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Ancient, Ancient

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The stories in Kiini Ibura Salaam's debut collection, Ancient, Ancient, from feminist science fiction publisher Aqueduct Press, are imbued with the urgency and expansive scope of imagination that we've come to expect from the best of science fiction. Salaam takes us to distant places but makes them familiar in unsettling ways, ably transforming the fantastic into a mirror through which we can examine—and reckon with—our own struggles.

253 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 2012

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About the author

Kiini Ibura Salaam

20 books94 followers
Kiini Ibura Salaam is a writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her debut novel—When the World Turned Upside Down—is a middle grade story of four friends leaning into community during the time of COVID. Written under the pen name K. Ibura, it is her first book for children. Her speculative fiction and essays have been included in such publications as the Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Colonize This! anthologies, as well as Essence, Utne Reader, and Ms. magazines. She is the author of two short story collections for adults: Ancient, Ancient, winner of the 2012 James Tiptree, Jr. award and When the World Wounds. Her micro-essays on writing can be found at kiiniibura.com or in her Notes From the Trenches ebook series.

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5 stars
45 (27%)
4 stars
67 (41%)
3 stars
36 (22%)
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10 (6%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews
Profile Image for B.R. Sanders.
Author 24 books108 followers
July 17, 2016
This is another case where diversity is not really the right word to use here.1 This is a book of stories where, with one or two exceptions, the focus is on Black womanhood. Sometimes those Black women are in space. Sometimes they coexist alongside gods. Sometimes they live in New York and are beset by nostalgia for Louisiana. Sometimes they are aliens who communicate through dance. But unifying the collection of stories is a deep exploration of Black womanhood. It is a book written within a lived experience for others of that lived experience. It reminds me, in that sense, of Constance Burris’ Black Beauty: Book Zero of the Everleaf Series.2

All philosophizing aside, this book is full of characters of color. And women. And it has some queer representation.

Salaam is a lovely, poetic writer. From her language choice to the actual structure of the stories themselves, most of the stories in this collection are lyrical and haunting.

One of the clearest themes throughout all the stories is sex, which in virtually all cases3 is a powerfully positive and healing force in women’s lives. In stories like “Desire” and the trio of stories featuring the unnamed alien race represented by WaLiLa and MalKai who feast on human nectar (that is drawn out by way of sex), sex and sexuality is arguably coerced--but still, the power of it and the emotional connection it brings proves healing. Or at the very least complicated. The women in the stories remain agentic throughout even when used as vessels.

But I was more drawn to some of the other themes woven through the stories.4 Movement-as-freedom and movement-as-communication comes up again and again. Most clearly in the WaLiLa and MalKai stories, where WaLiLa and MalKai must learn to forsake their original language of movement/dance for spoken human languages, and again in “Battle Royale.” In “Battle Royale”, the narrator’s insistence on engaging in the flashing game/dance of razors leads to the fever-dream punishment meted out by his grandfather. But movement, or the lack of it, and how it can bring a different kind of freedom comes up in “Debris”, too.

There is an openness in Salaam’s resolutions that I enjoyed. Many of the stories were about a change of direction, a decision point, and were other writers would tell you where the characters were going, Salaam refuses to reveal what happens next. The conflict was that there was a decision to make, she seems to suggest. The trick of her stories is that there emotional gratification in knowing that a decision was made, but we don’t know which path was taken.

Salaam’s stories are fascinating. In particular, I liked “Debris”, “Ferret”, and “Ancient, Ancient”. “Rosamojo” was hard for me to read--I found it triggering--but it is a very good story.
1: I need to write this post already about My Issues With The Word Diversity.
2: Although, if you’re into short speculative fiction featuring Black characters you should really check out BLACK BEAUTY, too.
3: The exception to this is “Rosamojo”. It is a very good story, but if you are triggered by sexual assault, especially as a survivor of childhood trauma, tread with caution.
4: I’m ace, man, I’m not getting the same sex-as-rapture thing these characters are getting.
Profile Image for E.M. Tippetts.
Author 25 books508 followers
August 17, 2012
Salaam's a true master of the craft; I read her to learn as much as to enjoy. Her plots are delicately constructed, but I think of them in jeweler's terms. They are the setting for the gems that are her scenes that ooze passion, emotion, and sensuality. With clever formatting, she achieves cinematic intercut scenes, modulates the voice of characters to let us see them from the inside, and shows the scene from different such perspectives, your head spin if it wasn't all so enthralling.

