Words of other worlds at Philip Sherlock Centre

Published: Wednesday | February 25, 2009

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Michael Holgate - Ian Allen/Staff Photographer

The physical gathering was very small but the readings at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts on Sunday morning were a gateway to other worlds and their inhabitants - wondrous or horrific.

Science fiction was the order of the morning at the University of the West Indies' (UWI) Mona campus, as the Philip Sherlock International Arts Festival 2009 headed into its second week. Michael Holgate and Nalo Hopkinson delivered original sci-fi with Night of the Indigo and a Blackheart Man, extracts from an upcoming novel, respectively.

But it was the centre's co-ordinator, Brian Heap, beaming as he greeted "everyone", who was first up, setting the sci-fi plane with readings from his preferred authors in the genre, including Margaret Atwood.


It was a debut for Holgate, who said it was his first reading of his first novel. And he began the tale of mind-prober teenage Marissa at the very beginning with "cold, cold, cold, that's how cold it was".

The first chapter of Night of the Indigo saw Marissa outside his home in a storm, as he fled the sight of a 'doctor' attending to his twin (not identical) brother Wico, whose illness even further accentuates the differences between them.

In the storm, Marissa wondered just what kind of world would take away the only other person who understood him, followed by the humour of a memory of girls discussing Marissa and his strangeness like he wasn't there. "Poor ting, maybe him need a girl," one said. "Maybe him need a girl," another commented.

In a lightning flash, Marissa sees two horrific creatures; his father thunders "where is that damned boy?" into the night and another element is introduced with the abusive relationship. After his father slaps him, "Marissa's face throbbed with the confusingly sweet sensation of his father's touch".

Nalo Hopkinson - contributed

Hopkinson noted that it was the first time she had been invited to the UWI as a science fiction writer. She said she had been on the road since September, reading the excerpts from her upcoming novel from her laptop. Set two centuries before the main action of the novel, it presented male and female 'pistoleros' on camels charging a village, guarded by garifuna.

Mother Letty commands the relatively defenceless villagers to hold as the charging soldiers come downhill and hit the flat with the camels on a flat-out run. They do, then watch in amazement, as a four-inch thick layer pitch turns liquid and swallows most of the attacking brigade.

And when they had disappeared from sight, "the black face of the road was smooth and flat again like the brigade had never been".

A discussion followed the reading, the lovers of literature nailing down some specifics of the morning's speculative fiction.