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May 2003
2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Mojo: Conjure Stories by Nalo Hopkinson (Ed.)
Warner Books Trade: ISBN0446679291 PubDate: April 2003
Review by Ernest Lilley
352 pages List price 13.95
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You remind me of a man.
What man?
The man with the power.
What power?
The Power of Hoodoo.
Whodo?
You do.
Do what?
You remind me of a man.

-- The Power by Frank Robinson

Which has little to do with this collection of stories of the folk magic of West Africa brought together by Nalo Hopkinson (ed), except that the stories are indeed about the Power of Hoodoo. Authors include Neil Gaiman ("Bitter Grounds"), Steven Barnes ("Heartspace"), Devorah Major ("Shining Through 24/7"), Gerard Houarner ("She'd Make a Dead Man Crawl") and others.

Nalo Hopkinson, who brought these magical stories together, was born in Jamaica, grew up in Trinidad, and for some reason moved to Toronto when she was sixteen. To that move and city, and author Judith Merrill who primed the SF pump there, we owe a debt of thanks for such books at Brown Girl in the Ring (her first), and Skin Folk (which made The NY Times Recommended Reading list for 2002 and won the World Fantasy award for best collection.)

This collection however, isn't of her own work but that of  a fabulous collection of others, some black, some white, but all delivering terrific stories about the sort of folk magic that doesn't ask for your permission to work on you, but instead worms its way under your skin and makes you dance to its tune regardless of what you think you believe.

"Religion and magic are two different things." The editor warns us, "Religion is an institutionalized system of beliefs and rituals through which one worships one's gods. Magic on the other hand, is the practice of altering the course of events to suite one's desires. In some ways, magic is an ultimate act of presumption. It's tricky, powerful, and often dangerous." Since both religion and magic invoke gods/demons/spirits, they can work through the same mechanisms, but the difference seems to be one of the invoker's intent.

If you remember that the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou was nominated for a Hugo, and thought that made sense, you'll love Andy Duncan's "Daddy Mention and the Monday Skull", where a  convict calls on the mojo in the swamp to sing his way to freedom.

Tananarive Due's "Trial Day" faces the conflicts of standing up to prejudice in the South as deftly as To Kill a Mockingbird but from a totally different point of view, that of a father who has to find the courage to stand up for his son, at the cost of his tenuous acceptance in the white world.

Neil Gaiman, now patron saint of our local gods, tells us a tale of leaving one's life behind and slipping into the quicksand of mojo in the Big Easy. As much as I enjoyed American Gods, his themes are even better served here in the short story form.

Steven Barnes, author of Zulu Heart tells about a son's reconciliation with a father all but dead to him in a different sort of zombie story, Jarla Tangh reminds us that though you may travel to new lands, the smell of the old clings to you, and who you are isn't something you can always escape. Master storysmith Barbara Hambly pits folk magic against the devil in a story from the plantations along the banks of the Mississippi, and Eliot Flintushel digs into the fears and wishes of black and white in "White Mans' Trick".

There are nineteen stories in all, and though they are occasionally disturbing, they're more often satisfying, even comforting. These are, invariably,  tales of folk justice, and they tend to work towards a balancing of scales.

Coming from the mythos of a people shanghaied and enslaved, there is a lot of balancing that needs to be done, and part of the charm of these tales is the idea that such a thing is actually possible. That these people have never been helpless, but that their power is too subtle for us to see or understand. To read the stories is to dig deeper into alien minds, and to strain to see the world through alien eyes.
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sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
columns - events - features - booksmedia                    home  /  subscribe