World Fantasy Award Winner: Fiction that "combines a richly textured multicultural background with incisive storytelling," by the author of The Salt Roads (Library Journal).
In Skin Folk, with works ranging from science fiction to Caribbean folklore, passionate love to chilling horror, Nalo Hopkinson is at her award-winning best spinning tales like "Precious," in which the narrator spews valuable coins and gems from her mouth whenever she attempts to talk or sing. In "A Habit of Waste," a self-conscious woman undergoes elective surgery to alter her appearance; days later she's shocked to see her former body climbing onto a public bus. In "The Glass Bottle Trick," the young protagonist ignores her intuition regarding her new husband's superstitions—to horrifying consequences.
Hopkinson's unique and vibrant sense of pacing and dialogue sets a steady beat for stories that illustrate why she received the 1999 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Entertaining, challenging, and alluring, Skin Folk is not to be missed.
Nalo Hopkinson is more than just an award-winning writer, she is a narrative star. There is no way I could curate this bundle and not have the woman who deftly weaves the complexities of life in with speculative fiction narratives that will leave you stunned. – Terah Edun
"Hopkinson's prose is vivid and immediate."– The Washington Post Book World
"Caribbean folklore informs many of the 15 stories, ranging from fabulist to mainstream, in this literary first short-fiction collection from Nebula and Hugo awards-nominee Hopkinson. Her descriptions of ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary circumstances ring true, the result of her strong evocation of place and her ear for dialect. . . . Though marketed as science fiction, this collection should hand-sell to fans of multicultural fiction."– Publishers Weekly
"This 15-story collection is a marvelous display of Nalo Hopkinson's talents, skills and insights into the human conditions of life, especially of the fantastic realities of the Caribbean. She displays the complexities of the seven deadly sins . . . and perhaps those of the seven deadly virtues. Everything is possible in her imagination."– Science Fiction Chronicle
RIDING THE RED
Throughout the Caribbean, under different names, you'll find stories about people who aren't what they seem. Skin gives these skin folk their human shape. When the skin comes off, their true selves emerge. They may be owls. They may be vampiric balls of fire. And always, whatever the burden their skins bear, once they remove them—once they get under their own skins—they can fly. It seemed an apt metaphor to use for these stories collectively.
She never listens to me anymore. I've told her and I've told her: daughter, you have to teach that child the facts of life before it's too late, but no, I'm an old woman, and she'll raise her daughter as she sees fit, Ma, thank you very much.
So I tried to tell her little girl myself: Listen, dearie, listen to Grandma. You're growing up, hmm; getting dreamy? Pretty soon now, you're going to be riding the red, and if you don't look smart, next stop is wolfie's house, and wolfie, doesn't he just love the smell of that blood, oh yes.
Little girl was beginning to pay attention, too, but of course, her saintly mother bustled in right then, sent her off to do her embroidery, and lit into me for filling the child's head with ghastly old wives' tales. Told me girlie's too young yet, there's plenty of time.
Daughter's forgotten how it was, she has. All growed up and responsible now, but there's more things to remember than when to do the milking, and did you sweep the dust from the corners.
Just as well they went home early that time, her and the little one. Leave me be, here alone with my cottage in the forest and my memories. That's as it should be.
But it's the old wives who best tell those tales, oh yes. It's the old wives who remember. We've been there, and we lived to tell them. And don't I remember being young once, and toothsome, and drunk on the smell of my own young blood flowing through my veins? And didn't it make me feel all shivery and nice to see wolfie's nostrils flare as he scented it? I could make wolfie slaver, I could, and beg to come close, just to feel the heat from me. And oh, the game I made of it, the dance I led him!
He caught me, of course; some say he even tricked me into it, and it may be they're right, but that's not the way this old wife remembers it. Wolfie must have his turn, after all. That's only fair. My turn was the dance, the approach and retreat, the graceful sway of my body past his nostrils, scented with my flesh. The red hood was mine, to catch his eye, and my task it was to pluck all those flowers, to gather fragrant bouquets with a delicate hand, an agile turn of a slim wrist, the blood beating at its joint like the heart of a frail bird. There is much plucking to be done in the dance of riding the red.
But wolfie has his own measure to tread too, he does. First slip past the old mother, so slick, and then, oh then, isn't wolfie a joy to see! His dance is all hot breath and leaping flank, piercing eyes to see with and strong hands to hold. And the teeth, ah yes. The biting and the tearing and the slipping down into the hot and wet. That measure we dance together, wolfie and I.
And yes, I cried then, down in the dark with my grandma, till the woodman came to save us, but it came all right again, didn't it? That's what my granddaughter has to know: It comes all right again. I grew up, met a nice man, reminded me a bit of that woodman, he did, and so we were married. And wasn't I the model goodwife then, just like my daughter is now? And didn't I bustle about and make everything just so, what with the cooking and the cleaning and the milking and the planting and the birthing, and I don't know what all?
And in the few quiet times, the nights before the fire burned down too low to see, I would mend and mend. No time for all that fancy embroidery that my mama taught me.
I forgot wolfie. I forgot that riding the red was more than a thing of soiled rags and squalling newborns and what little comfort you and your man can give each other, nights when sleep doesn't spirit you away soon as you reach your bed.
I meant to tell my little girl, the only one of all those babes who lived, and dearer to me than diamonds, but I taught her embroidery instead, not dancing, and then it was too late. I tried to tell her quick, before she set off on her own, so pretty with her little basket, but the young, they never listen, no. They're deaf from the sound of their own new blood rushing in their ears.
But it came all right; we got her back safe. We always do, and that's the mercy.
It was the fright killed my dear mam a few days later, that's what they say, she being so old and all, but mayhap it was just her time. Perhaps her work was done.
But now it's me that's done with all that, I am. My goodman's long gone, his back broke by toil, and I have time to just sit by the fire, and see it all as one thing, and know that it's right, that it must be so.
Ah, but wouldn't it be sweet to ride the red, just once more before I'm gone, just one time when I can look wolfie in the eye, and match him grin for grin, and show him that I know what he's good for?
For my mama was right about this at least: the trick is, you must always have a needle by you, and a bit of thread. Those damned embroidery lessons come in handy, they do. What's torn can be sewn up again, it can, and then we're off on the dance once more! They say it's the woodman saves us, me and my daughter's little girl, but it's wolfie gives us birth, oh yes.
And I haven't been feeling my best nowadays, haven't been too spry, so I'm sure it's time now. My daughter's a hard one, she is. Never quite forgot how it was, stuck in that hot wet dark, not knowing rescue was coming; but she's a thoughtful one too. The little one's probably on her way right now with that pretty basket, Don't stop to dawdle, dear, don't leave the path, but they never hear, and the flowers are so pretty, just begging to be plucked.
Well, it's time for one last measure; yes, one last, sweet dance.
Listen: is that a knock at the door?