People who know my work should note, Salaam writes with an unabashed sexuality. If you prefer my LDS chick lit, this is *definitely* different. Be ready to check preconceptions and inhibitions at the door. In Salaam's world, the depths of one man's shame are as expansive as our universe and the fall of an angel from a religion older than time evokes a soft pain washed away by morning. A former student of Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson, Kiini Ibura Salaam takes the genre in new and mind blowing directions.
Profile Image for Anie.
904 reviews26 followers
May 23, 2016
My thoughts after this one can be summed up with: "readable, not a wow."

This is an extremely imaginative collection -- there's no two ways about that; I loved the settings for these short stories, and enjoyed so many of the aspects of the world-building. However, the stories themselves failed to grab me either in the head or the heart. One of my fellow book clubbers described this as feeling like it came out of an MFA, and I agree with her: The style is (lightly) experimental, and interesting, but not ground-shaking. There's a strong focus on sexuality and sensuality that would probably have hooked me much more when I was younger, and more confused and hesitant about those things. Otherwise, however, I found myself not particularly invested in the characters or their stories. This isn't perhaps fully surprising -- it's a short story collection, and those by nature are less developed -- but nonetheless, I've been spoiled by reading a ton of amazing fiction lately and this didn't grab me the way I have been recently. I'd love to see what the author could do with a novel, though.
Profile Image for Craig Laurance.
Author 29 books153 followers
November 25, 2013
The story "MalKai's Last Seduction" is an erotic tone poem that celebrates black queer love. The set up is deceptively simple. MalKai is a visiting alien who is gathering "human nectar"--a substance derived from orgasms. MalKai belongs to a race of moth-like beings, but is able to appear as human. His species communicates via movement, rather than words. MalKai meets Cori, a closeted black gay man, and seduces him.

"Cori had no way of imagining a velvet people who spoke through balletic motions and muscle spasms, arced arms and bent necks. A nation that consisted of beings who were physically similar to humans but biologically distinct. A people who thrived on human nectar."

The bulk of the story is told through the alien's eyes. But there is a point of view shift, when we understand the transcendence and healing that Cori feels through the encounter:

"Cori's entire life, it could be argued, was an attempt to avoid any event such as this one. For years, he discretely avoided eye contact with men who wore their privacy in public like an expensive coat of chinchilla."

Both creatures, human and alien, experience a hallicination-ridden orgasm that acts as an exorcism for Cori.

"He couldn't remember his closet..."

He is freed by the sexual act. It is liberating. Salaam drenches the story in sensory overload, with sentences that sing.

Kiini Ibura Salaam finds the balance between visionary poetics and science fiction in this tale and others.
Profile Image for Octavia Cade.
Author 88 books117 followers
January 30, 2019
What a wonderful collection of fiction! And though there's a wide range in the stories, most are linked by - as the introduction states - a focus on sensuality that's very welcome in genre fiction. I liked all the stories, but the stand-outs for me were "Desire", which I actually read in an anthology a few weeks back; "Pod Rendezvous", which creates an almost hive-like sense of alien community without being the least bit insectile; and the absolute best, "Rosamojo", which is going on my list of favourite shorts ever, about a girl who kills her sexually abusive father and has to grapple with issues of forgiveness and hurt when his ghost comes along to, among other things, apologise for his actions. It's short and punchy and that mix of sad-angry that turns up sometimes. It's fantastic.

