Review: Long Hidden

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Long Hidden
edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older 

★★★½☆

2014 • 370 pages • Crossed Genres Publications

There are a lot of tired arguments against diversifying media that I hate, but anything that incorporates the words “forced” or “shoe-horned” are in my top three stupidest arguments against diverse media. As if defaulting to cisgendered straight white men was somehow natural and not a product of the fact that most of the people involved in creating mainstream media fit into those demographics. As if stories have to go out of their way to incorporate any other perspective.

As if these stories might not be more poignant in someone else’s shoes.

Long Hidden did not set out to destroy that specific faulty argument when it began life as a Kickstarter project for Crossed Genres. As editors Rose Fox and Daniel José Older explain on the Kickstarter page and in the introduction to the anthology, the goal was simply to present diverse speculative fiction as a small step towards correcting the often myopic vision of mainstream speculative fiction. And it certainly does that, boasting twenty-seven stories set all around the world and history.

What I was struck by, however, is how diversifying speculative fiction makes perfect sense. I mean, obviously, speculative fiction is the fiction of ideas and therefore best equipped to examine, question, and critique the various systems that rule our lives, from economic structures to the gender binary to gravity. But certain elements that I’ve grown completely bored with in speculative fiction get new life when they’re applied in different directions. Nghi Vo’s “Neither Witch or Fairy” features a trans girl as she comes to terms with her gender identity—but she’s also trying to scrape together a living in Belfast in 1895 and half-terrified that her strange feelings indicate that she’s a changeling, possessed, or worse. Christina Lynch’s “The Heart and the Feather” finds a werewolf terrorizing the Austrian countryside, only to be confronted by a young woman whose hypertrichosis has forced to walk the line between human and beast her whole life. “Collected Likenesses” features a granddaughter out for vengeance against those who have wronged her family—namely, those who kept her beloved granny in slavery and their descendants.

I’m tempted to say that these familiar stories are enlivened by this shot of diverse energy, but that’s only because I’ve grown up only knowing these stories as solely the domain of cisgendered straight white male characters. Their constant appearance in these stories is not normal, only common. And it’s a shame that their domination of these stories means that the more delicate and thematically potent combinations get ignored in mainstream media. Long Hidden aims to correct that, of course, but it can’t do it alone. Luckily, diverse speculative fiction is getting more and more available, with speculative fiction that ignores or, worse, rejects diversity catching deserved flack.

It’s also lucky because Long Hidden is, as an anthology, a pretty mixed bag. The aforementioned stories—“Neither Witch or Fairy,” “The Heart and the Feather,” and “Collected Likenesses”— are my absolute favorites in the collection, with Ken Liu’s “Knotting Grass, Holding Ring,” a story about the compromises we make to survive, and Meg Jayanth’s colonial Indian Inception riff “Each Part Without Mercy” sterling runner-up to those selections. But other stories seem to be premises instead of short stories, revealing interesting ideas—Medieval Hungarian zombies, everybody!—and attempting to let that stand as a story unto itself. It does make me wonder about the anthology’s pool of submissions, but in such a diversity starved pop cultural environment, I’ll happily take a diverse anthology with several nonstarters and a few good stories over yet another Hero’s Journey boast fest any day of the week.

I rented this book from the public library.

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