Well, that was quick. 2021 is almost at an end. Time doesn’t just fly, it does so at a steadily increasing relative velocity. It wasn’t a super productive year for me, but it was full of great opportunities and it was busier than last year when I published a grand total of 0 stories. This year, I published 2 new stories and I’m working on a lot of stuff for next year and beyond 2022.
If you’re catching up on work for awards, or just looking for cool stories to read I’ve created this post for you. Just for you. It has links to the stories I published this year, some extra (relevant) information about them and what they are (probably) eligible for, if you’re so inclined. Here you go.
A roadside mechanic in Lagos walks into a researcher’s office one day and volunteers to undergo an experimental procedure that will increase the conductivity of his skin several orders of magnitude. As the researcher prepares him for the procedure, she becomes emotionally involved with him and learns the tragic reason why he chose to undergo such a process.
Genre indicators: Science fiction, africanfuturism, social sci-fi, political fiction
A man’s brother leaves comments on a shared online document for patent application as he reviews it, and he becomes increasingly alarmed at what the document proposes – a new consciousness-recording technology with a personal loss as its root.
2020 started out dangerously for me. A volcano erupted near Manila just as I was flying into the city to transit back to Kuala Lumpur and we all watched with concern as the pilot had to dodge the dust and volcanic ash cloud to get us into the city. Exciting. Or not. We were the last flight to land before the airport was shut down for 3 days for safety so we were stuck there. It was a mess. One could say it was an omen of what was to come because what followed that in quick succession within the first few weeks of the year was political turmoil, an oil price crash, and then the pandemic and all that followed it.
What a difference a year makes.
Despite all that though, some good things did happen and I look forward to 2021 with cautious optimism that things will get better by the end of it.
Although I didn’t have any new stories published in 2020 (I was just far too busy with personal life and work and research and other things) I did sow the seeds of things that could/should pay off in the future, especially for my writing. I signed with the excellent Van Aggellen African Literary Agency and edited a book I’m quite proud of – Africanfuturism: An Anthology with the good folks at Brittlepaper and it includes stories by some excellent authors: Nnedi Okorafor, TL Huchu, Dilman Dila, Rafeeat Aliyu, Tlotlo Tsamaase, Mame Bougouma Diene, Mazi Nwonwu, and Derek Lubangakene. Its gotten (two!) great reviews from Locus and I personally think it contains some of the best African SF stories of the year. I suppose that makes me eligible for best editor (Short Form) for the Hugo awards and stuff so that’s nice. It is available for free download and you can also read the individual stories online.
Africanfuturism: An Anthology is just one of several places to find excellent African SFF in 2020. There was a lot to choose from. If you want a working list of (almost) everything that came out last year, check out THIS link. (I’d also like to encourage you to please fill this form with any works that might have been missed out, it is growing increasingly difficult to keep up with everything published – which is a good problem to have – but with constraints on my time tightening, its also a problem that’s getting worse). This gives us all plenty of material to be considered for this year’s Nommo awards. Especially in the short fiction category which I have repeated multiple times is the category I enjoy writing, reading and keeping up with most because I basically grew up on SF short fiction – Asimov’s Hugo winners collections and Dozois’s Years Best SF kept me tethered to the field even when I went through the valley of the shadow of my SF reading-death. So as it is now a tradition of sorts, I’d like to highlight the African speculative fiction short stories I read and enjoyed most from the wildly disruptive year gone by.
[Before we begin, as always, a few notes: these are my personal favorites or those that left a lasting impression on me based on my own tastes. They are largely stories I’d personally recommend. Also, while I’ve read a lot of the African SFF short work put out this year, I’m sure I haven’t read everything. I am also really restricting myself to just 10 in this list, as difficult as that is, unlike in previous years where I would use ties to sneak more works in by pairing them with others that are thematically similar. And finally, I usually don’t include my own stories published that year for obvious bias and while Africanfuturism: An Anthology easily contains many of my favorite stories of the year, given how involved I was in shaping those stories, I have decided not to include any of them on this list. So without further ado, here are my 10 favorite African speculative fiction short stories of 2020, in no particular order.]
I’ve read and loved Pemi’s writing for almost a decade and she’s only getting better. If you’ve never read her work before, she is consistently brilliant at crafting unsettling, weird and very Nigerian stories. I call them Nigerian Gothic. In this particular story, 3 men have new sons of their own but these births don’t bring them joy, only… wrongness. Slowly, their stories converge on each other and on an incident from the past. This is a perfectly constructed story designed by a master craftswoman. Definitely one of my favorite stories of the year, much like her previous story “Manifest“, which if you haven’t read, you really should. (I still think it was a crime that it didn’t make the 2019 Nommo Awards shortlist). Highly Recommended.
