Firstly, a massive thanks to @JDRoberts_SFF for arranging the #ReadersWithoutBorders event in support of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), and for everyone who has shown their support so far. If you haven’t already, please consider donating on the Just Giving page for your chance to win a free book!
My readathon goal is to read the 2020 Hugo Awards nominees for Best Novel and Best Novella – you can check out my reviews so far on jakeisreading.com. I chose The Deep by Daveed Diggs, Rivers Solomon, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes for my first novella read and my guest review on Worlds of Sci-Fi & Fantasy. Being Pride month it’s a perfect time to celebrate Black LGBTQ+ authors and get them long-term support from readers and publishers. The Deep is also pertinent to the renewed discussion about institutionalised racism against Black people.
As a reader who is often impatient to finish books purely for the fact that there are so many other books to be read, the novella format is perfect for me. They can often be finished in a single sitting and compared to a short story or novelette there is more time to give depth to the characters, plot and setting. However, due to their size novellas tend to have a narrow focus, spotlighting a specific element or concept. This can be an effective way to explore an idea rather than nesting it in a larger piece of writing, and its often novellas that I am still thinking about days after I’ve finished reading. According to a recent Tor.com article, this appeal and ease of access has led to a new era of the novella.
The Deep offers a uniquely immersive novella experience as a result of its genesis. This book by Rivers Solomon is an adaptation of a 2017 concept song by the same name, which was nominated for a Hugo Award in 2018 (Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form). The track by hip-hop group clipping. was in turn inspired by a collaborative mythology created by 90s techno group Drexciya and their collaborators. According to The Deep afterword written by clipping., this was the basis of the initial concept:
“Could it be possible for humans to breathe underwater? A foetus in its mother’s womb is certainly alive in an aquatic environment. During the greatest holocaust the world has ever known, pregnant America-bound African slaves were thrown overboard by the thousands during labour for being sick and disruptive cargo. Is it possible that they could have given birth at sea to babies that never needed air? Are Drexciyans water-breathing, aquatically mutated descendants of those unfortunate victims of human greed? Have they been spared by God to teach us or terrorize us?”
Solomon has now contributed to the Drexciya mythos with her story about Yetu, a descendant of the pregnant African slaves who were thrown off American slave-ships. Over hundreds of years the unborn children saved by the ocean have become the wajinru, a pacific society of sea-folk. In order to preserve their calm existence, the wajinru have developed a short memory and have all but forgotten their tragic past. Yetu has been named Historian, carrying six hundred years of ancestral memory on behalf of her people. But when it is time for the annual Remembering ceremony, Yetu finds it too much to bear any longer.
“Her people’s survival was reliant upon her suffering. It wasn’t the intention. It was no one’s wish. But it was her lot.”
The Deep explores the reconciliation of painful history with personal identity. Yetu is forced to endure the burden of remembering so that the wajinru can live peacefully, but the weight of it is breaking her. Her ancestors’ trauma fills her to bursting, leaving no room for her sense of self. Throughout the book she comes to terms with the conflicting desire to honour the past and the need to understand her identity independent of it.
The overall message of The Deep is one of hope, and strength through community. That while a utopia can’t be built on ignorance and denial, perhaps the world can be rebuilt through a shared responsibility of acknowledging the past and moving forward together. I think this a pretty timely positive message, and perhaps call to action, to put into the world.
I thought this book was a beautiful and heartfelt story with an optimistic ending, and some fascinating details to discover throughout. I knew about the concept before reading, but I loved finally experiencing Solomon’s addition to the Drexciya mythos. The Deep has become an ever-changing collaborative project, something that resonates with the wajinru culture of shared experiences and community. I highly suggest listening to the clipping. track at least once before reading this book, as it adds a meta element of memory and recall to the experience.