My Favorite African Science Fiction and Fantasy (AfroSFF) Short Fiction of 2015

Image via Paul Lewin
Image via Paul Lewin

I have always loved ‘Best-Of’ SF/F short story collections, lists, anthologies. ‘The Hugo Winners’ anthology originally edited by Isaac Asimov was where I first found most of my favorite authors. There is something about stories that move someone enough to want to collect them in a group and say to someone else, “Here, you should read this.”

I’ve also enjoyed the fairly recent and ongoing popularization of African science fiction and fantasy and I’m looking forward to more and more of it being published, read and discussed.

2015 has been a good year for African Science Fiction and Fantasy (or AfroSFF, as seems to be the consensus abbreviation). The year saw the release of Jalada’s Afrofutures anthology, Issues 2, 3, 4 and X of the new and excellent Omenana and  Short Story Day Africa’s Terra Incognita. Still to come are AfroSFv2 (edited by Ivor Hartmann), African Monsters (edited by Margret Helgadottir and Jo Thomas) and Imagine Africa 500 (edited by Billy Kahora and Trine Andersen). So much good stuff to read and more to come.

[Full Disclosure: I’ve also written a few AfroSFF stories published this year, I have a story  forthcoming in Imagine Africa 500 and was meant to have one in AfroSFv2 but it got pulled by the editor a few days before the official announcement.]

So in the interest of fueling discussion and analysis of AfroSFF stories in general, here are my favorite AfroSFF stories of 2015 in no particular order.

***

1. “eNGAGEMENT” by Richard Oduor Oduku in Jalada’s Afrofutures.

This story of  listlessness, youth, love, virtual reality, longing and weddings set in Nairobi is very afro-cyberpunk and very insightful. Hilarious in parts and deathly-serious in others, this story stayed with me long after I read it. Highly recommended. 

2. “How My Father Became a God” by Dilman Dila in Terra Incognita.

I liked this story because of its style. Its told in typical African folktale language but quickly reveals itself to be something more. Mark Bould compares it to Pan’s Labyrinth, and its easy to see why. It features a Ugandan mad scientist, a journey into an ‘evil bush’ and a plot by male family members to marry off an under-aged girl who runs off to a fantastic place. The story is relentless, interesting and exciting to read. Recommended. 

3. “Look At Me Now” by Sarah Norman in Omenana, Issue 2.

I’m a huge fan of Omenana and their second issue was something spectacular. I still think its the best one they’ve put out. This story in particular follows an African woman  living in the UK who finds that she can turn invisible when she is upset. She goes on a series of typical African-in-diaspora misadventures before returning home to use her power to change things. The story ends violently and strongly. And oh what an ending.  I suspect the story appeals to me so much because it details a lot of the typical African-in-foreign land experience and frustration filtered through a unique and strange lens.

4. “The Monkey House” by Tade Thompson in Omenana, Issue 2.

This brilliantly written, Kafkaesque story of an office worker in 80’s Lagos blends with a folktale involving the Monkey to produce a story that leaves layers of itself on your skin, haunting you in the best possible way. I’ll be nominating this one for a Hugo. Highly recommended.

5. “The Worshipful Company of Milliners” by Tendai Huchu in Interzone, issue 257.

This is a rich and imaginative story, taking the metaphor that every writer wears a unique hat and making it literal. Huchu analyzes the creative process via this premise through the Milliners – fictional characters who make the writers’s unique hats in an old brick factory in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. I’ll be nominating this one for a Hugo. Highly Recommended. 

6. “Who Will Greet You At Home” by Lesly Nneka Arimah in The New Yorker.

I’ve always wanted to use the call-and-response as a device in a story but never had a plot that lent itself to that. This story does. Arimah’s man-free story of  Nigerian women who literally choose the material they make their daughters from and have them blessed to life by their own mothers is wonderful, strange, horrifying and deeply insightful. I honestly did not like the violent ending she chose for the story but I understand why she ended it that way. A great story. Highly Recommended. 

7. “Last Wave” by Ivor Hartmann in Jalada’s Afrofutures.

Far future science fiction story in which a historian from a galaxy-conquering technological species finds and listens to an ancient recording from the last human who happened to be African. It is thematically similar to another story I really enjoyed this year, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s “Children of Dagon” and I think its interesting to read the two as companion pieces. The way Hartmann reveals how mankind was wiped out and who replaced us as well as the origins of the historian himself are done expertly and engagingly. The writing is clear and unaffected and the idea is big and relevant. This is the kind of classic science fiction I really enjoy and it was my favorite of the issue. I’ll be nominating this one for a Hugo. Highly Recommended. 

8. “The Closest Thing To Animals” by Sofia Samatar in Fireside fiction

It was very difficult to pick my favorite Sofia Samatar story of 2015. “Those“, “Tender“, and “The Closest Thing To Animals” are all great stories and in some ways, quite similar but the last is the one I enjoyed the most. The story is science fiction about artists, disease, quarantine, depression and an anxious Sudanese expatriate who feels that she is constantly abandoned. Its difficult to describe Samatar’s stories because they are always so layered and metaphorical. This one is no exception. Samatar is one of the few authors who write in this way whose work I really and consistently enjoy. The characters are strong and memorable, the story is enjoyably strange and the themes explored are very modern. Highly Recommended. 

9. “Devils Village” by Dayo Ntwari in Roses For Betty and Other Stories (also in Munyori Literary Journal)

Set in a near-future Northern Nigeria in the grip of insurgency, a female mercenary equipped with high-tech exosuit armor finds that things are not what they seem. Propaganda, Commercial warcraft, Islamic fundamentalism, The fog of war, all these things come to play in this fast-paced, confidently-written African military science fiction story. Recommended. 

10. “Discovering Time Travel” by Suleiman Agbonkhianmen Buhari in Jalada’s Afrofutures.

This story is memorable primarily for its style. It has a brief opening, and brief closing, both just long enough to establish a narrator and a scene and in the end, provide closure. The bulk of it is told entirely in dialogue between two people which works unexpectedly well. Time travel stories are notoriously wonky things but this one manages to be engaging and interesting throughout. Recommended.

***

A few things to note about this list:

  • I’ve not included any of my own stories. Obviously. I think that would be unbearably silly and the worst kind of ego masturbation imaginable.
  • This is a personal list, I do not claim these to be the ‘best-of-the-year’, these are simply my personal favorites based on my own tastes and what I’d recommend to anyone shopping for AfroSFF to read.
  • As mentioned, there is more to come in 2015 so I’ll update this post as the release dates come around and I sink my eye-teeth into the stories.
  • I’ve read a lot of AfroSFF this year but I doubt I’ve read everything so please, if there is an AfroSFF story published in 2015 which you thought was spectacular and you don’t see on this list, let me know in the comments. If its something I haven’t read, I will hunt it down and may update the list depending on how much it moves me.

So that’s it for now. I hope to read more stories and possibly expand this list to 20 by the end of Q1 2016 once I catch up with most of what is released in the year.

 

Image via Paul Lewin

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