This story opens with a shocking suicide and then, through alternating perspectives and the plot device of a mystic potion, constructs a fascinating portrait of sibling love, grief, acceptance, and second chances. I particularly enjoyed the way this story plays with the concept of time and uses it to get at the heart of a family tragedy. Its written with consideration and compassion and is very effecting. Recommended.
Set in a future where Africa was never colonized, an agent for the United African government with latent magical powers is asked to investigate border incursions that have been happening lately. She finds that the incursions are immigrants from the Americas being brought in by a woman with powers of her own, using them to transport refugees across the oceans in a sort of rocket bubble. The two women engage and in so doing, learn about and change each other fundamentally. Tiah has a gift for writing strange and believable romances and this is no exception, Its a standout story in a great issue of Omenana with many good stories that just missed this list and I highly recommend it.
4. “The ThoughtBox” by Tlotlo Tsamaase (Botswana), Clarkesworld Magazine
The story of a woman in an abusive relationship whose boyfriend brings home a device that records and displays their thoughts to one another supposedly to help them communicate better, but of course all is not as it seems. Tlotlo was very prolific in 2020 with stories that seem to share themes. Young female protagonists struggling with identity, sex, relationships and corporate careers in various nightmare scenarios. I like The River of Night, and I edited Behind Our Irises which is wonderful but not in consideration for this list, so I will happily recommend this story which I really enjoyed and which may be the best example of balancing all the recurring themes so that they converge into a truly fascinating, creepy story with a great twist at the end. Recommended.
A beautiful of friendship and love about a boy who is an amusu and can transform into a finch. When he meets another amusu boy that can transform into a rat, they become friends, as the title suggests, and more. But that leads to suppression of both their abilities and their relationship from their school, community and family for different reasons, but with the same somewhat sad result. Still the story is hopeful and moving. Recommended.
A bizarre story about a woman who died but was kept in cryo-stasis by her father and is revived later using nanotechnology to physically repair her brain and body but not the information that was contained in it – her memories. So she goes on an odyssey of sorts, to try to remember who she is, meeting a changed world, strange characters, conflicted family members, cults, and other ‘Revivers’. Its a thoughtful story with lots of consideration given to what memory is and how it is processed and viewed. An opening reminiscent of The Matrix definitely doesn’t hurt. I enjoyed reading it. Recommended.
This is a story about stories, a story about stories and robots. In it, the protagonist spends one entire night telling classic fairy tales to a robot she has made in the hopes of giving it a kind of personality and in so doing, we learn a few things about the narrator, how she sees herself compared to how the world sees her but also she realizes in each story a metaphor for aspects of robots themselves and the importance of compassion which relates back to the narrators own experience. Samatar has a great grasp of story mechanics and fairy tales and it is all on display here. The story is comprehensive and thoughtful and almost academic and very, very engaging and clever. Highly Recommended.
This story is set in a sort-of future version of our world where something unexplained has happened and Africa is the only continent left, with all the people of the diaspora magically returned. Also, magic has returned and people have powers. It follows two ex-scammer sisters who now run a hotel, the guests the magical guests they receive and their niece who is coming into her own. It is short but has wonderful worldbuilding which uses many elements of Nigerian folklore and culture in a believable yet fantastical setting which I really enjoy. The prose is authentic and crisp and the story itself is just fun to read. Recommended.
9. “Esmerelda” by Natasha Omokhodion-Banda (Zambia), Doek! 4: Worlds Beyond This One
A humorous tale about a well-to-do Zambian family that purchases a domestic robot to help the lady of the house and the various responses to it. We change points of view – from the robot itself, to the madam of the house herself, to her domestic helper Ba Mutale, constantly getting shifting information and feelings about the role of technology in their lives. Interestingly, its never told from the POV of the man of the house who makes the purchase and in the end, the upgrade that throws things into even more turmoil. In turns funny and revealing, I quite liked this story. Besides, it made me laugh. Recommended.
This is a brilliantly weird Novelette that merges elements of Yoruba mythology with a kind of cosmic horror sensibility to create something unique, all written in exquisite prose. It follows two children who come to strange town of exiles fleeing war, where they are struck by lightning and see visions before one of them is abducted by strange creatures in ships of bone and the other is taken on a journey by the Orisha to try to save her. That summary barely does the story justice. Strange but full of wonderful elements, its a definite standout. I don’t know if it was Dare’s intent but I interpreted the story as a nightmare-metaphor for the lived experience of the transatlantic slave trade and on that level, in my head anyway, every part of the story works spectacularly. Highly Recommended.
