Alex Brown Examines Trouble the Waters by Sheree Renée Thomas, Pan Morigan and Troy L. Wiggins, eds. – Locus online
trouble the waters, Sheree Renée Thomas, Pan Morigan and Troy L. Wiggins, eds. (Rosarium 978-0-99870-596-5, $19.95, 300pp, tp) November 2020. (Third Man Books 978-1-73484-227-2, $17.95, 404pp, tp) January 2022.
In Trouble the Waters: Tales from the Big Blue, editors Sheree Renée Thomas, Pan Morigan and Troy L. Wiggins bring together 33 stories and poems from an impressive array of creative voices. Longtime readers of short speculative novels will instantly recognize Thomas, who edited several phenomenal anthologies, and Wiggins, who is the editor of Fiyah. Both have also written extensively in fiction and non-fiction. Other authors like Maurice Broaddus, Adrienne Maree Brown, Christopher Caldwell, Andrea Hairston, Kate Heartfield, Nalo Hopkinson, Danian Darrell Jerry, Ama Patterson, Betsy Phillips, Henry Szabranski and Marie Vibbert have all crossed my path over the years in speculative fiction magazines. and other anthologies.
I wasn’t familiar with Morigan coming in there. Her background in music and poetry made her a welcome addition, and she wasn’t the only new writer I met. I confess that despite my quite extensive reading in the field of short speculative fiction, many were new to me, including Maria Osunbimpe, Hamilton Abegunde, Nanna Áradóttir, Story Boyle, Jaquira Díaz, Rylee Edgar, Lyndsay E. Gilbert, Jamey Hatley , Mateo Hinojosa, Elle L. Littlefield, Gina McGuire, Naila Moreira, Susana Morris, Cecilia Quirk, Shawn Scarber, Rion Amilcar Scott and Jasmine Wade. I also read very little poetry, so I really appreciated the opportunity to read poems by Linda D. Addison, Jacqueline Johnson and Heather ‘Byrd’ Roberts. There were a few reprints, but most of the works were original to the anthology.
While the stories in this anthology aren’t exclusively representative of the African-American or Black diaspora, it’s worth noting our influence on the title. ”Trouble the water” is a piece of the phrase ”God’s gonna trouble the waters”, a line from the old slave song and later popular civil rights anthem ”Wade in the Water”. At first it sounds like a simple song. We are in dark times, but God’s blessings are coming. It has a steady beat and easy lyrics, good for working on. However, it is also believed to have been used in the Underground Railroad. Enslaved Africans taking their freedom used every tool at their disposal to guide their journey, whether it was braiding maps in their hair or using songs as trail markers. ”Wade in the Water” may have been used by guides like Harriet Tubman to warn freedom seekers to get in the water to hide their tracks.
Like the title, the theme of the anthology “water” takes on many different meanings. Initially it seemed too simple, but with each story and poem a new layer is added. Each entry is different from the others but united by a common theme, sometimes a harsh interpretation and other times an extremely loose interpretation. From sea monsters to mermaids, from canals to rivers to oceans, from eco-justice to the Middle Passage and the transatlantic slave trade, from myths to legends to folk tales and beyond. The anthology is as changeable as water itself, or as Thomas puts it in his introduction, “evoking water in its myriad moods and modes.”
I could easily write about every entry here, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on a few favorites. I kept thinking about Nanna Áradóttir’s disturbing story, ”Salt Baby”. Desperate to have a child, a couple creates one with salt, but tragedy strikes again and again. In ”Dance of Myal” by Maurice Broaddus, our narrator has a ”broken spirit. Broken Heart. Broken spirit. Be broken. “The narrator, Faren, encounters the Mumma River, an aquatic creature similar to the Mami Wata, and things take a turn, for worse or for better, you have to judge for yourself. ”Call the Water” by adrienne maree brown is as creative as its narrative style. Written entirely in lowercase and with no indents at the start of each paragraph, it focuses on two Detroit women, Sinti and her grandmother Maria, as the city struggles to access clean water. Nalo Hopkinson’s story ”Whimper” is about a young woman who jumps into a river to hide with a group of other monsters chasing them. It’s one of the shortest in the collection, but no less evocative or layered.
trouble the waters works well on an individual story level and as a collective work, with its wide range of voices, identities, experiences, traditions and styles, all brought together under specific yet open-ended themes. With so much diversity on display, every reader will find at least one story they love in this excellent collection. Speculative fiction enthusiasts looking to expand their literary horizons and add new authors to their list of favorites would do well to pick up trouble the waters. It’s a solid anthology from a trio of talented editors.
Alex Brown is a queer black librarian and writer. They have written two books on the history of marginalized communities in Napa County, California. They write about science fiction, fantasy, and horror for adults and young adults, as well as BIPOC history and librarianship. Diversity, equity, inclusion and access are the foundation of all their work. Alex lives in Southern California with their pet rats and ever-growing piles of books.
This review and others like it in the March 2022 issue of Place.
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