It's all just a really well put together collection. There's a little sort of sub-series of stories in there, of alien creatures who come to Earth to feed on humans and be seduced by them, and how Salaam uses language, in these stories particularly, is just so interesting. Language, of course, is a way of defining (and distancing) the foreign, and simultaneously making connections with that foreign, and how it's used here to echo the themes of alienation and coming together is so clever. The whole book's just so inventive and imaginative, I'm really glad I've got my own copy.
Profile Image for Charissa Shepard.
92 reviews12 followers
September 29, 2017
The end of each story leaves you feeling anxious at the possibility that you might never read anything about that character ever again. It was a sad feeling but then you dive into a different story and surprise! compelling new worlds in such few words! over and over until you realize this author is breathing life into these stories and it's beautiful. It's scintillating. Real. Somehow like I would imagine a drug trip might feel; like when you can FEEL that you're ALIVE.
That's what this author does.
Profile Image for Nicholas Whyte.
4,734 reviews182 followers
August 27, 2023

Ancient, Ancient, uniquely for the Tiptree Award, is a collection of stories by a single author, Kiini Ibura Salaam. I hugely enjoyed this, a sexy and angry collection of short pieces, the longest and perhaps most effective being the last, “Pod Rendezvous”, which has a richly and economically depicted alien society. You can get it here.

Profile Image for Sue Chant.
802 reviews14 followers
May 24, 2020
Tiptree winner 2012. I couldn't even get through the first story. It seemed to be trying for a mythopoeic vibe but didn't have the vibrancy, humour and darkness of many actual mythologies. There are plenty of writers who have done this much more successfully.
Profile Image for Andrea Blythe.
Author 10 books74 followers
January 29, 2015
In Ancient, Ancient, Kiini Ibura Salaam presents one of the most inventive and creative collection of science fiction and fantasy stories that I’ve read in a long time. I hardly even know how to describe some of these stories without giving everything away, the worlds and universes presented are so unique. Salaam’s writing often has a sensuality to it, which is quite lovely.

While I didn’t connect with all of the stories, here are the ones I loved.

"Pod Rendezvous" was my favorite story in the collection. Laki feels trapped by her fate of having to join a mother-unit and decides to throw a last hurrah party in the Velvet Stretch, while her sister Se-Se works feverishly to help Laki find an escape. It’s a smart and moving coming of age story in set a strange future (or maybe an alternate world altogether). I resonated quite a bit with both Laki and Se-Se.

“Desire" is the story of a woman named Sené who has an encounter with the god of desire, Faru. As with any encounter with the gods, it has wonderful and dangerous results. This is a poetically written and superbly sensual tale.

I also loved "Debris," in which a family skeletal beings take a visit to the earth during Día de Los Muertos celebrations. I can’t say more without giving the entire story away, so I’ll just say that I loved it.

The titular story, "Ancient, Ancient," is one of the shortest in the collection. It tells the story of an ancient being awakening through the body of a young woman. Though short, it is packed with layers of imagery in a rather poetic fashion, making it just as fulfilling as many a longer tale.

"Battle Royale" is the story of a young man who is punished by his grandfather for taking part in a semi-dangerous set of games involving dancing through a mock battle. The punishment involves the young man being forced to experience the lives and deaths of several people faced with subservience and slavery in history, each one stranger and more brutal than the last. This was so strange, powerful, moving, and I wanted so much more. I found myself both loving the story and being unsatisfied with the ending. All I can say is that I hope she continues the story elsewhere.
Profile Image for Harold Walters.
1,678 reviews27 followers
August 11, 2016

This is a fascinating collection of short stories. It is fascinating on several levels.

Kiini Ibura Salaam’s use of language is superb. It is a marvel to see how the written word weaves the tale in “Of Wings, Nectar and Ancestors.”
Walila — a nectar-sucking alien moth in human form, by the way — is frustrated by the limitations of words: “Words make me eyes want to cry.” Despite Walila’s frustration, Salaam gives her a voice quite capable of effectively narrating parts of the story.

