Book Talk: 'The Liminal People' by Ayize Jama-Everett - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk: 'The Liminal People' by Ayize Jama-Everett

Alexander Wallace lives on the edge.
We usually think of superpowered humans as being affiliated with larger organizations, oftentimes backed by governments. An entire industry has sprung up regarding the adventures of superhero teams or other forms of organizations. Supers outside these frameworks are usually portrayed as villains; this leads to the accusations that the superhero genre inherently leans towards protecting the status quo.

Not so with The Liminal People, published in 2009 and written by Ayize Jama-Everett. It begins a trilogy but works perfectly well as a standalone. Here, we have supers existing not as government agents or private vigilantes or terrorists, but as a small, hidden class of people who work mostly through international organized crime. That world is one of back-stabbing, manipulation, second-guessing everything you hear, and carefully crafting everything you say.

One man in this world is Taggert, an African-American man living in Morocco who is asked for help from an ex-lover living in London. Taggert is in the employ of a criminal organization based in Morocco but with interests in many countries in Europe and North Africa. Taggert is not merely a main character, but also a first person narrator. He is someone who has lived through much strife and much pain, but also many other emotions. He is a man who is utterly unafraid to talk about his travails and how they have affected him, and they make him quite compelling. He also has a quick wit that makes the experience of reading the book all the more sweeter.

But Taggert is not a solitary character; he is interacting with a woman that he once loved as he searches for her missing daughter. The Liminal People spends relatively little time talking about powers (Taggert can control the body functions of anyone he meets, for example), and much more time talking about the characters. In this short book (about two hundred pages long), you get a sense of the depth of all the people involved, their relationships to one another, the toll living in hiding takes on them, and the trials involved in a life of crime.

There is undoubtedly a uniqueness in Taggert in how his power is healing, not destroying, as so many superheroes have; it humanizes the world immensely, and opens the floor to a discussion of pain that runs throughout the book. You have the pain that Taggert has accumulated throughout his life in the service of his boss, and wandering Africa as an itinerant healer before that. You have the pain that came through his separation, a pain that hurt both parties deeply and has its knockdown effects on others. There is also the pain of having to conceal such a fundamental part of their identities to the vast majority of the world.

The book then asks: how do your powers interact with your pain? Taggert heals others to heal himself. His ex buries it. Other characters do other things, and their different ways of doing so do lead to impactful and sometimes spectacular results.

‘Liminal’ is a word that comes from Latin which describes something (or in this case, someone) who is on an edge between two categories. In this book, much of the main characters are between normal humanity and something beyond humanity; they live on the borders between the familiar and the incomprehensible. It is the probing of that dichotomy that makes The Liminal People so powerful; it is about being human and yet not human. This is a theme that has been done many times in the annals of science fiction, but rarely as compelling as this novel has.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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