The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes
Readers who pay attention to the Hugo Award category called “Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)” may recall that one of the 2018 finalists for the award was a hip hop song called “The Deep” by the band clipping which is fronted by Grammy- and Tony-Award winner Daveed Diggs who played Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton.
The song, which I recommend listening to, is a tribute to the Detroit duo Drexciya who created a mythology about a race of humans who descended from babies born in the ocean when their pregnant mothers were thrown off slave ships. These babies evolved to live underwater and, while they feel threatened by humans who live on the land, they also recognize them as their ancestors.
Here are the lyrics for clipping’s “The Deep” and here is a great podcast about Afrofuturism in science fiction which features the song.
With the support of clipping, Rivers Solomon has adapted “The Deep” to print form and it’s been nominated for a 2020 Nebula Award for Best Novella.
Solomon focuses less on the climate change aspect of the song and more on the idea of “remember,” a word that’s used 25 times in the 5.5-minute-long song.
Solomon’s hero is Yetu, the historian of her people. She resents this position but it was assigned to her by the previous historian. Her job is to swim around under the Atlantic Ocean, gathering and safekeeping the memories of her people so that they are not burdened with having to keep the tragedies of their race in their own minds.
Once each year, they all meet and Yetu reminds them of their history, making them struggle with it for three days while she gets a much-needed break before taking on the burden again.
This year, however, Yetu has had enough. She gives her people the memories and runs away, leaving them to deal with the trauma without her guidance. On her journey, she meets some humans who live on land and breathe air. Are they her enemies or her family? She develops a relationship with one human in particular who can’t understand why Yetu does not embrace her people’s collective memories.
Just like its source material, The Deep is a haunting novella, which feels appropriate for a story about the pain, but also the importance, of remembering traumatic events. Not just personal trauma, but also the painful history of your family or race. It’s also about keeping and eschewing traditions, and it’s about the catharsis and emotional bonding that comes from sharing stories.
The audio version by Simon & Schuster Audio is a treat because it’s narrated by Daveed Diggs who, at the end, explains the connection of this novella to its source material.