Falling in Love with Hominids contains eighteen short stories by acclaimed author Nalo Hopkinson, whose accolades include a World Fantasy Award, a John W. Campbell Award for Best First Novel, a Locus Award for Best First Novel, a Philip K. Dick Award nomination, a New York Times Notable Book, two Sunburst Awards, a Gaylactic Spectrum Award, and a Prix Aurora Award. This collection also contains a foreword explaining the title’s origins and a brief introduction for each story, also written by the author.
My first—and only, before this book—experience with Nalo Hopkinson’s writing was her most recent novel, Sister Mine. I very much enjoyed this story about formerly conjoined twins with a demigod father, and I’ve wanted to read more of her work ever since. In general, I prefer longer fiction to short stories since I like to be able to spend time learning about the world and characters, and I did prefer Sister Mine to this collection; however, there were a few individual stories I liked every bit as much or even more than this novel. Falling in Love with Hominids contains an impressive assortment of tales with a variety of writing styles, character voices, and influences, ranging from lighthearted in tone to disturbingly dark. Many were strange and whimsical, and even if I didn’t love a story, I usually found it memorable due to its uniqueness.
Two of my favorites were the creepiest stories. The basic premise of “Blushing” is familiar: a husband tells his new bride that she may have a key to every room in the house, except one. Of course, his wife then embarks on a quest to discover a way to get into this forbidden chamber, and it seems like a fairly conventional plot until suddenly it isn’t. The ending was far more horrific than I’d imagined, and as unsettling as it was, I loved how it veered into unexpected territory. “The Easthound” starts with a bunch of children playing a simple game and shows their fear: not just of the mysterious easthound but of eating too much, leading to growing too quickly. By the end of the story, the whole picture—and again, an even more terrifying danger than I’d been expecting—are revealed.
The only other story I enjoyed as much as these two especially unnerving ones was actually one of the lighter ones, “Emily Breakfast.” It’s a perfectly ordinary start to the weekend when Cranston makes a trip to the garden and chicken coop to collect spinach and eggs for breakfast with his flying cat, Rose of Sharon, in tow. However, when he calls the hens only two of them appear and he discovers Emily Breakfast is missing. There’s no sign of a tussle with a predatory animal, and Cranston rushes back to the house to tell his husband, Ser Maracle, that he thinks she was stolen, leading to a search by the two men, their cat, and the rest of the neighborhood. The characters, both human and animal, were vividly drawn, and I would love to read either a novel or more short stories about the misadventures of Cranston, Ser Maracle, their cat, and their fierce fire-breathing chickens.
Although those three are easily the ones I liked best, there are other highlights as well: “Message in a Bottle,” about a man’s encounter with a friend’s adopted child who is not what she seems; “The Smile on the Face,””Shift,” a tale inspired by The Tempest with riveting alternating narratives; and “Delicious Monster,” in which a man visits his father and his partner to end up witnessing a mythical, life-altering event. Although I felt this three page story was underdeveloped, “Men Sell Not Such in Any Town” was a fascinating story that left me wanting to read a longer, more detailed version.
In general, the stories that included exploration of characters or their personal relationships worked the best for me, which may be why most of the shortest stories didn’t leave as much of an impression on me. “Soul Case,” the tale of a group of escaped slaves facing those from whom they fled, was decent but didn’t stick with me since it was an account of events that didn’t have much focus on individual characters. “Flying Lessons” and “Whose Upward Flight I Love,” the two shortest at less than two pages each, were the only two stories I didn’t find at all compelling. (It is entirely possible I missed key information on the first of those two having never read The Little Prince.)
As is always the case with short story collections, not all of the stories worked for me, but even most of those that I didn’t particularly enjoy were notable because of the depth of imagination that went into them. However, those that did work for me shone very brightly indeed, and I found Falling in Love with Hominids to be a book well worth reading for its uniqueness and engaging variety of characters, narrative voices, and types of stories.
My Rating: 7/10
Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.
This book is February’s selection from a poll on Patreon.