Monday, November 28, 2005

48. Brown Girl in the Ring by Nola Hopkinson

Brown Girl in the Ring book pictureNola Hopkinson was recommended by Peter Watts on his excellent website as "the woman who climbed into the future and saw way too many white guys in spaceships, and did something about it." I also heard her on the CBC and she had some interesting stuff to say about science fiction. She's a Toronto native of Caribean descent. Brown Girl in the Ring is her first novel.

It's about a young Caribbean woman living in downtown Toronto in the near future. The city's core has become a walled-off place where the poor live. The upper classes have fled to the burbs, leaving the the inner city to criminals like Rudy, the gang lord who runs the place. Rudy get a commission to find a good human heart to replace the Premiere's dying one. This is some kind of transgression because organ donation has been made illegal and people rely on pig farms for their organs. This is the area where the book really suffered. Hopkinson's depiction of this dystopic future was, to my mind, simplistic and flawed. It also seemed to stem from some weird conservative viewpoints. Voters (in the suburbs) were fighting against the pig farms because they considered them inhumane, while the premiere hired criminals to find a human heart. I get the point, but it seems unrealistic and exaggerated. Furthermore, the whole reason for Toronto's economic collapes was because the world put a trade embargo on Ontario for a certain kind of wood that was on native land. So it almost seems like she's blaming the natives! I'd have to read more of her novels to see if this kind of politics of resentment is a real theme, or if it was just the incompletely thought out future of a first-time novelist (which is perfectly acceptable).

The story itself is okay, about the girl dealing with her new baby, her lame boyfriend and her witch-doctor grandmother. You kind of new where it was going to end up. What really shone, though, was the depiction of ritual magic and the role of the old African and Caribean gods. That was really cool and Hopkinson didn't pull any punches. It kind of seems that this book was targeted for young adults, but there was some nasty stuff in it. And the way she describes the various gods as they take form by "riding" a human host was incredibly visual and evocative.

Overall, Brown Girl in the Ring suffered from being a bit simplistic, but there was enough pretty cool material to warrant checking out Nalo Hopkinson's other work. She is a black woman sci-fi writer and she obviously has drawn heavily from her own background and spirit and that is an important and necessary addition to a genre that must continue to evolve.

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