Filter House by Nisi Shawl
Aqueduct Press, Seattle, 2008
Borrowed from the library.
I don’t really know how to describe this collection, other than to say that it is a gentle magical blend of fantasy and science fiction. Gentle because the stories often have a child at the center, magical because they are woven from past and future using folklore, science and “good medicine”.
The stories range from an urban tale of discovery with a very grown-up 10-year-old as its protagonist to a world building saga with genetically engineered apes used as terra-formers. There is an African folktale and a story that uses John C. Lilly’s Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer: Theory and Experiments as a possible explanation for Voudon trance states.
In her stories Shawl touches on things a child faces as she grows up. Themes include independence, identity, self worth, sexuality and gender issues. All of these stories use their magic to reveal who we are as humans, right here, right now. For a first collection this book is a wonder.
Like the lace of a giantess, leaves covered the front of the house front in a pattern of repeating hearts. Elsewhere in the neighborhood sibling plants, self-sown from those she’d first planted around the perimeter, arched from phone pole to lamp post, encircling her home. Keeping it safe. So Mercy could return. (Page 45)
Tata always made it a point, on her return, to give me some treasure found on her excursions. Something interesting, something different, with a story behind it. This must have been hard for her. Far off, over invisible horizons, maggies spread corals around other stations as ours did here. Aside from this the Nassea was empty of life, void of history . There were the sludges, various excretory masses of bacteria that accumulated in the presence of certain chemicals. There were fossilized sludges and other mineral formations. That was it. (Page 99)
Nisi Shawl is a Seattle author who writes reviews and columns for The Seattle Times and is on the board of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. I will keep my eyes open for a reading. It would be lovely to hear her read one of these stories in person. Her web site is here.