Well, 2017 just sprinted by didn’t it?
The first Nommo Awards for African speculative fiction were held at the Ake festival which was a big moment. And there continued to be a lot of great speculative fiction by African authors published around the world.
I was so busy with work all through last year that I barely managed to write anything new, although I did manage to sell/publish a few stories, get some of my work translated and sign a contract for my first fiction collection (more on this in another post). Hopefully that will get rectified this year with a bit more writing on my part.
Still, I did manage to get some reading done, especially with short fiction which I read consistently even though I didn’t manage to read as much as I’d have liked to.
So, as has become usual, here are the African speculative fiction short stories (<7500 words) from 2017 which I read and enjoyed the most, in no particular order.
1. “Read Before Use” by Chinelo Onwualu (Nigeria), Uncanny
In this story, set in the post-apocalyptic future of a well-realized sci-fantasy world, Alia, a immigrant professor living in the classist and xenophobic Satellite City, is trying to revive the city’s failing perpetual power source by searching for its long lost instruction manual (called The Mechanicron). Her noble objective however, soon becomes pressured by the politics of the city and the scheming of others, leading to an unfortunate but inevitable conclusion. This is a brilliant story about class structure and intolerance and the outsiders who try to overcome such illogical things with knowledge, skill, talent or value but often find that they are unable to overcome broken systems. This is a great story and Onwualu’s writing is deft, her characterization is solid and the whole story comes together excellently (unsurprising, she is an excellent editor as well). This one will surely be on my nominations radar. Highly recommended.
2. “Oshun Inc.” by Jordan Ifueko (Nigeria/USA), Strange Horizons
In this humorous and clever modern fantasy, our protagonist Yemi is an Iyami Aje – a minor love goddess – serving the Orisha of rivers, fertility and love, Oshun. Yemi answers the romantic prayers of Orisha worshipers and believers in the diaspora, in the Los Angeles office, which handles Americans of Nigerian descent. In this story, she gets a case which leads her in a few unexpected directions and reveals something to her about the nature of love, desire, attraction and the cleverness of goddesses. I really, really enjoyed the fun tone, the complications in the plot and how it resolves as well as the rich characterization in this story. Its take on the Yoruba Orisha Pantheon as a modern business with agents and offices and branches is similar to something which I also explored in my own “I, Shigidi” a while ago (even if with a very different tone) so I was already predisposed to enjoy this story and thankfully, it did not disappoint. Highly Recommended.
3. “Diaspora Electronica” by Blaize Kaye (South Africa), Migrations: New Short Fiction From Africa
Blaize Kaye, whose work I consistently enjoy, takes the theme of migration and transplants it from the typical presentation of migration as being between places to one of migration between states of being. This is a clever and thought-provoking story where people chose to upload themselves into a digital existence in an attempt to solve the problem of human overpopulation. It is moving and witty and is my favorite of all the stories I read in the Migrations anthology so far (with Stacy Hardy’s excellently written weird fantasy story “Involution” coming a close second, primarily because “Diaspora Electronica’s” Sci-Fi elements are more in my wheelhouse). This one is Highly Recommended.
4. “We Are Born” by Dare Segun Falowo (Nigeria), The Magazine OF Fantasy and Science Fiction
It appears there were a lot of African fantasy stories published in great venues this year that dealt specifically with spirits taking human form and entering the world to find family, and the conflict they come to feel, torn between worlds. And while I somewhat enjoyed “River Boy” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo in Fireside and “The Woman With a Thousand Stars in Her Hair” by Ayodele Olofintuade in Anathema, my personal favorite these types of stories was “We Are Born” by Dare Segun Falowo. In this tale of creation and rebirth set in a realm called Ala, a woman who has had three miscarriages molds a child for herself from clay. The child comes alive when it is filled with the spirit of an abiku in literal a stroke of lightning. The story then follows this mute, clay child as the child engages with the world, his new family and eventually is reborn one final time in a sequence that is one of the most excellent bits of writing I read all year. This story channels all of Dare’s capacity of picturesque, insightful and poetic prose and it is delivered in a unique voice that elicits a strong emotional response. While the protagonist is a bit passive in the story, I still think its core themes of gender, identity, embodiment, motherhood and love all come together in a way that works beautifully. Recommended.
