The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist by S.L. Huang. ★★★1/2
If a queer retelling of The Little Mermaid is of interest, then you should check out The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist by S.L. Huang. Only, think the Hans Christian Anderson original, not the happily ever after Disney version.
Dr. Cadence Mbell has devoted her life to studying the atargati, the sentient, deep sea species the public keeps referring to as “mermaids.” She’s the only human who knows how to speak their language, and she’s considered the top atargati scholar. But when the government captures an atargati, Cadence knows she has to free her.
The story mostly sticks to the broad strokes of the original Hans Christian Anderson tale, only the roles of mermaid and human reversed. Cadence meets an atargati and becomes obsessed with becoming one, joining their world. Her desire is presented as a mix of romantic feelings and burning curiosity to learn more about the mysterious atargati. The whole falling for someone after one meeting never made much sense to me, so I’m glad Huang decided to play up the curiosity aspect of the story.
The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist addresses some other topics as well. How respectful is the study of the atargati really? Why are we assuming that humans must be more technologically advanced than the atargati? The heroine also starts questioning her own identity, since being a lesbian is very important to her, but then she falls for a member of a wholly different species who don’t fit into gender binaries. It’s an aspect of queer identity I haven’t often seen addressed.
The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist is either a shorter novella or a longer novelette. Either way, it’s a quick read, easily a book you can read in the span of an hour or so. However, I think it could have stood to be longer. Parts of it felt a little hasty, a little unfleshed out. It moves from plot point to plot point so quickly, and I think it would have helped the story to have a bit more breathing room.
Regardless, The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist is worth a read for anyone looking for fairy tale retellings, particularly queer ones.