The Deep is an upcoming standalone speculative fiction novel by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes.
Each historian selects their replacement. Yatu is the current wajinru historian. Inconveniently for her people, her task may be killing her.
Pregnant slaves thrown into the ocean in ages past became the aquatic wajinru. Their society was born in unendurable pain, pain that has been encoded in a collective memory. This memory would be too much to bear if it were constantly available. The wajinru answer: a designated historian gathers and preserves the memories, sharing them in ceremonies. The memories are there if needed, but most merfolk can spend their lives free of old pain.
Yatu, the current historian, must live with those memories for most of her waking life. The previous historian chose her as successor thanks to Yatu’s sensitive electroreceptors; the predecessor overlooked the fragility that went with the sensitivity. The burden of remembering the past is slowly grinding Yatu down. The other wajinru are understandably reluctant to change a system that has worked so well in the past, but if something isn’t done, Yatu might die before she could pass on her memories. This would be catastrophic.
Yatu solves the problem in her own way. She transfers the memories during one of the rituals and then flees her people. Let them carry the burden for a while.
Flight brings her to a community of two-legs. Two-legs are cousin to the wajinru — estranged cousins. The two-legs lost a long-ago Tidal War. Yatu wasn’t sure that the two-legs would assist her, but they do. She did not expect to fall in love with a two-leg. Which she does.
Yes, there is an explanation for how one gets from drowning women to mermaids. No, I will not provide it. Buy the book to find out.
This story is based on the song of the same name by a hip-hop group named “clipping.” The group consists of rapper Daveed Diggs and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. “The Deep” was a 2018 finalist for the “Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)” Hugo Award1.
There is a definite “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas” aspect to this work. The wajinru offload an onerous burden onto someone who isn’t really given any opportunity to turn the task down, someone from whom great effort is expected without any compensation whatsoever. Both texts point to sad constants in human history: exploitation and oppression.
Once again, the novella proves a perfect length for speculative fiction, just long enough for the story Solomon wants to tell. As one might expect from their previously published novel, An Unkindness of Ghosts, Solomon’s prose enchants. And, although it is bleak and terrible at moments, Yatu’s history is not without hope.
1: Their concept album, Splendor & Misery, was a 2017 finalist for the “Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)” Hugo Award.