In addition to a deft use of language Salaam creates images that tumble through the reader’s head like the constantly changing mosaics of a kaleidoscope, or like creatures morphing in smoke.

In “Desire” the shifting pictures of Faru, a goat-god who exists in some ancient [!] mythology, and Laloro, an elephantine god of disease, and also a lusty crocodile goddess of desire are as enthralling as ungraspable entities just beyond fingertip reach in swirling, tinted mist. Stitch Sene, a woman discovering sensuality and sexuality anew, into the tapestry and the whole story reads — sound? — like a ribald ballad.

Then in “Marie” Salaam pares down her surreal imagery and, in a most straight forward method, tells the story of Marie, a Creole woman whose desire is to fit in, to find her niche in New York City.

Marie will do anything, sacrifice anything to be a normal New Yorker. She will even follow a subway crone to a mysterious crossroad and make a deal with…well, with the Devil, or possibly Rumpelstiltskin. [I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it. Devilish Ol’ Rumpelstiltkin actually popped into my noggin.]

I enjoyed Ancient, Ancient. It fascinated me.
Profile Image for Meryl.
Author 14 books13 followers
June 9, 2016
I love short stories and Salaam's collection was wonderfully different. I didn't know what I was getting into, but I was quickly caught up in her various worlds.

Desire: The opening story took me straight to Africa and warring, ancient gods and a woman who rediscovers her sexuality after years of marriage and children. I felt for all the characters, mortal and immortal. One of my equal second favourites.

The next three stories (Of Wings, Nectar and Ancestors, MalKai's Last Seduction and At Life's Limits) are about WaLiLa and her group, and they are strange and wonderful. I don't want to say too much and spoil the magic of these three. But I tell you, I found my body swaying after the last story to invisible music and my feet tapping.

I've read Rosamojo before and it makes me alternately mad and sad every time I read it. I want to wrap my arms around her, but she doesn't need me. She's strong.

Battle Royale and Ferret both perplexed and intrigued me.

K-USH: The Legend of the Last Wero was my other equal second favourite of the collection. I would like to read more about these people.

Marie was fantastic, a story about a woman rediscovering herself and her culture. I cheered for her.

The final story, Pod Rendevous, blew me away. Loved it. Again, I would like to read more about this culture.

So much of this collection was about metamorphosis, either just about to happen or in the thick of it. This is a beautifully realised collection that will open your eyes and your mind.
Profile Image for Dax.
1,897 reviews44 followers
September 30, 2016
This book was an interesting ride. The toughest part was understanding these alien languages and the oftentimes strange transitions. It was still glorious throughout. Salaam sure has a beautiful way with words and punching you in the gut with feeling.

Read "Rosamojo" just so you know true horror in this world and the fact that it's always humans perpetrating these atrocities. Usually those we should be able to trust to protect us above all us too.

Or read for beautiful gems like this: "Marie had an encounter that would have destroyed her had she not pushed it away in a tight compartment and left it suffocating in the dark crevices of forgetting."

