sff she-read #8: MEMORY, by Linda Nagata; sff she-read #9: WHO FEARS DEATH, by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
I always have more to say when I have complaints.
I hope to God Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu doesn’t need my help. She’s a published author and an academic, my two as yet unrealized aspirations, and if she does… well, shit. Linda Nagata, though, seems not to have written a book since MEMORY. Which is a huge shame; MEMORY has its weaknesses, especially toward the end, but Nagata is working in a space between Octavia Butler and Charles Stross that could really use more occupancy. (THE DANDELION KNIGHT might qualify, if I can ever convince anyone to show it the light of day, but then again it might not.)
Speaking of Octavia Butler, Okorafor-Mbachu is working, at least to my perceptions, in a Butlerian space as well, almost a fusion of the Patternist books and the Parable books — but inflected with some straight-out fantasy and a more contemporary politics, and at least as post-apocalyptic but somehow so much less bleak. I feel a little bit lazy making this analogy. I think Nagata and Okorafor-Mbachu are the only two writers I’d really describe as heirs to Butler, and they also happen to be two of the few women of color in sf. But I’ll stand by it. All three are preoccupied with bodies, their changes, and how those changes are tied to identity; all three are preoccupied with feral, fallen worlds, where civilization persists like lichen on rock, in tough but vulnerable patches; all three articulate a spirituality that fuses the mystical and the practical, that complicates and problematizes mysticism without succumbing to the urge to reduce it. It perhaps goes without saying that all write women of color who span the range of personality, sympathy, and power, some of whom triumph and some of whom die bad deaths.
All three need reading. Get to work.
(Edit w/r/t Linda Nagata: She hasn’t disappeared; she’s self-publishing now, still selling short stories and maintaining an active Web presence. And, based on photos, I may or may not have been wrong to say she’s a person of color—I made an assumption in the above post, which I’m leaving unedited for anthropological interest. Anyway, none of this changes my evaluation of MEMORY, and I’m glad to see she’s still writing.)
(Explanatory note on the selection of MEMORY: I started August picking up Sarah Monette’s THE VIRTU, which I mistakenly thought was the beginning of an independent trilogy and not a sequel to MELUSINE, which was theoretically my August book. I was a chapter or two in by the time I realized I had to be wrong. That was enough to make me suspect that Monette’s writing wasn’t for me; fairly or unfairly, I was getting HAVEMERCY PTSD. So I went to the branch of the library that had MELUSINE and made a compromise: I picked up a book by every female author in the sf section shelved between Kelly Link and Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, including MELUSINE, and had a few-first-pages showdown. MEMORY narrowly beat out Neve Maslakovic’s OF DUCKS AND UNIVERSES, which I really do plan to go back and read, as well as MELUSINE, Elizabeth Lynn’s DRAGON’S WINTER, and Patricia McKillip’s THE BOOK OF ATRIX WOLFE. Probably I should have divided the alphabet up and done this with something like a three-letter interval centered on every other letter; but there you go.)