5. “When You Find Such A Thing” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (Nigeria), Podcastle
In this fascinating story, Oduwa, a young Nigerian wizard, meets his girlfriend’s parents for the first time and during the visit, discovers things about his girlfriend and her family that force him to examine himself, his motivations and his actions deeply. Suyi Davies Okungbowa had several stories published in 2017 and I’ve enjoyed reading all of his work but while “Can Anything Good Come” has great style and voice, and “Our Secrets In Keys” has evocative, beautiful writing and a great theme, this story, When You Find Such A Thing combines the strengths of both stories to produce an excellent fiction cocktail with an uneasy but excellent ending that works brilliantly in revealing the conflict experienced by those who feel they have to hide parts of themselves from those they love. Highly Recommended.
6. “Underworld 101” by Mame Bougouma Diene (Senegal/France/USA), Omenana
A very unsettling, very meta story. In Underworld 101, the future world is overpopulated and humanity is engaged in a massive, labor-intensive construction project to create a living space Underground, to which half of humanity will apparently be relocated in order to relieve the pressure at surface. The story follows a main character whose name is the same as the author’s, Mame Bougouma Diene as he apparently goes through college, learning more and more about his world, learning about the underground project, interacting with his friends, brother, girlfriend and is structured in four parts: Freshman year, Sophomore year, Junior year and College Graduation. I use the word ‘apparently’ twice in describing the setup because as the story and the school years progress both Mame (the character and perhaps the author?) and the reader slowly come to learn that the world is not what it seems. Reality is unreliable, unstable, and that even what seems like progress could just be an illusion, and in the end there may be no choice but to accept the illusion in order to avoid the hard and bitter truth. This is not the most fun story in the world is but it is a brilliantly constructed, incredibly paranoid story with great, patient world-building and a fascinating end that stayed with me long after I finished reading it. Recommended.
7. “On The Other Side of the Sea” by Nerine Dorman (South Africa), Omenana
This wrenching story of sisters travelling west across a war-torn, somewhat post-apocalyptic South Africa, to the sea where they hope to meet their dead mother’s relatives and go to a better, safer place is likely to bring a tear or two to your eye. The sisters carry their mother’s ashes with them as they flee across the land, those ashes seemingly working as both a physical presence and a symbol of the burden of memories, fears, stories and hope she gave them. Along the way they encounter people and make choices that lead the story right up to its harrowing end which I wont spoil here. The entire story is told from the younger sisters point of view which is innocent and confused and vulnerable and gives the story much of its emotional weight. This is a great story that reads to me like Dorman took the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, harvested its most damaged and beautiful organs and transplanted them to a post-apocalyptic South Africa in order to give life to this heartbreaking story. Highly Recommended.
8. “Cordyceps” by Alvin Kathembe (Kenya), Omenana
This is a neat little sci-fi horror-thriller, in which a Korean mycologist returns from the Congo and checks into his hotel with a deadly infection that may just be the first part of a deliberate and terrible contagion, designed by something beyond mankind but in response to us. The story is competently but not spectacularly written, however its really the idea and story structure that sell the whole thing for me. There is an excellently executed, escalating sense of dread and realization and the story is creepy in all the right ways while keeping the action focused on people and their interactions to keep the reader invested in what is happening. Recommended.
9. “The Name Giver” by Lillian Akampurira Aujo (Uganda), Omenana
This is a surreal story full of Christian imagery about the misplaced soul of a child that was never really born which finds itself existing as a sort of breeze, sustaining itself on music and prayers and trying to figure out the in-between world it finds itself in with other souls like it, as well as the real world. It investigates its own origins as well as the other souls, names them, studies their hurt and pain. Like I mentioned, surreal. But beyond the surreal, its a very touching story that deals with a difficult subject in what comes across as a very curious, very honest way. This, combined with the beautiful, flowing and confident prose kept me fully engaged with the story and I haven’t forgotten it since I first read it. Recommended.
10. “The Old Man with The Third Hand” by Kofi Nyameye (Ghana) in The Manchester Review
The only original story in the special African speculative fiction edition of the Manchester Review is a really good one that defies classification or easy interpretation. The story follows a young girl who becomes friends with an old man who has a hand growing out of his back. He sits by the beach all day and claims to come from the depths of the ocean, to be familiar with Cthulhu (from the famous pantheon of Lovecraftian cosmic entities). The story takes a twist about halfway through which casts doubts about what is truly happening and the reliability of our narrator. This doubt only increases as the tension continues to escalate right up until the end. The story is written in clear prose that reads beautifully and lends the story a wonderful, dreamy tone. I really enjoyed the twist and the ambiguous nature of the ending. Recommended.
Those were my favorites.
What were yours?
If you’re looking for more African Speculative Fiction Stories from 2017 check THIS.