…and other disasters
Author: Malka Older
Representation, Even in Sci-Fi, Matters: A Review of Malka Older’s …and other disasters
Review by Angelica M. Ramos-Santa
When an editor gave me …and other disasters by Malka Older, I was immediately attracted to the fact that this is a collection of stories. I opened the book expecting a collection of stories that work well together, and it is, but what I wasn’t expecting was how each story is its own little sci-fi universe that sucks in readers.
As a white-passing woman of color, I often times do not find myself or others like me represented in Sci-fi. Sci-fi does revolve around race and Older here in …and other disasters plays with the mixing of already existing cultures. In “Tear Tracks,” one line that stuck out to me reads: “Two ambassadors, one male, one female (the Mission Director did not point out that they were also of different “races” another words Tsongwa used only in quotes).” I found this relatable even in this fun fictional world, because race is almost always discussed in quotations. Even though for many it is on the forefront of their minds and identities, it tends to fall on the back burner when it comes to the bigger issues revolving around it.
In this collection, I found myself represented. First off, most of the characters are femme-identifying, like Excelle in “The Rupture.” Secondly, I found representation in “The Divided,” a piece full of Latinx imagery and language. In this story, I found beautiful depictions of our more recent cultural struggles. Its opening reads: “The walls rose anyway,” and to someone who comes from a cultural background always relegated to the Other category, it was as though the text spoke about the literal border but also about the walls we put up between each other when we don’t understand or when things are just too “different.” “The Divided” is my favorite piece of this collection. Malka Older gives readers fantasy, world exploration, and representation of marginalized peoples and political commentary. She does this beautifully.
…and other disasters demands to be read, and here’s why:
It combines existing culture with created culture
Each short story establishes its own culture. For example, in one story, a very small population still lives on Earth, but many live in space. Older created and showed readers each population’s culture with small details involving things like alcohol and this need to be as close to death as possible. In other stories, there’s a combination of preexisting cultures that we are already aware of, like constant technological advancement, mixed with this extraterrestrial vibe. For example, with the opening story of this collection, “The Black Box,” there are children with technological advancements implanted in them but otherwise the world seems very similar to our current one where technology is constantly evolving and changing from an older model to something more lustrous and new.
“The Black Box” was the perfect piece to start this collection, establishing the tone for the reader. I thoroughly enjoyed reading pieces like “The Rupture” and “Perpetuation of the Species,” but I found myself coming back to that first story. It had me hooked from the very start.
It makes you ask questions
Malka Older’s stories, for me, really made me question if these narratives could be possible. Is that what our world will come to? Will we pack up and hike across the country to watch a volcano explode like it’s Coachella? Will we install black boxes in our children? This book makes its readers stop to think whether these stories are mapping out a future for humanity.
I believe that books come into your life when they need to. This book impacts how its readers continue to go about the world, making us stop for a minute and question the world we’re creating. Surviving climate change and artificial intelligence, …and other disasters makes you think. There’s no better quality in a book.
Reading this book was a joy. After many readings, it has earned a spot on my very packed, very crowded bookshelf. Readers should not hesitate to pick up this book, even if space and exploration or fiction is not your thing, this book will change that for you. It gives you a little bit of everything. You’ll explore Earth after major disasters with Excelle, you’ll see abuela in the wall and move south in “The Divided,” and you’ll be unable to stop reading “The E-Mail Heiress.”
I believe that every time you read a new book, you should learn something, whether that be something about yourself, worldly knowledge, or maybe even something craft-wise. Malka Older changed my understanding of science fiction. I always thought of it as space exploration or human experimentation like the Terminator. With this collection, I learned that one, Sci-Fi isn’t only one or two motifs, and two, a writer can bring attention to culture with care and love in sci-fi, like Malka Older. If you don’t read this book, you’re missing the opportunity to learn something new, too.
Angelica M. Ramos-Santa attends Hollins University as an MFA candidate. She is a proud tea drinker and dog-mom who spends most of her days drafting poems or non-fiction pieces in her mind.