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So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy
edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
Arsenal Pulp Press, 270 pages

So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy
Nalo Hopkinson
Nalo Hopkinson has recently published a collection of short stories, Skin Folk, in addition to her first two novels, Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber. She has lived in Toronto, Ontario, since 1977 after spending most of her first 16 years in the Caribbean, where she was born.

Nalo Hopkinson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: So Long Been Dreaming
SF Site Review: The Salt Roads
SF Site Review: Skin Folk
SF Site Review: Brown Girl In The Ring
SF Site Review:Whispers From the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction
SF Site Review: Midnight Robber
SF Site Review: Brown Girl in the Ring
Interview: Nalo Hopkinson
Excerpt: Midnight Robber
Interview: Nalo Hopkinson
Nalo Hopkinson Short Story

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

Reviewing a multi-author anthology is a difficult task, especially when the whole point of the book is to assemble a wide range of voices, perspectives, settings, and styles. However, So Long Been Dreaming is a collection deserving of attention.

For all that SF claims to deal with new and challenging ideas, the field is still dominated by white male writers in the tradition of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne who -- like all of us -- have trouble thinking outside of their own cultural boxes. And that's the point of "postcolonial" SF written by people of colour. Or as co-editor, Nalo Hopkinson puts it: "...stories that take the meme of colonizing the natives and, from the experience of the colonizee, critique it, pervert it, fuck with it, with irony, with anger, with humour, and also with love and respect for the genre of science fiction that makes it possible to think about new ways of doing things."

Roughly half of the stories in this collection are literary -- heavy on style and metaphor, and light on linear narrative. Take, for example, the opening paragraph of "The Forgotten One" by Canadian author Karin Lowachee.

"In the twilight, my brother Hava's eyes glow red. Before the old women of Rumi village were washed from this life, they said it was the spirit of blood in him, my twin. I do not have such spirit. I am the silent breath, the old women said, she who walks behind the blood and is last in the sand before death. Death is the final hand that smooths your tracks beneath the waves. And before death there is the silent breath, and before the silent breath there is the blood. And my brother's eyes glow red with it."
If you are the sort of genre reader whose first reaction to this type of prose is to flee, I say to you: Halt! Don't give up on this anthology or you'll miss some gems. Start reading at Section IV (half way through). Then you can go back and take a shot at the preponderantly literary first half.

My favourite story in this book is "Native Aliens" by Greg van Eekhout. Using two story threads he contrasts a grim and very realistic account of the expulsion of the Dutch from Indonesia after World War II to a future scenario where Brevan-Terrans are being repatriated to Earth. Through the use of innocent child characters he very successfully captures the colonial clash of na&uiuml;veté and bitter resentment, and portrays the permanent dislocation of people banished from the lands they were born in, only to become aliens "back home."

Also very strong is Vancouver Island writer Celu Amberstone's tale of human refugees living on an alien planet under the supervision of alien Benefactors ("Refugee"). Amberstone does a nice job of painting the shades of gray in her paternalistic society. Humans who have lived on Tallav'Wahir for centuries lead peaceful and happy lives, but they are utterly dependent on aliens to make all the decisions about what is in their best interests. And when a new shipment of refugees arrives from a dying Earth, their assumptions and their security are badly shaken.

Other memorable stories include "Trade Winds," in which an interpreter must communicate and trade for the first time with an entirely space-faring race of aliens; "Lingua Franca," a tale of disruptive cultural change brought about by contact with off-worlders; and "Deep End," a story of convicts shipped off to colonize a new planet -- wearing cloned bodies, in which they will breed the genes of the upper classes who banished them. All these stories are notable for their intelligent and complex portrayal of culture, race and class.

Finally, I wanted to mention Vancouver writer Larissa Lai's Asian flavoured riff on Philip K. Dick's replicants ("Rachel"). It will work well for SF fans, as most of us are familiar with Blade Runner and/or Electric Sheep, but might be a bit confusing to mainstream readers.

I'm sure it's no coincidence that So Long Been Dreaming was the brainchild of two Toronto residents (Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan) and published in Vancouver -- two cities in which the legacy of the British Empire and the accelerating dizzy collision of Earth's races and cultures is visible on every street.

So Long Been Dreaming raises the bar for intelligent depictions of that hoary SF theme: humans colonizing the galaxy. And that's long overdue.

Copyright © 2005 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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