“Old Habits” by Nalo Hopkinson

I was very excited to see that Nalo Hopkinson was included in “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Six.” I found out about Nalo Hopkinson several months ago. I had just discovered Octavia Butler, and was eager to find more African American women who write Science Fiction and Fantasy. So I searched the web and found a list of African American and African diaspora women who write Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Hopkinson is a Jamaica born writer that lives in Canada. She received her Masters in Arts (M.A.) in Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University ( a school I too am considering for my M.A.) She has been nominated and won many prestigious awards such as the John W Campbell, Hugo and Nebula Award.  This year she published “Sister Mine” her tenth novel.


Old Habits is a compelling story about being trapped in our own fears, miserable but unable to move on to the unknown. The narrator is a ghost and I’ll be as blunt as he was in the beginning to let you know that he doesn’t move on.  This isn’t a story about overcoming fears it’s a story about living with them and what it can do to you. The story focuses around three ghosts our narrator, Black Anchor Ohsweygian and Jimmy Lee. For an undetermined amount of time, they have lived in this shadow existence in the mall where they died. Every day the ghosts are brought back to life and they are able to see, hear, smell, and feel only to die again. This endless cycle of life and death hasn’t help to make the ghosts want to move on instead it has driven them mad with longing for any bit of reality.  The ghosts know that if they leave the mall there is the possibility to move on but instead they choose to stay and life for only a few moments a day.

For me one of the most interesting parts of this story was Christmas. Not the holiday but how Hopkinson used the idea of Christmas at the mall to highlight the plight of the ghosts.  On one side there is the mall of the living alive with people, sights and sounds; while on the other side of the mall there are ghosts unable to see, smell, or touch anything.  For me this use of Christmas immediately allowed me to sympathize with the ghosts. I’m not even a fan of the mall, but during Christmas time the mall is alive with a fever and joy that is contagious. Could you imagine being just on the other side of the veil aware of Christmas passing and the possibilities but unable to be a part of it until it’s time for your daily death? I myself would be driven mad much like the characters to destroy the innocent Kitty for just a little.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. The death scenes were a bit much for me because I had no idea they were coming but they are essential to the stories impact. Our narrator is well developed and his relationships with Black Anchor and Jimmy create a sense of friendship and understanding for their situation. The characters are relatable but I can’t say there was any one character more than the others.  While this story won’t make you laugh it will give you food for thought.


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