I like science fiction. I like Caribbean cultures. But I’ve never looked for the intersection of the two. Actually, now I think about it, I have encountered lots of science fictional themes in reggae lyrics. But certainly I never thought to look for a science fiction novel written from a Caribbean perspective.
So that was the first thing I liked about Midnight Robber. It begins on the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint during Carnival. We read this for my book club here in New Orleans just as our own Carnival season was coming to a climax â€” so I was immediately hooked by the setting and the voice.
The entire novel is written in what I guess might be described as creolized English. It was certainly easy for me to understand once I got the hang of it, so I’m guessing it’s a blend of English and perhaps several true creole languages. (As an aside, I love it when two books I’m reading at the same time illuminate each another in unexpected ways, and that happened here when I got to Jared Diamond‘s section on pidgins and creoles in The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal â€” which also helped me understand why so many people in New Orleans ask questions like, “What that is?” That’s creole word order.) In any event, the “patwa” definitely gave the book a unique flavor that I enjoyed hugely. In my mind I kept hearing the voice of my favorite Dominican poet, Billy Jno Hope.
But as I read on I discovered a lot more than that initial hook to keep me interested and involved. The father-daughter relationship which is a key element of this story resonated with me, but I did not anticipate the direction it would ultimately take. To say more would be to risk spoiling, so I’ll shut up. The daughter emerges as the protagonist in the story. It’s a coming-of-age tale. I’ve read plenty of those from the male perspective, so it’s refreshing to get one from the female side.
Indeed, the perspective of this book is profoundly and vitally female. I would not hesitate to call it feminist, except that label might scare away people who have certain preconceived notions about the f-word. Forget all that. This is first and foremost a book about being human. But it’s hard to imagine it being written by anyone other than a woman of color. I suppose comparisons to Octavia Butler are inevitable, not just because of the identity of the author but also because of the themes addressed. I was also reminded of Marge Piercy‘s far more strident Woman on the Edge of Time.
I found the whole story deeply involving and stimulating to my imagination. Did I fail to mention this is unapologetic science fiction as well? In addition high technology we also have alien creatures. Blending these elements with Afro-Caribbean folklore is a powerful combination that really worked for me.
I’d knock off half a star for the ending which felt a trifle rushed and a little too “easy” for me. But endings are hard and I can’t begrudge the last few pages when the rest of the book is so accomplished.