Hadithi & The state of Black Speculative Fiction
by Eugen Bacon & Milton Davis
Cover art by Hillary Wilson
Reviewed by Linda Hepworth
This collection of seven short stories is preceded by two scholarly, reflective essays from the authors on the global state of black speculative fiction. I found these not only informative and thought-provoking, but felt that the insights they provided enabled me to more fully appreciate the literary ‘underpinning’ of the stories. This definitely added a very satisfying extra dimension to my reading experience, making me acutely aware of the significance of the idiosyncratic content of each of the stories which followed. Eugen’s and Milton’s reflections on what makes them feel so passionate about writing stories which are peopled by characters who not only look like them, but who deal with experiences which have their roots in traditions and cultures they are able to recognise, brought home to me why it is so important for them to be able to tell their own stories in their own way, and for these stories to find an appreciative readership.
I don’t want to go into any much detail about individual stories in this collection because an essential source of their power lies in their gradual unfolding, the ways in which they shift, surprise, disturb and, ultimately, delight the reader with their brilliance. I found that by the time I reached the end of each one I wanted to start again, to re-experience the alchemy at the heart of them. Although Eugen and Milton’s writing styles are very different, for me what both authors have in common is the gift of enchanting storytelling, of enabling me to become totally immersed in their stories, to enter their imagined alternative worlds, to follow their narrative threads (no matter how mystifying they may at first appear), confident that whatever the outcome of each story, the experience of journeying through it would make me see the world through different eyes.
Characters and landscapes, sights, smells and sounds are so richly evoked that they appear to leap off the page, something which reinforced my feeling of total engagement as I was reading, a sense that my everyday world had disappeared, replaced by an exotic, surreal alternative which I was allowed to inhabit for a time. One effect of such a visceral emotional experience was that when I reached the end of each story I needed to stop, to reflect and, sometimes, to re-read before I could move on to the next one. I don’t like singling out any stories from this collection because each one offered something special, but the three I found particularly powerful were Eugen’s ‘Still She Visits’ and ‘The Water’s Memory’, and Milton’s dieselfunk story, ‘Down South’, all of which remain deeply imprinted in my heart and mind.
Although I was already familiar with the terms steampunk, cyberpunk and dieselpunk, and had some idea of the literary roots of these sub-genres, I hadn’t previously come across ‘funk’ being used as a suffix. So, its use in the publisher’s synopsis encouraged me to do some research and to discover that it’s used to describe stories written from a perspective of African/African Diaspora experiences. I’m sure that I would have enjoyed Milton’s three stories without this knowledge, but having it added an extra dimension to reading and appreciating them – and discovering something new through reading is always a joy!
At the end of each of her stories Eugen includes brief ‘Story within a story’ notes which explain not only their original roots, but how she then developed these to create her highly-imaginative speculative tales. I appreciated her reflections because, not only did they sometimes highlight themes I’d missed (compelling me to immediately re-read the stories again in order to appreciate them even more fully) but they also offered insights into some of the ways in which she approaches and develops her eloquent, lyrical story-telling.
The publisher describes ‘Hadithi’ as …’a hybrid birthed from the collaboration of two writers with heritage in the African diaspora’ but it is also a hybrid which fuses academic reflections with stunningly imaginative story-telling, all enclosed within a stunningly beautiful cover. It is truly a book to treasure and I hope that it will achieve the wide readership it deserves.
Personal read: *****
You can order Hadithi here (ebook also available on our site).