Jon Courtenay Grimwood posted a photo of The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalani (Periscope Books, £9.99) on Twitter and in a fit of excitement, I got a copy at Blackwells whilst looking for something else.
The novel tells “Estebanico’s” story, the black slave who was taken on a doomed Spanish journey of conquest in Florida. Splicing his story with the Spanish and his own life pre-being captured as Mustafa, he builds up an uncertain narrative about having his identity refashioned by both himself and his owners, the would-be conquerors.
The wider narrative is uncertain as the world is being made from stories. The Spanish sped across the Atlantic for the fabled cities of gold and the internal political struggle that fuels this as well as the slave trade. Added to this is Mustafa’s recollection of his life and that he is translator and narrator. The narrative is under his control. In this gap in history, his voice is the only one that really matters, the only one with which we might converse.
At first it might be read as a purely a novel about the iniquities of slavery and its barbarism. Lalani deftly unpicks the onion layers of the issue and gets to the fear of the unknown that underlies some of the responses. Yet she shows how little the attitudes change, despite the words, of the Spanish who are less worried about the native people than their social position, whatever they say. Lalani shows the unmoving and unthinking nature of the conqueror.
The novel is certainly timely given the fear engendered in Europe about migration. The subtle narrative of political ear and lack of humanity and the stronger one that we have to listen to all voices in the larger story. By ignoring them, we are committing similar acts now to historical ones and as a set of societies, we cannot afford this to take place. I will be looking for her earlier writing now.
I finally got around to reading David Barnett’s Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl (Snow Books) which is an enjoyable romp around Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century Science Fiction cultures. Barnett provides a light hearted story that wears its scholarship lightly but enjoyably.
The final collection was The Names by Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernandez (Vertigo). I waited for the graphic novel collection to come out. Using the idea of a unnamed cooperative called the Names, they present a world in which the secret masters cannot control any more. Merging the cyber with the human in terms of language, they create a frightening world which is out of control. It does feel slightly hurried towards the end of the series but I hope that we might see something more in this vein at some point.