub version," New Half Way Tree? Seems Tan-Tan's ancestors made an intergalactic Middle Passage, this time voluntary and multi-racial. Toussaint was the colony they founded, and New Half Way Tree is its mirror world and penal colony.
Midnight Robber is classic SF -- full of aliens, talking gadgets, other dimensions and fantastic landscapes. Not to mention the fact that folks in the book are watched over by a slightly Orwellian artificial sentient consciousness lovingly called Granny Nanny.
But in the tradition of Octavia Butler, another black speculative writer and one of my faves, Hopkinson takes on some tough issues as well.
Take the pedicab (sorta like a rickshaw) runner Beata. In chapter one, she's giving Antonio a ride home. And I'm loving her! Missy has male lovers and "z'amie" wives. She is so bold and queer. Just the sort of thing I wish I saw more in popular black/Caribbean wimmin's writing.
Meanwhile, back at the launch, I try to mingle. See, I figure after a childhood steeped in old Star Trek episodes, Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders Of Pern series and everything I could find by Frank Herbert, I should feel at home, right?
But there are only a handful of black and brown people taking up space in the room. I'm not liking this, but the author cocoons me in familiar rhythms and talk of a whole dyam world where all things Caribbean -- language, spirituality, culture -- are central.
Eventually, Hopkinson's reading comes to an end and audience members ask questions.
This is when I know they're feeling it, too -- the shift. Midnight Robber is a stretch for some of them. They don't understand the languages Hopkinson has at her disposal. They talk about word etymology, dictionary meanings and future possibilities of having a glossary of terms at the back of the books.
I think of the many, many SF writers who rely heavily on their readers' knowledge of dominant culture for acceptance of their fantastic visions. There are no explanations about culturally specific word usage in their work. They don't offer to walk me (or any other reader, for that matter) through the linear his/story of our planet.
And all I can do is chuckle wickedly, knowing that Nalo Hopkinson's Midnight Robber has royally screwed with the playing field. SF ain't a (mostly) white, western, straight boyz game no more.
T.J. Bryan is a Bajan-born T.O.-based writer and artist. She also goes by the name Tenacious. email@example.com