Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
Science Fiction is a genre that continues to be dominated by white men, both in terms of authorship and readership. Many "classic" sci-fi books are full of sexist tropes and racist stereotypes (don't even get me started on William Gibson's Neuromancer). Last year I took a Science Fiction class that read books from diverse authors, including the topic of today's post: Midnight Robber. I completely fell in love with Nalo Hopkinson's unique writing style and heart-wrenching story.
Midnight Robber actually falls into a subgenre of sci-fi: Afrofuturism. Put most simply, an Afrofutiristic work imagines a future that is centered around African cultures and black identity. Afrofuturism can be applied to any art form (books movies, music, theater, etc.) In fact, a recent and popular example is the movie "Black Panther." If you'd like to learn more about the genre and way of thinking, I'd recommend this excellent piece from Wired. It gives a good explanation of the concept of Afrofuturism and explores the role it might play in our current national crises of Covid-19 and ever-increasing police violence.
All of this being said, Midnight Robber is, at its core, a coming-of-age story. The novel begins during Carnival season on the Caribbean-colonized planet Toussaint. Our young protagonist, a girl named Tan-Tan, is obsessed with the "Midnight Robbers" and legends of the Robber Queen. However, when her father commits murder, Tan-Tan is ripped from her life and taken to an alternate universe version of Toussaint. To navigate her new home of New Half-Way Tree, populated by violent outcasts and monsters from folklore, Tan-Tan has to turn once again to the legend of the Robber Queen. Hopkinson is a masterful storyteller, managing to weave together Tan-Tan's story with Caribbean folklore and legends. The last thing I'll say about this book is that it has the best depiction of mental illness, specifically PTSD, that I've ever read. Hopkinson captures the mental and emotional affect of trauma in a way that feels real, but not exploitative.
To me, Midnight Robber is what science fiction should be. It's fast paced and engaging, and, although the book contains futuristic technology, Hopkinson doesn't rely on cool tech to maintain audience attention. Instead, she puts complex characters in an imagined universe with modern day issues.
Science Fiction, at its absolute best, makes us reconsider what is possible. We know it's possible for white men to create new futures, so it's time to diversify this genre and give other people a chance to show us what could be.
Content Warning: this novel contains repeated sexual abuse and a violent rape scene.