Another year, another crop of excellent African speculative fiction with so many writers exploring, commenting on, reflecting and experimenting with our existence in strange, interesting and wonderful ways through fiction. You can read Geoff Ryman’s broad summary of the year in African SFF over at Locus magazine at THIS link. And if you want a working list of (almost) everything that came out last year, check out THIS link. (I’d also like to encourage you to please fill the form with any works that might have been missed out, it is growing increasingly difficult to keep up with everything published but that’s a ‘problem’ I’m grateful for). All this activity (and an expanded nomination window) means there is plenty of material to be considered for this year’s Nommo awards. Which is excellent. (A list of my own 2019 work for your consideration can be found HERE if you feel like checking that out)
As I’ve probably brought up several hundred times, I am a huge fan of short fiction and I read (and write) far more short fiction than I do longer work. I didn’t write much last year but I did try to keep up with my reading so, as has become usual, I’d like to highlight the African speculative fiction short stories I read and enjoyed most from the year, mostly to thank the authors for producing work that I personally appreciated and to fuel discussion and analysis of African speculative fiction stories in general.
[Before we begin, a few notes: these are simply my personal favorites or those that left a lasting impression on me based on my own tastes. They are largely stories I’d personally recommend. My tastes lean toward stories that have a scientific core, experimental structure, beautiful prose, philosophical underpinnings and wildly inventive ideas among other things. Also, while I’ve read a lot of the short work put out this year, I doubt I’ve read everything. And finally, I am working with the ASFS definition of Short Story, which includes stories of up to 17500 words (these may be classed as novelettes in other some other categorizations)
So without further ado, here are my 10 favorite African speculative fiction short stories of 2019, in no particular order.
1. “Corialis” by T. L. (Zimbabwe/UK), Fiyah Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction
Corialis is a hard-SF story that follows Thandeka, one of a group of pioneers trying to establish colony on a moon orbiting a gas giant in a distant solar system teeming with a mass of unicellular life forms that may or may not be intelligent. The settlers have sterilized their own internal biomes in order to better adapt to their new home but things are not going very well and its up to Thandeka to use her knowledge and call upon her Ubuntu heritage to find a way for humans to truly settle this new world. The story beautifully and carefully examines the scientific, philosophical and ethical issues of planetary colonization from a uniquely African viewpoint, with truly fleshed-out characters and Tendai’s usual tight and eloquent prose. It just hits all the right notes. Highly Recommended.
These two stories are somewhat thematically similar in that they feature protagonists that reluctantly embark on journeys and end up paying a heavy price. That’s where the similarities end though, and so while I’m cheating and putting them together so I don’t have to choose between them, I like them both equally even though I like them for different reasons. Principles of Balance, is fantasy adventure, and follows Nbelenyin, an “inbetweener” (physically and spiritually) who exchanges messages between the living and the dead, and supposed to stay out of the affairs of both in order to maintain balance. Lured into taking an assignment beyond the usual, Nbelenyin gets pulled more and more out of “balance”. The story is fast-paced, the character voice is a blend of generalized wise-cracking Hollywood hero and African urban street hustler. More Sea Than Tar, is cli-fi set in a post-climate-dystopia Nigeria where cities are flooded and polluted and the survivors, like our protagonist, Uti, and his family, are trying to come to terms with their new, damaged world. When Uti’s father head out in their canoe to seek out adventure and an alternate source of livelihood, violence ensues. This story is more of a slow build, with exploration of each member of the family’s mental states as well as, well-realized, lovely and terrible imagery of what a climate dystopia could look like in sub-Saharan Africa. In both stories though, when the resolution comes, it is unflinching. Both Recommended.
Set on Uloh-la, a planet that has been colonized by humans who have brought their own gods (Cities, Homes, and Ships) with them, gods who have subjugated the native gods (Sky, Land, and Ocean), this story follows Coasts, a daughter of Ocean who is pretending to be her mother in order to buy time for her mother to gather enough strength to take on the colonizer gods. She needs to maintain the ruse because the colonizer gods organize annual summits to ensure that the conquered gods account for their actions and help the humans settle and if they displease the colonizer gods, they are destroyed, spending two decades reforming themselves only to reappear, weakened. However, Coasts has fallen in love with the daughter of the colonizer gods, Obsequies, setting up a Romeo/Juliet-type situation where the lovers exist in an unbalanced power dynamic and the trust Coasts has put in her lover could lead to dire consequences. The story wears its commentary on race, assimilation and colonialism on its sleeve but the relationships are handled skillfully and the tension is held superbly right until the very end. The story, in its way is hopeful and shows how something cooperative could be formed by the new deities, the children of the old native and colonizer gods. This is a clever blend of science fiction and fantasy that I found completely engrossing. Recommended.
