Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Saltwater Railroad, by Andrea Hairston

, July 2015 (); 15,645 words

In 1835, a mysterious young woman washes ashore on an island off the Georgia/Florida coast where a group of runaway slaves have built a community.

Rating: 5, Award-worthy
Recommended By: io9Recommended by

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: As Rainbow observes, "This Island isn’t on any map." Nothing with caves and cliffs exists anywhere off the Georgia/Florida coasts. The first paragraph strongly hints that it's a creation of Delia's magic. That explains why things are "too nice." (I.e. they have clean, white bandages). That's why people who need it can find it (they aren't runaways but "run tos" because this place was created for them), but the mainlanders, in general, cannot. Not until Delia is ready to allow it.

The attention to detail is exquisite. The maroons were also known as "Black Seminoles." They included a number of Muskogee (Creek) Indians and spoke that language. "Chufi" really does mean "rabbit" in Creek.

We know the story takes place in 1835 because of Halley's Comet, and that's consistent with Delia having been born after 1776 and having just reached menopause. The Underground Railroad existed under that name but was still only a shadow of what it would one day become. It makes sense that Delia isn't sure whether to believe in it. So she crafts a saltwater railroad instead.

The painting above is likely the one described in the story; the legend of the Ethiopian's Leg has been around for a long time. The story reverses the legend, though; the black people steal the white people's "legs" (their boats) and use them to sail to freedom. (Note how the magical old man who gave Delia her Ethiopian leg and gave Rainbow her Ethiopian hands shows up to give them the boats as well.)

Con: The story is marred by a few problems that proper editing would fix. Grammar errors that look like cut/paste errors. Repetition. POV changes. Infrequent enough not to spoil the story.

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