Or maybe this quote will beckon you to read more: "The idea of releasing my grip on life is seductively sweet, 'But we have not yet tasted each other,' you whisper. A small sound that doesn't know if it wants to be a laugh or a sob pops in my throat. Not even your voice-with its melodies and catches-can stop me from thinking about committing my body to the earth. I want you, but I also want to break into a million pieces and melt into the sand."
Profile Image for Sistermagpie.
696 reviews5 followers
October 18, 2015
This collection of short stories is not like anything I'd ever read before, which is down to the author having a strong voice all her own. All the stories are fantasy/science fiction, but if there was a theme that really stood out to me it was one of being caught between two worlds. Characters often aren't sure which world they belong in, even when they've ostensibly chosen one way and even lived there for years. Describing individual stories doesn't really put across what the stories are like, but to give an idea, there are characters caught between being black and white, New York and New Orleans, being a human and gathering nectar from humans, living in the ocean or on land--each choice is different but equally powerful.
Profile Image for Moira Crone.
35 reviews
August 28, 2012
Beautifully imaginative stories that always stay grounded in the sensual experience, though the imagination is road and marvelous---she lets us know how those spirits who can ride us feel about the fact they ride us, how it is to enter into new lives and new worlds. She creates magnificent scenarios for new versions of gender and new versions of sex and new versions of marriage and new versions of, well, being in its entirety. I can not fault this woman for imagination. She's out there and in here and full of every kind of inhabitation, and no kind of inhibition. Read it. You will be brought to new places within.
Profile Image for Alex MacFarlane.
Author 45 books29 followers
August 20, 2013
Though I liked this collection, I didn't love it: there were times when voice and story came together and I was compelled to keep reading, and times when that didn't happen. There's a lot of emphasis on sex and strong emotional connections between people (and a lot of sex = emotional connection) which isn't something I really relate to (especially when it's written in such a way that suggests everyone should be able to relate to it). There's also a lot of imagination - this isn't like any other collection I've read, and that was definitely for the better. It certainly left me wanting to read more of Kiini Ibura Salaam's work, because when it works for me, it really works.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
2,131 reviews90 followers
October 2, 2014
This one's between three and four stars for me. The thing about spec fic short stories is that the author has to dump you in midstream -- there's no time to tell you about the culture or the situation, so they have to let you discover it in the middle, and hopefully they've done a good enough job of it that you're not left completely adrift. Some of these stories accomplish this better than others; some of them are so beautifully written that it doesn't quite matter. The real standout for me was the final story in the collection, "Pod Rendezvous." It's a fantastic science-fictional coming of age story and I adored it.
Profile Image for Susie Munro.
227 reviews32 followers
December 28, 2015
A wonderful collection of short stories about sexuality, sensuality, power, self knowledge. Salaam's writing is beautifully contained, insightful and keenly observed. Although spanning a range of settings and subjects there's a common thread of deeply embodied truth running through them - messy and complicated and contradictory in a way that felt very real.

I'm not even going to try to pick a favourite story, do yourself a favour and read them them all
Profile Image for christine..
583 reviews7 followers
July 24, 2016
A really odd, interesting collection of stories, steeped in sensuality and strangeness.

Ancient, Ancient feels completely alien, especially towards the beginning. The first half's stories are almost slippery in their execution, fever-dreamy and poetic. They feel fairly literary in their embrace of the surreal.

I think "Marie" and "Pod Rendezvous" made this collection for me. I do prefer my short fiction to have a little more meat on its bones, and these two delivered.
Profile Image for Debbie.
131 reviews
November 4, 2013
Most of the stories are brief glimpses into other worlds, many of which are utterly strange*, most of which feature non-consensual alien possession. Visual and visceral. I usually felt like I was missing out on some crucial, subtle bit of information that would have been useful for drawing me in further. But, I was often in awe.

(* No, I don't say "utterly strange" lightly.)
Profile Image for Melinda Davis.
58 reviews8 followers
October 3, 2015
Please, please read this book. I can't say enough good things about Salaam's writing. As a prose stylist, she's quite good, but the main aspect of her writing that left me blown away is how genuinely alien her visions are. She manages to entirely step outside of the usual genre tropes, and leave you breathless and astounded. I finished Ancient, Ancient wanting more.
Profile Image for Eve.
260 reviews8 followers
August 5, 2014
I read it for my feminist sci-fi book club; I might not have finished otherwise. Some of the stories were pretty good, so between the ones I really liked and the ones I really didn't like I give it 3 stars. It's too bad; I expected this to be a lot better than it was.
May 31, 2015
This was an interesting set of stories. I couldn't stop in the middle of any of them and I found that they each needed a certain amount of consideration after reading. For the most part, I only read one story in a sitting, though there are a few stories that seem to me almost paired.
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