Chie: I first found out about Ancient, Ancient from an announcement posted by Cheryl Morgan who runs Wizard’s Tower Books. It looked interesting, and so I thought I would check it out. A little later, I heard that it was co-winner of the Tiptree Award, which is a prize given to books/stories/collections that explore gender in new ways or look at gender or make us look at gender in ways we haven’t done before.
I tend to be biased in favor of books like these, so I wanted to talk about it with Weng who is much more distanced from the SFF field. I also wanted to see how a reader who isn’t immersed in genre would respond to stories that don’t feel Western in their orientation.
Weng: From my reading, the stories are about women and their sexuality as well as women empowerment. I think that’s the take that Kiini took. Some of her stories are pretty straightforward, while others need some analyzing. There were about three stories I think that I am not sure as to what is being talked about, or it might be I have some tentative thoughts about them but am not quite sure if I’m correct.
Chie: These stories are quite different from your run-of-the-mill SFF stories. One of the things that struck me most, for instance, was how her aliens really read like aliens. In her stories, I get a strong sense of the characters being truly other, which I recognize and appreciate. I also get a very strong feeling of energy that comes from being connected to the earth as well as a sensitivity to what is unseen.
Weng: I agree with you there. They are quite different. That’s one, also I think it’s because (I’m not quite sure about this) she makes use of legends and folklores that aren’t familiar to us. I think that’s why I don’t get some of her stories. I need to learn a bit more about where she’s coming from.
Chie: That’s true. I remember how even Filipinos who are unfamiliar with indigenous belief, thought I was writing a fantasy when it was simply a presentation of what is.
Weng: Anyway, to get to those stories that I understood. One that most stood out for me was “Rosamojo.” It’s a story about child abuse and the culprit is her father. However, as the story progresses, it’s not just the father who’s at fault. Rosa’s mother in some ways has abused her child. However, her method of abuse is more painful because she denies that the abuse has happened and blames her daughter for her husband’s death.
That’s why Rosa finds it hard to forgive, because the two people who should have been protecting her are the very people who let her down. Those are wounds that are hard to heal and the scars remain.
Chie: Rosamojo is an interesting story because it forces the reader to acknowledge that this exists and we can’t just tell people to forgive and forget. This is something I find so very jarring–how people tell those who’ve suffered from abuse that they should forgive or get over it. It’s a failure to understand how long it takes for that kind of wound to heal.
Weng: That’s true. Forgiving is not an easy thing to do when the wounds are deep. It is a process and can’t be done with a snap of the fingers. People need time to heal. It may take a lifetime – and we must also acknowledge that they have a right to the emotions that they feel because of the abuse that happened to them. If we don’t allow them to do this, we are in some way condoning or perpetuating the abuse, or as you said, we are complicit in the abuse that has happened.
Chie: Definitely. I think it’s more harmful when people say: you’re too angry or too bitter or you should move forward. It’s a refusal to acknowledge the pain of that betrayal.
What other stories would like to talk about?
Weng: I liked most of the stories. “Desire” talks about the role of the women in a marriage/love relationship, which is first and foremost, she is wife and lover. Her actions dictate how the relationship and home turns out to be. Sene when she experiences renewed desire, looks for her husband. When she finds him, she fights for him and in so doing, not only preserves the home but saves their relationship.
Chie: I found that to be an interesting story. Particularly since Sene is with child when this happens. It was interesting to me, because we also have these stories that circulate regarding husbands and infidelity during pregnancy. It makes me think of the connection between motherhood, pregnancy and desire.
Weng: I don’t have any experience in that area, so I can’t comment on it. But sex is only one aspect of that story.
Chie: There’s quite a bit of symbolism going on in that story.
Weng: Yup, there is. The god of desire is a goat and the goddess of desire is a crocodile, and the god who gives disease is an elephant. Quite a lot of symbolism and representation going on in the story.
If you want symbolism, the crocodile representation is quite apt because they are known to be predators.
Chie: What about the stories that you said, you had to think twice about?
Weng: We’ll I didn’t quite get what the point was in the butterfly stories. I tried to have a tentative guess about “Of Wings, Nectar & Ancestors,” but I’m not quite sure if that’s the right take. Basically WaLiLa and her kind gather nectar from humans. WaLiLa’s choice is to gather the nectar during lovemaking. In return she heals George and gives him a sense of wholeness. The best I could do there was that the sexual act is one of give and take. It is not a tool to be used for our own personal gratification or motives. So tell me, what do you think?
Chie: I find your thoughts on it to be quite intriguing. I was probably more attracted to the alienness of WaLiLa. I like what you said about the sexual act not being a tool. What interests me here as well is WaLiLa as being the initiator and how sex is a choice she makes. She is in control. Her body is hers and she decides what to do with it.
Weng: Well, WaLiLa is successful in that encounter but in “At Life’s Limits”, she fails in her task and becomes a human being. Essentially, she is supposed to die, but because she has ingested smoke (which is poison to butterflies), she is transformed from an alien to a human being. In that story however, there is no sexual encounter of any kind.
It would be interesting to find out what the butterflies symbolize and what they represent to the author.
Chie: As a reader, I found Kiini Ibura Salaam’s work to be very fresh and unique and also a joy to read.
Was it easier/harder for you to read? Did you feel like you needed to know more?
Weng: It was not really a hard read, but for those particular stories, it would help to know a bit more. I did notice that in these stories there is a love of dance and the use of body movements to express emotions and feelings.
Chie: Would you be willing to read more from this author?
Weng: Yes. The more you read an author’s works, the more you get a feel of where she’s coming from.
Chie: I would be interesting in hearing more of your impressions–how you experienced the whole collection. Was it a satisfying read and would you recommend it to other readers.
Weng: Overall, the collection was a good one, I enjoyed reading it. It reflects the range of emotions that we as women go through, how we respond to situations and circumstances in different ways. They may not always be the “right” emotions but they are real and should be acknowledged. Kiini’s work challenges society to see women as real, living, breathing human beings, with hopes and aspirations. We are not objects or silent shadows, we are capable of doing great things and should be regarded as partners and equals in this race that we call life. I believe that we are all created equal, it’s something that we need to acknowledge..
I also think that publishers should really pay attention to this kind of work because it contributes a lot of diversity to the genre. We should not get stuck in one groove because there’s still a lot of stories that haven’t been heard. The science fiction genre is an avenue for diversity because there are so many possibilities that can happen in this type of literature. If they don’t pay attention to these kinds of work, then they’re losing out on a lot.
Finally, I want to encourage others to read this collection. My rating would be 4.5 charms.
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