Review: “Mothership,” eds. Bill Campbell, Edward Austin Hall

Pros: Really neat stories; very diverse
Cons: Some of the stories are pretty confusing
Rating: 4 out of 5

While the title of Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond indicates that these stories are Afrofuturism, the diversity is a wider range than that. (For example, there’s a story with a Native American journalist in Japan.) This anthology is edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall and is a pretty decent length. Some of the stories are a bit on the confusing and/or surreal side, or they get rather philosophical, and I was less fond of those, but that will vary by reader. So if you don’t tend to find difficulty with somewhat surreal, philosophical narratives, you might enjoy this book more than I did (note that I’m still giving it a 4 out of 5, which I consider a “very good”).

The locales include Iceland, Japan, Haiti, Sudan, the Moon, and beyond, so you’ll find plenty of variety! The characters are particularly well-rounded and interesting, from all sorts of backgrounds. Some of these stories didn’t entirely read as sci-fi to me, but it’s one of those genres that can be tough to define. I’ll just note a few of my favorite tales from this volume.

N.K. Jemisin slays it again with a brief, bizarre tale called Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows. Time seems to be resetting itself every 10 hours, and people are disappearing in droves. The online world allows some interaction, since “the mingling of so many minds kept time linear”. The ending is particularly powerful.

Ernest Hogan’s Skin Dragons Talk sees Goro dealing with his dragon tattoos, which have inexplicably begun to talk to him. Not only that, but they’re… “improving” him. To their own definition, of course. This has a bit of a cyberpunk vibe to it.

One of my favorites is Thaddeus Howze’s Bludgeon. It’s a bizarre story in which humans play a game of baseball with aliens for the fate of the Earth. I know nothing about baseball and care little about sports, and yet somehow this one just came alive for me. I got totally drawn in, and the ending was great.

Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs, by Lauren Beukes, is a delightfully over-the-top story in which Unathi, the Flight Sergeant of a mecha squadron, has to do battle with giant hairballs over Tokyo. Note that suicide is briefly used in a comedic context here (the humor is a bit black).

The whole of Saiko Squadron was dead. And, worse, there was blood and spilt sake on her white patent whale penis leather boots!

The Pavilion of Frozen Women, by S.P. Somtow, had a touch of confusion to it for me, but it was still quite arresting. Marie Wounded Bird is a journalist sent to Japan to cover a snow sculpture festival. She ends up being on-scene for a murder, only to find that both subjects are linked.

Dances with Ghosts, by Joseph Bruchas, introduces us to Harley Bigbear, a Kwasuck Indian and former Army Ranger. He’s haunted, and so is his new home. He needs to come to a few realizations before he can put the spirits to rest.

Daniel José Older’s Protected Entity sees a man named Carlos Delacruz trying to solve the murder of black children in West Harlem. He can see ghosts, and his partner, Riley, is one. They’re going to have a tough time stopping this killer.

One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sunlight, by Tade Thompson, explores a kind of vampire who loves a witch, gets accidentally involved with a war, and finally meets more of his own kind.

Someone was digging into my grave and I had nowhere to run.

Carlos Hernandez’s The Aphotic Ghost is a lovely tale of love, fatherhood, the sea, and Mount Everest. I love the relationships in here, and the ending was delightful.

George S. Walker’s Fées des Dents explores a particularly strange version of reality in which doctor Mallory, in Sudan, has to deal with vicious toothfairies, terrifying dragons, and the remains of dead giants.

Tenea D. Johnson’s The Taken shows us what happens when a group that wants reparations for slavery takes a bunch of senators’ children prisoner and makes them live as slaves being transported by boats. They’re forced to acknowledge not just how bad things are–but the number of ways in which what they’re going through isn’t nearly as bad as what actual slaves went through. Given how obviously and understandably traumatized they are, that discrepancy really hits home.

Many other stories in this volume are quite good, but these are the ones that made the biggest impression on me.

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