In this science fiction story, set in 2043, Cape Town has become extremely stratified by class, with the rich living atop table mountain and the “99%” living around and serving them. We follow Nonhle, an old woman, constantly in pain due to a chronic disease and living with her adopted daughter, Gill, whose family she used to be a maid to before the father fled to the table top. On the verge of giving it all up, she finds new strength and new ways to work with what her has: her people, her stories, her daughter, to find reasons not to give up and to use her pain to try to change the world around her. This is a clever and thought-provoking story about some difficult but important topics, just the kind of thing that Nick has made a name for himself in addressing. Recommended.
Ada Nnadi delivers a highly enjoyable and relatable superhero drama in this Omenana story (Oh look, I have a story in the issue as well) where superpowers are thrust upon people whether they like it, are prepared for it, can handle it, or not. It is primarily set in a kind of school-cum-therapy-center in Nigeria for such “gifted” youngsters in the vein of Xavier’s school from the X-men comics or the Edgeview school from David Lubar’s Hidden Talents. While the core idea and setting of the story are very familiar, what it lacks in originality of its central conceit, it more than makes up for in execution and heart. The protagonist is a young Nigerian girl with invisibility powers and who likes to stay out of sight who makes friends with a winged girl, whose powers developed very publicly and who is always trying to pluck the wings off. There’s a lot of trauma both girls (and everyone in the story) needs to work through, helping and sometimes hurting each other along the way and the story quite nicely puts it all on display with solid character work, a great sense of place and voice and overall, a caring core that I really enjoyed reading. Recommended.
6. Into Darkness” by Anike Kirsten (South Africa), Nature: Futures
This one is a bullet. Short, sharp, and liable to leave your mind blown. In it, young researcher Siya ventures into a stable, micro black hole, near Victoria falls in Zimbabwe while her long-time friend and co-researcher Busi stays outside to take readings and measure what happens. Only, once she’s in this place where physical laws find themselves stretched to breaking point, she finds something (or should I say, someone) unexpected, and realizes that an incident from long ago may have left her in a hellish loop with no future. Although the setup of the story is sparse (As expected for a flash fiction piece), it works perfectly, using the concept of time in a way I found highly entertaining and clever even after reading it multiple times. Recommended.
7. “Manifest” by Pemi Aguda (Nigeria), Granta and “Sunset Blues” by Wanini Kimemiah (Kenya), Jalada 08: Bodies
Another pair of somewhat thematically similar stories tie on my list despite the fact that I like them for completely different reasons. In this case, the connective tissue is that they both feature protagonists who undergo significant change, a complete change of who and what they are, to become something new, something altogether different. In particular, for both stories, the protagonists seems inevitably drawn to the change.
Pemi’s story brings to bear her great talent for crafting unsettling stories, stories that are definitively weird and numinous. I’m tempted to use (introduce?) the term Nigerian Gothic, to describe the bulk of her work (of which this is exemplary) but I may be overstepping my own knowledge of literary modes and sub-genres. In this story of identity, morality, familial inheritance, reincarnation and possession, Pemi is firing on all cylinders: from her use of the second person narrative (an effective way of inserting the reader into the characters sense of being externally influenced), to its casual escalation of violence, its religious overtones, its distinct Nigerianness and its almost ambiguous delivery (is it truly some sort of spiritual possession or is our main character having a mental breakdown? I think you could theoretically read it both ways). Definitely one of my favorite stories of the year. Highly Recommended.
Wanini’s story in the excellent Jalada 08: Bodies Anthology on the other hand, is perhaps less refined, but perhaps more intriguing in concept and so works for me as a great companion piece to Manifest. The main character in this science fiction drama set (presumably) in a future Kenya chooses to install an experimental body modification that allows one to morph into a plant and experience sensory input the way plants do, an experience she finds herself constantly drawn to. I found the idea here endlessly fascinating, the descriptions of the transformation to be lush, and the characters yearning for the alternate way of being especially palpable. Recommended.
