Photo: Sanna Pudas
“Think of just about any horror film,” says Houston Baptist professor Philip Tallon, “and you will find that it works upon us by tearing down some boundary we had in place, but perhaps forgot was there.” Tallon explains that this sense of violation “is a discomforting aspect of horror, but there is also a desirable quality to it. It terrifies us and gives us a sense of moral, social, and aesthetic stability.” Perhaps, but do we really believe in such stability today? Is there a place for such stories–or even their subversion–when our politics are unpredictable, people live in fear of being scapegoated and harassed, and it seems the threat of a new war is around every corner? In a widely-read essay appropriately titled “Real Horror” (2003), the late professor Robert C. Solomon said that “art-horror” provided a buffer for our psyche simply because it wasn’t real; that buffer collapsed on September 11, 2001 and took the pleasure of horror stories with it.
Reflecting on the works of Hans Christian Andersen, the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska said that “The Importance of Being Scared” is less complicated than Tallon makes it out to be. Rather, it involves recognizing that “evil stems from intellectual and emotional stuntedness and is the one form of poverty that should be shunned.” If Szymborska is right, and evil is a form of intellectual poverty, this is a lesson that is often lost under the din of partisan politics, where the “bad guy”–the “monster”–is always someone else, whether it be the person in power, or the person who wishes they were. Perhaps horror stories remain a better, subtler means of drawing us towards that realization and placing us on our guard, even against ourselves. That, at least, is the rationale with which I will be teaching my students in the Fall. During the Summer, I’ll be re-reading my way through the course syllabus, and re-learning the lessons I hope to convey.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH HOMINIDS, by Nalo Hopkinson (2000-2015). Perfect for summer reading, Jamaican speculative fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson infuses her stories with Jamaican folklore and magic to create tense and unsettling post-colonial scares that touch a number of nerves.
NIGHTMARE (August 2017 Issue 59) reprints Nalo Hopkinson’s “Shift,” which also appears in FALLING IN LOVE WITH HOMINIDS.
“Did you sleep well?” she asks, and you make sure that your face is fixed into a dreamy smile as you open your eyes into the morning after. It had been an awkward third date; a clumsy fumbling in her bed, both of you apologizing and then fleeing gratefully into sleep.
“I dreamt that you kissed me,” you say. That line’s worked before. She’s lovely as she was the first time you met her, particularly seen through eyes with colour vision. “You said you wanted me to be your frog.” Say it, say it, you think.
She laughs. “Isn’t that kind of backwards?”
“Well, it’d be a way to start over, right?”
Her eyes narrow at that. You ignore it. “You could kiss me,” you tell her, as playfully as you can manage, “and make me your prince again.”
She looks thoughtful at that. You reach for her, pull her close. She comes willingly, a fall of little blonde plaits brushing your face like fingers. Her hair’s too straight to hold the plaits; they’re already feathered all along their lengths. “Will you be my slimy little frog?” she whispers, a gleam of amusement in her eyes, and your heart double-times, but she kisses you on the forehead instead of the mouth. You could scream with frustration.
Nalo Hopkinson writers about her experiences at Worldcon 75 (Helsinki) & the Edinburgh Book Festival.
Worldcon 75 in Helsinki was amazing, just bloody amazing. It was one of the best attended Worldcons ever. The general aura of the con was jubilant. Helsinki is very easy on the eyes, but I didn’t take many pics. When you’re a Guest of Honour at a Worldcon, you don’t get much breathing room. It wasn’t only the many panels and events I was on, but I gave a couple of interviews practically every day of the con. I didn’t get to any events I wasn’t on. On con Thursday, I was so busy that the only reason I ate at all was because Juha (my official con “handler,” who described himself as my “designated Finn”) filled his knapsack with apples, water and food bars and offered me one whenever I began to look wan. I finally managed to grab a plate of hot food that evening at the very crowded Hugo Losers’ Party hosted by George R. R. Martin (thanks, George!). Understand, I’m not complaining. It was five days of headlong fun. Farah and Edward had created a display about me and my work that just about took my breath away. (The mermaid soft sculpture in the photo is a gift I made for Farah last year. The twin-headed catmaid doll the mermaid is holding represents Farah’s two cats.) They even made a puzzle of covers of my books. I’m afraid I don’t remember the name of the artist who created the mermaid family on one of the posters. There was also a kids’ activity area where they could make “Carnival” masks. Farah and Edward have promised to send me the posters and the puzzle.
This is me presenting the Hugo Award for Best Novelette. I believe the photograph was taken by one of the Worldcon photographers, but I haven’t been able to find out the person’s name yet. [It was Sanna Pudas]
The headgear I’m wearing is a gele. Someone who knows what they’re doing can fold and tie one from a single rectangle of fabric. I’ve been practising, but the art of gele-tying is a cross between origami and higher physics. So I cheated and bought a pre-tied one. The gown is from Pinup Girl Clothing. They carry vintage-look clothing, and their sizes go up to extreme buxom.
So many good memories and eyeball kicks from the Hugo Award ceremony. Toastmaster Karen Lord acquitted herself with grace and humour. Perhaps the most hilarious memory from the ceremony is Ursula Venon’s “Whale Fall” acceptance speech. I really hope there’ll be a transcript of that.
And I met an astronaut! Kjell Lindgren was at the con. I finally was able to ask someone who’d actually been upstairs what the vertigo effects are. And yep, I’m never going into space. I get vertigo if I even think about vertigo.
After Worldcon, I was off to the Edinburgh Book Festival. I’d been invited by author Ken Macleod, who curated science fiction events at the festival this year. I took part in an evening of performances and readings, and was on a panel on science fiction and utopia. It was my first time visiting Scotland. I really enjoyed my brief stay. Edinburgh apparently comes alive in August; there’s a massive book festival, a massive theatre festival, a gin festival… And so many different accents! It seems as though almost everyone who lives in Edinburgh is from somewhere else, and of course even those who are originally local sound like a “different” accent to me because I don’t hear it daily. The hotel was right on the Book Festival route. Our room an actual apartment; fridge, stove, oven, etc, including pots and pans and cooking utensils. It’s all very compact; the washing machine and the dryer are the same machine, as are the oven and the microwave.
For more information on FALLING IN LOVE WITH HOMINIDS, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover art by Chuma Hill
Design by Elizabeth Story