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Literature / Midnight Robber

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Midnight Robber is a very dark coming-of-age science fiction novel by Nalo Hopkinson, published in 2000.

Tan-Tan is a young girl growing up on the planet Toussaint, which was primarily settled by people from the Caribbean region of Earth. Toussaint is a rich, high-tech world, and life is easy. But when Tan-Tan's estranged father, Antonio, is framed for murder, he illegally takes his daughter with him to the Penal Colony world of New Half-Way Tree, where life is hard, brutal, and frequently short. Tan-Tan must adapt to this new, primitive world, sustained by her memories of childhood stories, especially her favorite, the Robber King, who goes his own way, and bows to no one. When she grows up, maybe she can become a great robber too! If she lives long enough....

Tropes in this book:

  • Abusive Parents: Not at first, but after Tan-Tan and her father have come to the Penal Colony world of New Half-Way Tree, the story gets a whole lot darker, especially after Tan-Tan hits puberty, and starts to resemble the mother they left behind. She still loves her father, but after he begins to rape her, she mentally divides him up into "Good Daddy" and "Bad Daddy", and lives in fear of the times that Bad Daddy will come out.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Claude has a female partner and is also seen embracing other male characters. He and One-Eye share a few suggestive moments when they're together.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Subverted. Tan-Tan's parents had a love that people described as "so sweet it's hot", but eventually turned into pure discord without the sweet. Tan-Tan's father killed her mother's lover in a duel and fled with his daughter, and then things got worse...
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: The Douen, natives of the Penal Colony planet New Half-Way Tree. The males are lizard-like, and can speak fairly well. The women are more bird-like, with feathers and a beak which limits their ability to speak human languages—which is why most humans aren't aware they're intelligent, let alone the same species.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Human characters never bother explaining that their disgust for eating uncooked meat is because it can make humans ill, leading the Douen to think that humans are just finicky eaters.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Douen, native creatures of New Half-Way Tree, are intelligent, but treated like inferior, near-slaves by the humans who have been sent to this Penal Colony world, for no particular reason except that they can get away with it.
  • Living Legend: After the death of her father, Tan-Tan is on the run, and turns to robbery, partly inspired by the childhood tales she used to hear of the great Robber King. Soon, she begins to hear wildly exaggerated stories of herself. Apparently, the people of New Half-Way Tree were desperate for some legends to call their own, and are not at all ashamed to embellish events for the sake of a good story.
  • Patricide: The moment that changes everything. On Tan-Tan's 16th birthday, her father tries to rape her again, but this time she realizes she has a knife she just received as a birthday present, and may be able to defend herself. Death was not the plan—but it is the result.
  • Penal Colony: New Half-Way Tree is a world in another dimension, accessible directly from the planet Toussaint, and is where Toussaint ships all its worst criminals.
  • Post-Scarcity Economy: Most of the human worlds, including the planet Toussaint where the book starts, have automation which frees people from the need to work. Some, like the Pedicab Guild (taxi drivers), insist on doing so anyway, but for the most people, arts and leisure are the main activities. This leaves Tan-Tan and her father Antonio totally unprepared for life on the remote Penal Colony world of New Half-Way Tree, where hard work makes the difference between life and death.
  • Repetitive Name: Tan-Tan, the protagonist.
  • Silent Scapegoat: When teenaged Tan-Tan turns up pregnant, everyone assumes that her friend Melonhead is responsible. Melonhead knows that he's not, and, while he doesn't know for sure who is responsible, he assumes the real answer must be much worse, so he silently takes the blame and the associated shame.
  • Teenage Pregnancy: Tan-Tan ends up pregnant by her father, but her friend Melonhead is blamed.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The Douen native to the planet New Half-Way Tree, despite clearly being intelligent and able to talk, are regularly treated like animals, kept as slaves, and killed on a whim.