I received an ARC e-copy of this book in exchange for an open and honest review.
The title of Maurice Broaddus’ collection of short stories and brief description hooked me immediately. The idea that each story carries a voice of a martyr, an important voice that was silenced by those in power, was very intriguing to me as a reader. I did not know what to expect besides a journey with a multitude of voices, each with their own important story. Out of all the short story collection I have read in the past couple of months, The Voices of Martyrs is proving to be the most difficult one for me to review. This is not a collection to rush through as each story feels drastically different. This is a collection to savor – both the characters and their experiences. While each story has fantastical elements in them, some stories are clearly in the fantasy genre, while others have bits and pieces of magical realism. The stories take place throughout time, ranging from alternate histories, to the present times, to way in the future, spilling into the science fiction genre. Needless to say, this collection is not one to miss. I want to say upfront that this collection does include stories that involve slavery, subjugation through religion, and incarceration.
One short story, Rite of Passage, was written in dairy form. The diary was the personal writings of a ship captain, William Sparke, tasked with bringing slaves to the ‘New World.’ Being the collection, The Voice of Martyrs, I was first shocked at the bluntness of this story told from the perspective of the slaver. Throughout the story, the captain of the ship, along with slaver Mr. Hawkins, tries to rationalize away the idea of transporting slaves. I kept pausing to say to myself… “No! The slaver does not have a right to tell his story.” But the story is not about him even though it is from his perspective. This story is about Njinga, future Ozo of the Igbo, and others on the ship who lead a resistance against the Captain and Mr. Hawkins. The entries are brutal and violent. The entries depict suffering and strength. I have not read a short story as gut-wrenchingly powerful as this one.
Probably my favorite story in the collection is The Electric Spanking of War Babies. In this story, George, aka Shakes Humphries, is “the bandiest mofo on eight wheels.” Roller skates that is. George goes out one night with a warning from his mother about a war and arrives at the Sugar Shack with his roller skates. Suddenly spacemen are at the Sugar Shack throwing everything in chaos. George meets Malia in the midst of the confusion and she tells him to come with her if he wants to funk. Shakes is thrown into a war between the Afronauts and the Funkateers. The Funkateers are all about groove and peace, while the Afronauts think that love is weak. This is a wild story about music and groove and love and fantastic sci fi moments. A refreshing story to read in a sea of contemporary science fiction.
The Voices of Martyrs short story takes its name from the title of the entire collection. This is the last story in the collection and places us into the future. We find ourselves in the encampment Melancolia located on a gas giant planet. There, the main character along with a few others, are tasked with planting, which is a nice way of saying missionaries spreading the Gospel to indigenous beings on the planet.
“You make us sounds like… cultural bullies.”
Exactly. This takes our own planet’s story of using Christianity to subjugate non-Christian people into the science fiction realm. The first half of the story is about making contact with Species A, a ‘primitive’ species of the planet, in hopes they will take to the Gospel. It turns out that a group of Species A is much more intelligent than they anticipated. This group of Species A was infected by a virus and were being used as hosts. This brings up questions such as, what qualifies as “intelligent life”? Does a virus using another being as a host count as an intelligent species? With the myriad of moral and ethical questions that came popping into my head, the Voices of Martyrs was a fantastic story to close out the collection.
As challenging as this review was to write, my entire experience with the collection was very positive. I found myself reflecting on these stories following the weeks I finished the final story. Each story is dense and brings its own message and feeling. Each story made me stop and think. This is not a a short story collection to read in one sitting but one to string out and enjoy each individual story, each individual voice.
Final Rating: 4.4/5