A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s “Message in a Bottle” in Falling in Love with Hominids (Tachyon, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Nalo Hopkinson’s “Message in a Bottle” explores the strange nature of children and the complicated reaction people have to children who don’t fit the norm. The narrator, Greg, explores the social pressure to have children and his own perception of children as “like another species”. Like many people who decide not to have children, he is told that his life has no value without children and that he is incomplete without passing on his “legacy”.
Gradually over time, Greg begins to decide that having children is a good idea, illustrating the pressure to have children and how it overrides personal decisions. He begins to see children as not quite so foreign and strange, but there is one child that continues to seem odd and displaced to him, his friend’s adopted child Kamla, a girl who has a recent syndrome called Delayed Growth Syndrome. Children who have this syndrome develop large heads, but their bodies are relatively slow to develop. The oddity about Kamla, however, is not the size of her head (at least for Greg, though others call her Baby Bobber), but rather the odd insights Kamla shows into the future and her oddly adult manner of speech.
Hopkinson’s “Message in a Bottle” disrupts traditional ideas about aging and explores the discomfort that adults feel when children act or talk like adults. “Message in a Bottle” challenges embedded ideas about aging, encouraging the reader to question notions of “coming of age” and re-think aging as a simple binary of child/adult.
Hopkinson questions ideas of time and temporality by playing with the time travel narrative while simultaneously disrupting the idea of traveling as an adult and instead investing children with “knowledge beyond their years”.
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