Edited by Rachel Zadok, Karina Szczurek, and Jason Mykl Snyman • Catalyst Press • Release Date: September 7, 2021
Acidic dust devils. A dying earth and a racially segregated alternate planet. Hair that brings torrential downpour. A landslide at a mineral extraction site that ruptures the earth’s crust. And so on and so forth. All these environmental disasters and more are explored in this brilliant and diverse collection of stories edited by Rachel Zadok, Karina Szczurek, and Jason Mykl Snyman.
In the introduction, Helen Moffett notes that the editors had put out a call for short fiction that explore “disruption, especially but not limited to climate and environ[mental] disruption….Stories that explore how changing climates affect us, our adaptations to the environment, and the innovations that bring us hope.” While the authors stick to the central theme that frames this collection, they also shine a light on the systemic segregation that separate people into racial groups¸ how perceptions of gender and sex affect relationships, and misogyny and betrayal even in a dying world.
This collection carries so much soul. Many of the stories are so visceral they played like a movie, a testament to the writers’ adroit understanding of how worldbuilding works. At a first glimpse, the stories would easily be labelled speculative fiction, but the stories did more: the writers blurred the line between the real and the invented, constructing worlds that are not unlike our present climatic, social, and political conditions; only slightly different.
Horror and thriller are common tools employed in heightening tension in these stories. Take for example Mbozi Haimbe’s “Shelter,” where an acidic dust storm that originated from the Sahara seasonally falls like snow. The particles burn through skin, through objects; everyone in this world must wear protective suits and seek safety in “dust shelters” or they risk coming down with “sand pox” and being melted off their very bones by this eco terror that eats through everything. The narrator is pregnant, but we don’t know this until toward the end—an expertly executed twist that intensifies the anxiety the author has already built. The eco disaster in this story is not so different from present-day scenarios when people seek shelter during a snow or dust storm. And that’s the impressive edge to this collection: the stories provide us mirror images of ourselves struggling to adapt in a dystopia.
Sometimes the stories appear too gloomy, and realistically so, because of the horrors the writers so vividly and passionately painted. But they are candid. They are prophetic too, a needed nudge that echoes the concerns environmental activists have been drumming about how we are inhabiting and treating our ecosystem.
Betrayal is a sad and recurring theme some of the characters must come to terms with throughout the collection. For instance, the narrator in Idza Luhumyo’s winning story, “Five Years Next Sunday,” learns very late how manipulative humans can be. She is born with hair that has the power to bring the rain, but this comes at a cost: the men in her world haunt and punish women like her, because of the power they wield, because “even though the fear of thirst – and – death is strong, the fear of those who have the rain in their hair is stronger.” It happened to our narrator’s aunt, her “sangazimi,” and the ones before that. She meets a white man who is obsessed with her hair, and through him, she meets “Honey,” who she takes a liking to. Honey is obsessed with our narrator and her hair and asks why she hasn’t considered cutting and selling the locs. Their conversations draw them closer, and our narrator clearly is blinded by her infatuation with this white woman, whose ulterior motive is only revealed, and heartbreakingly too, at the end.
The collection also boasts of stories that pay tribute to our oral storytelling tradition. Najwa Binshatwan’s “Armando’s Virtuous Crime,” translated by Sawad Hussain, reads like a fable narrated by a wise grandparent. It features the character, Armando, who is tossed into a rodent-infested jail for participating in a coup. Armando eventually becomes the solution that will eliminate the figure whose bad environmental policies wreaked much harm on their world. While the story is replete with expository dialogues, which did more of telling than showing us the happenings in this world, it succeeds, and it is thanks to the rich language, the taut tension, and the convincing way the writer employed fantastic devices, like giving voice to germs, to propel the story forward. Compare that with Alithnayn Abdulkareem’s “Static,” which is told in a series of action-packed episodes. That is one of the commendable aspects of this collection: the stories are wildly different. Where Binshatwan’s “Armando’s Virtuous Crime” has a languid, conversational prose, Abdulkareem’s “Static” is edgy and spare. Both comfortably sit side by side, adding necessary textures to this rich collection.
Disruption is an important addition to our libraries. Like a pot of pepper soup packed with an assortment of meat and fish, it is thoughtful in how it explores betrayal, power, intimacy, gender, and our hunger for emotional and physical succor during difficult times.
Image: Brittle Paper