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Hopeful Monsters
Hiromi Goto
Arsenal Pulp Press, 176 pages

Hopeful Monsters
Hiromi Goto
Hiromi Goto was born in Chiba-ken, Japan, and immigrated to Canada with her family in 1969, eventually arriving in Alberta. Goto's third novel, The Kappa Child, won The James Tiptree, Jr. Award and was nominated for the Sunburst Award. Her first novel, Chorus of Mushrooms, examined the immigration experience of Japanese Canadians through the lives of three generations of women in a Japanese family living in a small prairie town. That groundbreaking work was the 1995 regional winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book and co-winner of the Japan-Canada Book Award. Her second novel is a young adult novel, The Water of Possibility. Goto and her family live in British Columbia.

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A review by Rich Horton

I feel obligated to mention, this being literally an SF Site, that this book does not strike me as SF of any sort. That is, I wouldn't point at it and say SF. What it is is a collection of short stories, all stories that fit comfortably in what I would call "the mainstream." But in so saying, we must also note that it's a collection of stories many of which feature, say, mythological creatures like kappas, or men with functional breasts, or ghosts, or mutated humans. What this means, I think, is that these days "the mainstream" encompasses stories with quite overt fantastical elements.

Hiromi Goto is a Canadian writer of Japanese descent (her family came to Canada when she was three). She has previously published two novels (including The Kappa Child, winner of the Tiptree Award), and a children's book. The stories in Hopeful Monsters are energetic, well-written, often fierce, and engaged directly with the place of women in society, and of Asians in North America.

Here are a few of the stories I liked best. "Tilting" is a very domestic story about a woman welcoming her grandmother, who is visiting from Japan. "Stinky Girl" is one of the fiercest, and also funniest. It's about a fat woman, or as she puts it, "a fat coloured rat girl," still living with her overbearing Mom and dealing with her father's ghost. But also manically in control of her life. "Tales from the Breast" is a mordant look at the difficulties of breast feeding, and one way to get a man to help out a bit more. "Home Stay" is a look at the unexpected relationship between a man of Asian descent and the parents of his (white) ex-wife. And "Hopeful Monsters" is about a woman whose baby is born with a tail, and who learns that she too had a tail as a baby. In a nearly Sturgeonesque manner, Goto confronts the place of the different in society.

I will confess (as may be obvious) that to some extent I missed the more overt fantastical emphasis of even the most slipstreamish of in-genre writers. Which is unfair to this book -- Goto uses fantastical elements very effectively when she wishes, and when the story doesn't need the fantastic, she eschews it. This is a fine collection of contemporary fiction.

Copyright © 2004 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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