I’ve liked the particularly bold core conceit (Lets steal a star!) of this classic science fiction story ever since I saw an early incarnation of it back in 2014 and I’m especially pleased to see this final version of it in Asimovs (and nominated as a reader favorite no less!) after helping edit its earliest forms and providing feedback on its various iterations through the years. In this, its final, published iteration, a team on a desperate mission to save humanity in a distant solar system, need to steal a star but make a profound discovery and are forced to make a difficult choice. This has all the elements I enjoy, a good scientific core (although it gets somewhat hand-wavy on some of its concepts), a true sense of exploratory wonder and discovery, philosophical and ethical dilemmas, interesting character drama and an inevitable, unflinching ending that feels like a kick to the liver. Highly Recommended.
Nikhil Singh’s writing is, shall I say, hallucinogenic. And in crafting a tribute story to Harlan Ellison, he’s directed all that hallucinogenic, transgressive energy into a dangerous vision of a sort-of afterlife in story of Cordwainer Bird, an ectoplasmic being that hops around time in a ship called Cloud 9 stealing artists from their time and bringing them to the late Devonian while evading, and broadcasting messages (warnings?) about, the creatures (Eye-ders and Mansects) that really control all of existence. OK, its not quite as trippy as that description would have you believe (or is it?). Without spoiling anything, it reads like The Matrix by way of Terry Gilliam, and all the references to Ellison’s work (From I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream to the chosen name of the main character) serve to indicate that all may not be as it seems in this wildly inventive, reverential and highly enjoyable story with a clever ending. Recommended.
This story has stayed with me since I first read it. In it, the arrival of an alien, crystalline lifeform blooming over the Earth forces humanity to abandon planet and send out a wide variety of generation starships, hoping some will succeed in seeding human life and civilization on another world. They are closely monitored by a cadre of council members called Stewards scattered about the Solar System, and who are given life and death power over all the crews to ensure they fulfill their charters and follow the laws. We follow two characters, Mafokeng (a steward of South African descent) and Rory, one of the crew of the Lions Mane, a ship accused of cannibalism – a crime which the stewards council must evaluate and judge them. But there is more going on than initially indicated. I love the double POV here, the slow unraveling of the complex truth, the elements of detective story as the stewards examine the evidence, the description of ritual, the anthropological eye it turns toward the possible cultural evolution of morality and culture on a generation ship as it tends away from Earth. All of it is excellent and thought provoking. Recommended.
So… those were my favorites (and likely nominees for the Nommos).
What were yours? Any great African SFF stories you’d recommend?
Ah, 2019, you are almost gone from us. Only 1 month to go.
I’ve spent much of this year writing technical reports, documents and research or case study papers so unfortunately, haven’t done that fiction writing.
Here’s the (new) stuff I wrote (some of it from a while ago) that got published in 2019:
“When We Dream We Are Our God” – A short story about fathers, sons, AI, posthumanism, the singularity as well as the shared history and imaginary destiny of humans and computing systems. It appeared in English for the first time in Apex Magazine, May 2019 (it was originally published in the 10 Investigations: All Borders Are Temporary anthology in Norwegian as “Når Vi Drømmer, Er Vi Selv Gud”). It has gotten good feedback,and, positivereviews. This is the story I am most proud of from this years output as it covers an idea that has been interesting to me for a long time.
“Abeokuta52” – Formatted as a a Nairaland post from the future about the impact of an alien craft crash landing in Abeokuta, this story is mostly me experimenting a bit with form. Something I really enjoy. Hint: You should definitely read the comments section. It appeared in Omenana Issue 14, October 2019 which is an excellent issue with some great stories in it. You should definitely check it out. You can find a review here.
“Debut” – which essentially paints a portrait of artificial intelligence as a young artist, was published in Overseas Magazine, March 2019 and I think its a fun story if you enjoy ruminations of the nature of AI and our relationships to it (this is becoming a bit of a thing for me isn’t it?)
“Tends To Zero” – This is the story of a man, his grief and the city of Lagos made flesh. I like to think its very weird and very lyrical and in many ways reflects my feelings about Lagos, it appears in the Nowhereville: Weird Is Other People anthology which received a starred review from Publishers weekly.
If you enjoyed more than one of my short stories, and you’re thinking of nominating any of them for any of the upcoming awards or anything, When We Dream We Are Our God is the one I am most keen on.
“Polaris”– Exiled from Earth for a crime of passion, a young man must learn to survive a barely habitable prison planet and come to peace with his past. It appears in my collection “Incomplete Solutions” and is one of my personal favorites.
