I’m a fan of judging books by their covers. Check this one out:
Our August Mudd Up Book Clubb selection is Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber. The novel kicks off during Carnival on a Caribbean colonized planet, where the AIs speak patois, and expands from there.
Folklore from Hopkinson’s native Caribbean meshes with a mind-expanding take on African diasporic technologies, issues of gender and sexual abuse, themes of exile and utopia and lawlessness, all written in a Creole-laced language whose musicality is a delight. Yuh see mi a say? Like Octavia Bulter, another Clubb favorite, Hopkinson renders a complex black woman protagonist at the heart of a tale that manages to be badass, weird-with-possibility, and filled with empathy even at its most harrowing.
Plus, let’s face it, we listen to a lot of music from the Caribbean but rarely do we read novels that spring from, engage, and extend that tradition. So–
Midnight Robber. We’ll meet in Manhattan on Sunday August 12th to chat about the book then go eat some doubles. (you join the Mudd Up Book Clubb by recommending a book).
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[Nalo Hopkinson, December 2011]
“She had was to learn, she had was to come to consciousness. Them days there, the programmers and them had write she protocols in Eleggua, seen — the code them invite to write programmes to create artificial intelligence?”
“Yes, me know.” Old-time story. Antonio sipped at the rum he’d brought to share with the Obi-Be’s son… – Midnight Robber
My Sufi Plug Ins project was underway when I read this book last year, but there was serious inspiration to be found, both in her approach to technology and in the role that language(as-interface) plays in the book’s writing itself as well as in the technologies depicted within it. Here are two interview excerpts where Nalo Hopkinson discusses these issues in Midnight Robber:
“So many of our stories about technology and our paradigms for it refer to Greek and Roman myth and language: we name rocket ships ‘Apollo’ and communication devices ‘telephone,’ a human-machine interface a ‘cyborg.’ It shapes not only the names for the technology we create, but the type of technology we create. I wondered what technologies a largely African diasporic culture might build, what stories its people might tell itself about technology. So a communication device that sees and hears becomes a ‘four-eye;’ literally, a seer. The artificial intelligence that safeguards all the people in a planetary system becomes Granny Nanny, named after the revolutionary and magic worker who won independent rule in Jamaica for the Maroons who had run away from slavery. Rather than being a ‘Big Brother’ paradigm it is an affectionate reference to her sense of love, care, and duty. The operating system that runs a dwelling is an ‘eshu,’ named after the West African deity who can be in all places at once, who is the ghost in the machine.”
“I grew up in a Caribbean literary community. It is perfectly acceptable there to write narrative and dialogue in the vernacular. It’s not that difficult to understand. I was interested in the way that Creoles can be accorded the full status of languages. The Creoles in this novel are the formal, written form of the language of the people in it. And the language shapes thought. If I had written Midnight Robber completely in English Standard, it would have had a very different feel and rhythm. I could say ‘Carnival revelry,’ but it wouldn’t convey movement, sound, joy the same way that ‘ring-bang ruction’ does.”
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Here’s the Mudd Up Book Clubb reading list – it’s been going for over a year now — in reverse chronological order:
Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber
Michael Taussig, My Cocaine Museum
Tatyana Tolystaya, The Slynx
Augusto Moterroso, Mister Taylor
Vladimir Sorokin, Ice Trilogy
Lauren Beukes, Zoo City
Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue
Juan Goytisolo, Exiled from Everywhere
Cesar Aira, How I Became a Nun
Maureen F. McHugh, Nekropolis
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& dont’ forget the Nalo Kindle-formatted screensaver!