Filter House / Nisi Shawl

Filter House won the Tiptree award a few years ago. I attended the Wiscon where the award was presented, purchased a copy, and got Nisi Shawl’s autograph in it. As it turns out, Nisi lives in Seattle and we had mutual friends. I’ve since made her acquaintance. I mention all this because I put off reading Filter House for almost three years because of that friendship. I feared I would hate the book even though I like Nisi, and then what would I do?

Cover of Filter House

Thankfully, I don’t have to write a negative review about something by someone I like. I finally faced my fear and read Filter House on my travels this winter, and found my fears wanting. I liked it after all! That’s not to say I understood or liked all the stories in this collection, but I was quite satisfied overall. Most of the stories include race as a key element of the story and several gave me something to chew on. That’s very important to me, having something to chew on. The last few stories are about women who reverse the power balance with men.

At The Huts Of Ajala

This story appeared in the anthology Dark Matter, which I read a few years ago. I like the protagonist Loanna, who tries to trick a god into giving her more than her allotment. But even on a second reading my prejudice against stories involving gods rose up and detracted from complete enjoyment of the story.


Oneida and her playmates come across watermelons growing in the vacant lot next door, which they take to be a present from the Blue Lady. But Oneida gets in trouble protecting the plants when builders start clearing the property, and she’s sent to stay with Big Mama, who I believe is a family elder. Big Mama actually knows about the Blue Lady’s magic, and Oneida learns. It’s a beautiful story, full of feeling, with one big caveat. The catch is that magic has a price. That’s the climax. And while magic if it existed certainly could have a price, that idea has been so worked over that it being the plot climax anymore is just lackluster.

The text of the story isn’t online, but here’s a clip of Ms. Shawl reading Wallamelon at Google:

Ousmani the princess is chained and left as a sacrifice for the local dragon. Instead of eating her, or whatever it is that dragons do, he takes her to his lair for entertainment. But Ousmani is both smart and practical, and things do not go according to expectations. A fine ending that turns the tables not on the dragon, but on the sacrificial trope. Also, I very much like a quote from early in the story:

The dragon dove off the precipice, then circled overhead on oily-looking wings to shout one word: Patience! The Princess Ousmani wondered when, if ever, some other virtue would be urged upon her, such as courage or resourcefulness.

The Raineses’

Anniette’s grandmother is a servant in a well-to-do household, and the girl has come to live with her elder during the summer. One of her first tasks is to explore the house looking for secret passages. Which I totally get. If you are rich, why wouldn’t you build a secret passage or room inside your mansion? The Rainses’ is a ghost story done right. Ms. Shawl doesn’t make scary ghosts in the story. Seriously, why would not scary people turn into scary ghosts?

Flash fiction piece. I didn’t get it. Which happens sometimes.


On a colony world still in the middle of terraforming, Kayley comes to visit her father, one of the terraforming planners. There’s a whole lot going on in this story that comments on colonization and racism and implicit power relations. This is a story that I would have loved to have discussed in my Feminist Science Fiction Book Club that sadly dwindled away last year. I don’t feel capable of poking at this story without a discussion.

This story brings back memories of my elementary school being so concerned about whether we had head lice. In the story, head lice have become carriers of serious disease. I love that this story tells so much about people with a very small science fictional detail.

Deep End

So let’s say that downloading yourself into a clone is possible? Is that body, that DNA yours? The upload/download of minds is a common SF trope but usually treats that as a convenience for prolonging one’s life. This story has a much more complex look at that.

I am generally put off by stories that mix futurism with living gods. I particularly run into it with non-Christian religious traditions. It’s much easier for me to put stories involving a portrayal of Christian tenets as real into the mental box of fantasy, and once it’s there I’m perfectly fine with it. Unpacking this is on my to-do list. The story is a fine story. It’s just that there’s a weird interaction between my Christian upbringing, my conversion to atheism, other religions, and science fiction that I don’t understand. (And this is why I don’t really call what I write reviews. Sometimes I’m just gonna talk about me.)

Little Horses

This story is crime fiction rather than science fiction. It’s a noirish kidnapping tale told from a kidnapee’s point of view. I quite liked it.

Shiomah’s Land

A very confusing story about the mortal Shiomah and the god Amma who killed her mother. Not confusing in what happens. Confusing int hat I don’t understand why any of them do what they do. That’s probably par for the course with gods, them being on a different plane and all.

Near future kind of story about drought affecting the United States, and one woman who managed to lock up the water rights to the Great Lakes. I really liked it, but there was also something off about the story.

But She’s Only A Dream

Laura attends a jam session and is followed home by a man who lets himself into her home. She holds a lot more power than he thinks.

The Beads of Ku

Fulla Fulla uses her business acumen to prosper until her simple husband decides to find out how she manages to do well for the both of them. She’s been traveling to the Marketplace of Death.

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