Speaking of my collection, I got to attend and meet so many excellent writers, readers and generally awesome people at this years Ake book and arts festival where “Incomplete Solutions” which came out in June this year (and was noted in both in the Strange Horizons and Locus Magazine year in review and recieve) was one of the festival books on sale (you may have noticed, both the novella and novelette are from this collection) Some of them even let me deface their copies of my book with a hideous signature and barely legible writing. To those who elected that path, I salute you (and thank you, so much, I really hope you enjoy the book). If you read and liked it, do drop a rating/review on goodreads.
Hopefully, as the years comes to a close I’ll be able to finish the story I’ve been working on since last year… if only my schedule will allow. If only…
Speaking of time… I’m also reading as much AfricanSFF from this year that I can so my usual list of favorites is being updated. And updated. And updated…
My collection of stories ‘Incomplete Solutions’ is in pre-order now which means its an actual thing in the world which you can buy right now and read soon. It includes my longest story ever – a novella, brand new stories and some previously published stories. Its heavy on the science fiction, just the way I like it, but there’s some fantasy in there too. Just the way I like it.
Some really cool people (some of whom are favorites of mine) had really flattering things to say about it and I’m still amazed by their words.
‘Fierce and urgent – a remarkable new voice.’ Lauren Beukes
‘These are amazing narratives which show assiduous reflection on science, emotion, mysticism and philosophy. With such careful consideration, impeccable science and interesting characters, each story is prose that gently tickles the forebrain. Recommended.’ Tade Thompson
‘A wonderfully eclectic showpiece of hard science fiction and fascinating speculation. The stories in this collection will blow your mind.’ Tendai Huchu
‘Wole Talabi mixes literary skill with speculative SF abilities to make him one of the spearheads of the African revolution in speculative writing.’ Geoff Ryman
So yes, I’m excited. Can you tell? I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. And yes, I am already working on my next collection. I have a title ready and everything. It will be called…
I think 2016 has been another good year for African speculative fiction, exploring existence in strange, interesting and wonderful ways.
This year, the African speculative fiction society (ASFS) was launched, the Nommos award for speculative fiction was announced, Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria/USA) won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best Novella, Acan Innocent Immaculate (Uganda) won the Writivism Short Story Prize with a science-fantasy story, Lesly Nneka Arimah’s (Nigeria) spec-fic story was nominated for the Caine Prize, Walter Dinjos (Nigeria) won 2nd place in the L Rob Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, Unathi Magubeni and Andrew Miller’s (both of South Africa) novels which are both speculative works were nominated for the Etisalat prize for literature, Omenana is now in its 8th issue, AfroSFv2 (edited by Ivor Hartmann) and African Monsters (edited by Margret Helgadottir and Jo Thomas) both published December 2015 continued to make the rounds and gather good reviews, there are excellent new novels by Sofia Samatar (Somalia/USA), Tade Thompson (Nigeria/UK) and Nick Wood (South Africa), a new collection from Lauren Beukes (South Africa) as well as a slew of Africans featured in top genre magazines and anthologies from Clarkesworld, Strange horizons, Apex, Lightspeed… the list goes on and on. The year also saw the worldwide release of the Imagine Africa 500 anthology edited by Billy Kahora (Kenya) and Published by Shadreck Chikoti (Malawi).
All this activity means there is plenty of material to be considered for the inaugural Nommo awards next year. Which is excellent.
Personally, I am a huge fan of short fiction. I read far more short fiction than I do novels. I also write short fiction myself. And like I mentioned last year, I really like ‘Best-Of’ SF/F short story recommendations and lists. I’ve found some of my all time favorite stories on lists such as these.
So in view of all this activity, and in the interest of fueling discussion and analysis of African speculative fiction stories in general, here are my favorite African speculative fiction short stories of 2016, in no particular order.
“Ndakusawa” by Blaize Kaye (South Africa), Fantastic Stories of the Imagination
This amazingly crafted story of love, loss and parentingis a bullet to the heart. At less than a thousand words, it is the shortest story on this list but by far one of my favorites. This is a universal story of a small South African family – a man and his curious, brilliant daughter whose intelligence opens her up to opportunities that keeps putting distance between them physically but not emotionally. In the end, the physical distance becomes incredible, it may be her scientific brilliance that brings them together again. Highly recommended and will be in my nomination list for the Nommos, perhaps even the Hugo.
