Nisi Shawl’s 2019 Talk Like a Man Plus Women of the Doll Plus an Awfully Big Adventure and Much More is a collection of speculative fiction.
It’s rare that I read a book that doesn’t teach me something. What I learned from this collection: Shawl has recently published a new novel (Speculation, 2023), which was news to me. I prefer novels to collections and if I had known that this novel existed before I read the collection, you’d be reading a novel review right now. Ah well, something to look forward to.
Talk Like a Man Plus Women of the Doll Plus an Awfully Big Adventure and Much More is a very long title for a very short book (128 pages). Like other books in PM Press’ Outspoken Authors series, Talk is comparatively short1. Good news for readers without the spoons for longer works2. Frustrating for people seeking a longer reading experience (although see below). Also, why would you pick up a 128-page book if you wanted something longer?
A unifying element I hadn’t noticed on the first read: while all of these stories have some conflict that drives them, none of them are as dark as they might be in other hands. Each of the protagonists develops coping mechanisms, even if (as in the case of “An Awfully Big Adventure”) it is acceptance of the inevitable. In an era in which many authors embrace the idea that we’re all screwed, Shawl offers her protagonists hope.
Despite the brevity, this collection is wide-ranging, including fiction (science fiction and fantasy, to the extent those are different things), non-fiction, an interview, even a bibliography. Readers unfamiliar with Shawl will find this an exemplary introductory volume. The fiction entertains, the interview illuminates. The bibliography will provide useful hints for further exploration of Shawl’s fiction.
If you find your appetite for Shawl work whetted by this slender volume, Shawl has published a number of collections .
Now for the story-by-story teasers.
“Walk Like a Man” • (2015) • short story by Nisi Shawl
Virtual reality complicates already fraught high school life.
Women of the Doll • (2007) • novelette by Nisi Shawl
A woman resorts to the extraordinary to improve her work environment.
Something More • (2011) • novelette by Nisi Shawl
A woman discovers a friend has been targeted for body-theft by a wizard. What precisely she can do about this is unclear.
“An Awfully Big Adventure” • (2016) • short story by Nisi Shawl
The youngest of a trio of sisters embraces mortality by interpreting it as a fulfilment of her narrative destiny.
Ifa: Reverence, Science, and Social Technology • (2019) • essay by Nisi Shawl
An essay on science and spirituality.
“The Fly in the Sugar Bowl” • (2019) • interview of Nisi Shawl • interview by Terry Bisson
Bibliography (Talk Like a Man Plus Women of the Doll Plus An Awfully Big Adventure and Much More) • (2019) • essay by uncredited
What it says on the tin.
About the Author (Talk Like a Man Plus Women of the Doll Plus An Awfully Big Adventure and Much More) • (2019) • essay by uncredited
Also, what it says on the tin.
1: The more venerable among you may object that the Outspoken Authors books are as long as collections and anthologies were half a century. For reasons that are unclear, it is not now half a century ago and books are usually much longer.
Although imagine if we were now living through the events of half a century ago all over again. Could you imagine what it would be like to experience yet another round of a US Republican president up to his eyeballs in scandal? Shudder. If we were living in Canada, we’d be dealing with yet another Trudeau government.
2: Reviewer, short on spoons, pushes a couple of lengthy patron requests a bit further down the stack.
3: Filter House (2008)
Something More and More (2011)
A Primer to Nisi Shawl (2018)
Talk Like a Man Plus Women of the Doll Plus an Awfully Big Adventure and Much More (2019)
Our Fruiting Bodies (2022)