book review



hopkinson hominids

Falling in Love With Hominids
by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love With Hominids
by Nalo Hopkinson

Science fiction, horror
240 pages; Tachyon Publications
ISBN: 1616961988

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Puberty. Adulthood. Fitting in. The loss of family. Dying an embarrassing death. These are the kind of everyday horrors Jamaican writer Nalo Hopkinson explores in her wonderful new short story collection Falling in Love With Hominids.

And fall in love you will. With children willing to sacrifice their own lives to protect their friends from the diseases of adulthood. With Kamla, a child of out time, and Greg, an artist who can't relate to children but who may have found in Kamla his one shot at immortality. With Gilla, a girl on the verge of adulthood, who discovers within her the seed of strength to fight off her tormentors. And Jenna, who buys shoes for her dead sister. And Cranston, who has lost his chicken, Emily Breakfast, descendant of dragons.

"I'm from your future," she says. God. The child's been watching too many B-movies. She continues, "They wanted to send us here and back as full adults, but do you have any idea what the freight costs would have been? The insurance? Arts grants are hard to get in my world, too. The gallery had to scale the budget way back."

Hopkinson weaves elements of horror, fantasy, folklore and science fiction, and does so deftly, her tone and language aligned beautifully with her characters, topics, and genres. In “The Smile on the Face,” Hopkinson zeroes in on details important to her teenage protagonist, her clothes, her growing body, the way boys notice her, and whether this attention is desired or not.

In contrast, in “Message in a Bottle,” the artist Greg’s internal dialogue is more fluid, mature, introspective. In “Old Habits,” a tale of ghosts trapped in a shopping mall, Hopkinson launches with a blunt, humorous tone, and then allows her language to become more poetic as the seriousness of the spirits’ plight becomes clear.

Things we miss, now that we're ghosts:

Black Anchor says, "Toronto summers, when it would get so hot that squirrels would lie flopped like black skins on the branches, fur side up. So humid that you were sure if you made a fist, you would squeeze water dripping from the air. Your thighs squelched when you walked." Black Anchor's having one of her more conversational days. Apparently, she used to be a poet. A homeless poet. She told me there was a lot of that going on.

Hopkinson has a musical ear for dialogue, which has its own rhythms, again based on the tone of the story and its characters: shorter and smarter with Gilla, smooth and soulful with Greg. In a few stories, she plays with dialect, but never in a heavy-handed way. The characters remain natural sounding and are never difficult to follow, as Hopkinson uses the syntax and rhythm of the language to convey the dialect and accent, never relying on phonetic spelling to force the reader to scratch the words out one at a time to catch their meaning.

Falling in Love With Hominids is a strong story collection from beginning to end, without big lulls in the center or a hint of repetitiveness, as is often the result for some single-author anthologies.