“Transit” by Derek Lubangakene (Uganda), Imagine Africa 500
One of my favorites in this anthology. Set in Kampala, 500 years in the future, this is an action-packed, fast-paced, and unapologetically pulpy high-concept thriller with a well-realized world painted in context. There are no infodumps or ‘as-you-know-bobs’ which some of the other stories suffer from but there is enough for the reader to figure out what is going on and enjoy the ride. In this world, all the men on the continent have been made impotent, and The Hegemony, run by women, controls everything. But when a man finds he has a son, he enlists the help of his mother who used to work for the Hegemony to get the child to a safe place. It features droids, photon guns, molecular displacement teleportation devices and much, much more. The story is so much fun with action on every page and also a lovely twist at the end. I also like that the world in the story isn’t described as a full-tilt dystopia and although there is a protagonist, no one is painted as outright good or evil. Recommended.
Walter Dinjos, second place winner of the Writers of the Future Contest, delivers this story of a twin seeking revenge against the man who has sacrificed his twin brother to the spirit of a river across which a bridge is being built by foreigners from England. Dinjos does a great job of building up suspense and highlighting how the people of the village are being betrayed by their own for the benefit of the foreigners, something that resonates with the colonial experience. Although the story is linear and the villain comes across as a bit of a caricature, the quality of the writing and the spiritual, emotional, horror, fantasy, colonialism and revenge elements make for a powerful story. Recommended.
One can always count on doctor of clinical psychology and professional writer Nick Wood to deliver a complex, socially conscious and intense story with powerful, disturbing imagery and still make it an exciting and fun read. In this story, the protagonist is a mixed-race (English father, Zulu Mother) Dream-Hunter with a complicated history, who works for the Justice department in the UK, using technology to enter people’s subconscious in order to find evidence that they committed (or did not commit) a crime. On this particular mission however when he enters the dreams of the brutal killer “Sledgehammer Jones”, who is accused of killing his wife, our protagonist comes face-to-face with aspects of himself.
In the twisted dreams of this man, his past, the very concepts of right and wrong, violence, vengeance, guilt and even justice are interrogated. It’s a brilliant story and immediately I read it in Omenana, I knew it would still be on my list of favorites by years end. Highly recommended and will probably be in my nomination list for the Nommos.
In this very metaphorical story, set in a future Botswana, extreme environmental damage has made it difficult to live in the real world and so most people put their bodies in a sort of stasis and upload themselves into a virtual existence called digiworld. This keeps their cost of existing down. In order to walk the actual Earth, one has to pay for everything… clean air, water, UV protection, everything.
The protagonist is a young woman who isn’t really loved by her family and can barely afford to live in digiworld, but is summoned out of digiworld and into the real world when her mother becomes ill. We follow her on this journey and her interactions with her family which are not quite as expected. The story is relentlessly sad and bleak but beautiful and full of wonderful imagery. It may not have a tight plot or a water-tight central conceit but as a metaphor for modern life, societal exploitation, family relations and the struggle of an individual to make one’s way in the world and find a place in family and society, it works brilliantly, mostly because the writing is so poetic and honest. Recommended.
After some sort of war 500 years in the future where the geo-engineers fail to save the world from devastating climate change, a soldier returns home to his wife. He is traumatized, she hides a secret and the earth is changing in terrible ways that affects their lives for the worse. The opening is gripping, the characterization is deft, and the themes – war, love, death, home, climate change, and infidelity – are explored through the interaction between the couple brilliantly. One of the things I loved most about this story was the use of an evolved language – part pidgin, part truncated words (for example the Oce is the Ocean and the Sah is the desert). Of course language in 500 years will be different from the way it is now and it’s done well, so the reader is never lost. The end is tragic but earned and every aspect of the story has an unfortunate beauty to it. Highly recommended.
“SunDown” by Acan Innocent Immaculate (Uganda), Munyori Literary Journal
SunDown is a fascinating bit of science-fantasy that tells the story of Red Sun, a young albino boy awaiting the death of the sun in Nakasongola, a remote region of Uganda. It takes place in the year 2050 and some of humanity has already fled the Earth which will surely die with the sun but only the ‘right’ kind of people, “geniuses with perfect genes” were allowed onto space ships to search for a new home. Red Sun, and the others left behind have features that apparently aren’t quite ‘right’. From here the story explores loss, science, religion, abandonment, mortality, and what it means to be human, through Red Sun’s memories and interactions with the others left behind. It’s a thoughtful story that thrives on mood and feeling (no reason is offered for why the sun is dying 5 billion years ahead of schedule or how Earth survived the evaporation of its oceans during the early red giant phase or why it collapses to a black hole when our sun doesn’t have nearly enough mass to ever become a black hole, etc, etc.) But who cares? Red Sun, Nyambura, Askari, The dwarf, these are all great characters, the writing is confident, beautiful, enjoyable and the subject resonates. In that way, it is a bit like Lesly Nneka Arimah’s “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky”. ‘SunDown’ won the 2016 Writivism Short Story Prize. Recommended.
