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REVIEW: Talk Like a Man, by Nisi Shawl

Talk Like A Man, By Nisi Shawl

Title: Talk Like a Man

Series: Outspoken Authors

Author: Nisi Shawl

Genre: Sci Fi, Alternate History

LGBTQ+ Category: Various

Publisher: PM Press

Pages: 128

Reviewer: Jim

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About The Book

In these previously uncollected stories, Shawl explores the unexpected horizons (and corners) opened up by science fiction and fantasy’s new diversity. In her worlds, sex can be both business and religion, complete with ancient rites, altars, and ointments (“Women of the Doll”); a virtual reality high school is a proving ground for girlpacks and their unfortunate adversaries (“Walk like a Man”); and a British rock singer finds an image in a mirror that reflects both future hits and ancient horrors (“Something More”). With her trademark wit passing for wisdom, Shawl lights up our Outspoken Interview and then, in a talk given at Duke University, explores the connections between ancient Ifa and modern science fiction.

The Review

Review of Talk Like A Man by Nisi Shawl

J. Comer

Disclosure: The author of this review knows Shawl personally and has received a free copy of this book in return for a review; he did not discuss the review with Shawl other than to ask about one story. Nisi Shawl prefers the pronoun “they”.

Nisi Shawl is a new voice in science fiction, published since the 1980s with their work becoming visible in the last decade with publication of their anthology Filter House and a first novel, Everfair.  Whatever “Afrofuturism” means to readers and writers, they’re certainly positioned there. Nisi’s also the coauthor, with Cynthia Ward, of “Writing the Other”, which is a diversity-positive writer’s guide as well as a workshop taught by the two authors.

The titular story, about a ‘girlgroup’ in a retro high school who get a private concert from a favorite pop star, reads almost like a womens’ response to “Fast Times At Fairmont High”, by Vernor Vinge, rather than an echo to Geoff Ryman’s depressing “Fan”.  Shawl, like David Gregory, struggles with what a high school classroom would be like in a totally wired future, but doesn’t have Gregory’s insistent and nasty agenda.

In “Women of the Doll”, a practitioner of a fantasy version of Ifa, or vodun, seeks a permanent home for herself and a living doll; it says a great deal about SF/fantasy as a genre that a practitioner of African-American folkloric religion can have a doll companion unironically in a story of ‘Ifa In Action’.  Shawl’s Ifa priestess can fulfill any wish for a price- the story’s inclusion of sex work may be too strong for some readers.

Shawl’s keen writing shows up in “Something More,” when they kuttner in the UK setting for a tale of dark, Dunne-esque time-faring.

In the flash story “An Awfully Big Adventure,” a woman’s childhood carries her through graphically described cancer to her death. 

Finally, the essay “Ifa: Reverence, Science, and Social Technology,” Shawl discusses Ifa, the African religion which forms a central part of their life and writing, and makes a valuable addition to nonfiction about the relationship between religion and SF by authors such as Robert Heinlein,  Isaac Asimov and Gene Wolfe[1].  

This reviewer found the book a quick read, but one he wanted to keep around.

Talk Like A Man is a useful addition to the literature on SF writing, as well as being a must for Nisi-philes.  Many readers will want to hear more about the Woman of The Doll, who could easily carry a novel, although Shawl has said that they don’t intend to write one.  The Ifa essay is interesting to scholars of religion as well as to Shawl’s numerous readers.  Recommended to lovers of Afro-futurism as well as fans of Le Guin, Geoff Ryman, and Julian May.

[1] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/529431/a-qa-with-gene-wolfe/


The Reviewer

J. Comer is a writer and teacher who lives in Texas. 

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