Guest Post: Review of Talk Like A Man by Nisi Shawl, by J. Comer

At the risk of sounding like that other Science Fiction blog, I’ve been VERY sick. Had the flu and been out all week. I’m desperately trying to catch up on both publishing business and work, but falling a week behind feels almost insurmountable! 

Fortunately, my friend J. Comer has a review in the can he’s letting us use!

Disclosure: The author of this review knows Shawl personally and has received a free copy of this book in return for a review; he did not discuss the review with Shawl.

Nisi Shawl is a new voice in science fiction, published since the 1980s with her work becoming visible in the last decade with her anthology Filter House and her first novel, Everfair.  Whatever “Afrofuturism” means to readers and writers, she is certainly positioned there. She’s also the coauthor, with Cynthia Ward, of “Writing the Other”, which is a diversity-positive writer’s guide as well as a workshop taught by the two authors.

The titular story, about a ‘girlgroup’ in a retro high school who get a private concert from a favorite pop star, reads almost like a womens’ response to “Fast Times At Fairmont High”, by Vernor Vinge, rather than an echo to Geoff Ryman’s depressing “Fan”.  Shawl, like David Gregory, struggles with what a high school classroom would be like in a totally wired future, but doesn’t have Gregory’s insistent and nasty agenda.  In “Women of the Doll”, a practitioner of a fantasy version of Ifa, or vodun, seeks a permanent home for herself and a living doll; it says a great deal about SF/fantasy as a genre that a practitioner of African-American folkloric religion can have a doll companion unironically in a story of ‘Ifa In Action’.  Shawl’s Ifa priestess can fulfill any wish for a price- the story’s inclusion of sex work may be too strong for some readers.  Shawl’s keen writing shows up in “Something More,” when she heinleins in the UK setting for a tale of dark, Dunne-esque time-faring. In the flash story “An Awfully Big Adventure,” a woman’s childhood carries her through graphically described cancer to her death.  Finally, the essay “Ifa: Reverence, Science, and Social Technology,” Shawl discusses Ifa, the African religion which forms a central part of her life and writing, and makes a valuable addition to nonfiction about the relationship between religion and SF by authors such as Robert Heinlein,  Isaac Asimov and Gene Wolfe[1].This reviewer found the book a quick read, but one he wanted to keep around.

Talk Like A Man is a useful addition to the literature on SF writing, as well as being a must for Nisi-philes.  Many readers will want to hear more about the Woman of The Doll, who could easily carry a novel, and the Ifa essay is interesting to scholars of religion as well as to Shawl’s numerous readers.  Recommended to lovers of Afro-futurism as well as fans of Le Guin, Geoff Ryman, and Julian May.

[1] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/529431/a-qa-with-gene-wolfe/

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