“The Wild Dogs” by Mandisi Nkomo (South Africa), Lights Out: Resurrection
In this story, a Swedish woman leaves her country and family and volunteers to go to South Africa in order to help fight a strange new disease consuming Cape Town and turning its victims into something horrifying. She arrives and finds out that the place, the disease and the people, are not what she thought they’d be and is forced to come face to face with monstrous inhumanity and her own relationship to it as an outsider. I edited this original story for the collection “Lights Out: Resurrection” and I really enjoyed its pace and its themes on policing, politics, race, poverty, and healthcare. I know an editor is not supposed to have favorites but… forgive me. Of the original stories in the collection, I really, really liked this one most. Recommended.
“Rusties” by Nnedi Okorafor (Nigeria/USA) and Wanuri Kahiu (Kenya), Clarkesworld Magazine
Set in Nairobi after mechanical traffic robots called Rusties have been deployed, the story follows a woman who considers one Rusty in particular, her friend. This friendship, along with the actions of her cheating boyfriend, inadvertently triggers unrest when natural emergence of a kind of sentience among the networked robots, a solar flare and human mistrust of the intelligent machines collide. The story has a big concept, scope and world but a small, intimate focus, on the woman’s relationship with the Rusty. While this means the story has some slabs of infodumping to explain the situation, it also means that the story never gets boring or goes off on a tangent and we keep caring about the narrator through everything. To be honest even the infodumps are quite interesting. The subject of emergence intelligence/sentience is one I really enjoy and is the subject of a story I just finished writing as well so I loved reading this exploration of the concept by two of Africa’s finest creative minds. I think you will too. Recommended.
“Screamers” by Tochi Onyebuchi (Nigeria/USA) in Omenana Issue 8
I first read this story when the awesome editors at Omenana, by some fortunate accident, sent it to me instead of an edited version of my own story ‘The Last Lagosian’ which appeared in the same issue. I opened the file, realized it wasn’t my story but kept reading anyway. I literally read the whole story standing in the middle of my kitchen, staring at my phone, unable to stop. This is an incredible story that explores policing, family, anger, art, generational and societal injustice, migration, desensitization, frustration, terrorism and weaponized emotion.
I won’t even bother summarizing the plot because at its heart the story is not so much about the mechanics of what is happening, but about the way it makes the reader feel. I think the whole story is one big metaphor. The author even seems to allude to this with the story’s opening.
“When Dad talked about the Screamers, I thought maybe he could’ve been a writer. We were different like that. I was never too good at metaphor myself.”
Tochi, unlike his narrator, is very good at metaphor and as far as metaphors go, this is bullseye. I enjoyed this story and I highly recommend it.
So that’s it. What were your favorite African speculative stories of 2016?
Postscripts: Notes and Other Thoughts: –
Of course I didn’t include any of my own stories. That would have been silly. I did however write quite a lot of short fiction in 2016, you can find those HERE, if you like, and make up your own mind about them.
Needless to say (and yet, here it is, being said [written, but you get the point]), this is a personal list, and I certainly don’t think these are the definitive ‘best-of-the-year’ as some clickbaiters would have you believe. These are simply my personal favorites based on my own reading, tastes and what I’d recommend to anyone shopping for African spec fic from 2016 to read/consider.
I have a natural preference for science fiction over fantasy, horror or any of the other speculative sub-genres so this list is probably biased in that direction.
I’d love to see more East and North African SFF being published. I suspect there’s a hotbed of potential and talent in Kenya, Ethiopia, Algeria, Egypt, Somalia… and many others, that I just don’t get to see. Maybe I’m not yet clued in on the circles. Anyone with information and links to books and magazines from those regions in general, please let me know.
There are several stories published in 2016 that are on my radar and I suspect I will really like as well based on their descriptions. But just haven’t gotten a chance to read them yet. I’m sure I will, eventually. But if you can, check out:
UPDATE (20/12/2016): I have now read “The Apologists” by Tade Thompson and I loved it. While it doesn’t particularly focus on Africa or African characters, it has a brilliant premise and a great protagonist. I wrote a review HERE.
Near misses – stories that I have read and enjoyed and that could easily have been on the list as well if 10 wasn’t such a convenient number for such lists. Check them out too.
“Xaua-Khoe” by Catherine Shepherd, Imagine Africa 500
If there is an African spec story published in 2016 which you thought was spectacular and you don’t see on this list, then check this one. And if you still don’t see it there, then please let me know by filling this form or commenting below.