I just today noticed that Kai Ashante Wilson's new thing came out while I wasn't looking, so I finally wrapped up this review of his last one.
Kai Ashante Wilson — Sorcerer of the Wildeeps
Feb 7, 2016
Believe the hype; this novella is both good and important. I mean, I hated the ending (everyone hates the ending [it's bullshit]), but still, this is a must-read if you're watching what's new in fantasy. Scrounge up $3 and a few hours for it.
This is shaped like an old-school sword and sorcery short (with subgenre-appropriate dudeliness values), but the whole thing is built in variations on modern AAVE (plus some flashes of global Black Englishes, per the internationality of the supporting cast of mercenaries).
Plus it's pretty gay. Plus it's taking place on the outskirts of an impressively bonkers techno-deistic mythos that seems like it might be in dialogue with some books I haven't read yet. But I think the language of it is the most bracing and exciting part, the part that seems to be the biggest deal. Not that building SF worlds in Black Englishes is new per se, insert shoutout to Midnight Robber here. But there's something going on here with secondary-world fantasy and the hidden conceit of translation that felt surprising and transformative.
So... there are various philosophical approaches you can take when doing secondary-world fantasy, but the founding text for most modern secondary-world fantasy in English is Lord of the Rings, and LOTR had an explicit conceit of translation. As in, all events took place in some other language, then were translated into modern English by a specific translator with strong opinions about who their readership was, what cultural parallels they could take advantage of, which literary predecessors would be invoked by particular diction choices, etc. (Cf. the appendices, where he talks about changing characters' names because their "real" ones had the wrong gender connotations in English's sound system.)
The translator was just as much a character as the characters, in other words. But the results got more attention than the process, and so Tolkien-derived fantasy has a major translator reuse problem, which carries over into a presumed-readership reuse problem.
Anyway, what happens to classically-inclined secondary-world fantasy when your default readership ISN'T British white people with an early 20th century worldview? When the references that constitute the translation are not their references? How does this new fantasy mutate and evolve? What can it do better than it ever used to be able to do?
I liked this book a lot.