Friday, January 30, 2015

RIP: Suzette Haden Elgin (1936-2015)

It is with a heavy heart that I must announce the passing of Suzette Haden Elgin after a long battle with dementia. For those who do not know her, Elgin is an American science fiction author and linguist who founded the Science Fiction Poetry Association and is an influential figure in the field of science fiction constructed languages. She has one work of alternate history recognized by Uchronia, the short story "Hush My Mouth".

Published in multiple anthologies and languages, "Hush My Mouth" is set in the world where both sides of the American Civil War refused to use black soldiers and thus the war dragged on many years longer than in our timeline. Eventually the black slaves revolted and expelled the whites from the South and form a "New Africa". The various factions, however, could not agree on what should be the official language of the country, each preferring their own tribe's native language. Thus they are forced to use English, the language of their enslavers, because of their pride. Nevertheless, one group protests this decision by refusing to speak a single work until the New Africans choose their own language.

"Hush My Mouth" captures Elgin's background as a linguist and when I first read it in The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories, I considered it one of the best entries in that anthology. I was hoping to reread it in preparation for a review I planned to write in February and so I was shocked to learn of Elgin's passing. Someone who can make such a beautiful. yet effective, message is certainly a treasure and her death is a loss to us all.

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