My Favorite African Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction of 2019

Afroscifi baby
Art By Ethiopian artist Fanuel Leul (@fanuel_leul)

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2019.

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 2016, in no particular order.

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1. “Corialis” by Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe/UK), Fiyah Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction

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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.

2. “Principles of Balance” by Ivana Akotowaa Ofori (Ghana), Jalada 07: After+Life and “More Sea Than Tar” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (Nigeria) in Reckoning 3

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.

3. “The Ocean That Fades Into Sky” by Kathleen Kayembe (Congo/USA), Lightspeed Magazine

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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.

 

4. A Million Reasons Why” by Nick Wood (Zambia/South Africa/UK), Learning Monkey and Crocodile

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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.

5. “Tiny Bravery” by Ada Nnadi (Nigeria), Omenana omenana-14-cover-edit

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 into darkness

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.

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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. 

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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.

8. “The Lights Go Out One By One by Kofi Nyameye (Ghana), Asimovs Science Fiction Magazine

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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.

9. The Re-evolution of Cloud 9” by Nikhil Singh (South Africa), The Unquiet Dreamer: A Tribute to Harlan Ellisonthe-unquiet-dreamer-a-tribute-to-harlan-ellison-hardcover-ed-by-preston-grassmann-[2]-4789-p

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.

10. “Between the Dark and the Dark” by Deji Bryce Olukotun (Nigeria/USA), Lightspeed Magazine

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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.

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So… those were my favorites (and likely nominees for the Nommos).

What were yours? Any great African SFF stories you’d recommend? 

In Writing (Or, What The Hell Did I Do In 2019 Anyway?)

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:

 

Short Stories: 

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, positive reviews. 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.

 

Novelettes: 

“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.

 

Novellas: 

“Incompleteness Theories” – An international team, led by a Nigerian physicist, try to invent teleportation technology with haunting, unforeseen results. This is the center-piece of my collection “Incomplete Solutions” and it focuses on the complexity of knowing what makes us human is the only Novella I’ve written so far. Its gotten good reviews so far, been nominated for the Subjective Chaos Kind Of Awards, been listed on the Nerds Of A Feather Recommended reading list and I hope anyone who reads it, enjoys it.

 

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Other things:

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 first book ‘Incomplete Solutions’ is now in pre-order

Front cover

Well this is fun.

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

You can get a copy here.

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…

 

My Favorite African Science Fiction and Fantasy (AfroSFF) Short Fiction of 2016

Masai Cyborg (Image Credit: Rodrigo Galdino – https://www.artstation.com/artist/rodrigogaldino)

 

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.

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  1. Ndakusawa” by Blaize Kaye (South Africa), Fantastic Stories of the Imagination 

This amazingly crafted story of love, loss and parenting is 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.

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I have to say, Blaize Kaye seems to be an expert at crafting short stories with a punch – you should also check out his “Revision Theory” in Nature, and “Return to the Source” in Zetetic.

 

  1. 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.

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  1. The Mama Mmiri” by Walter Dinjos (Nigeria), Beneath Ceaseless Skies 

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.

 

  1. Dream-Hunter” by Nick Wood (South Africa)Omenana Issue 6

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. 

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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.

 

  1. Virtual Snapshots” by Tlotlo Tsamaase (Botswana), Terraform 

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.

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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.

 

  1. One Wit’ This Place” by Muthi Nhlema (Malawi), Imagine Africa 500  

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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

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  1. 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.

Fun fact: This story is inspired by the real-life situation in Kinshasa where the government installed giant solar-powered robots designed by Thérèse Izay Kirongozi to control traffic and mitigate their poor urban planning.

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  1. 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.

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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.

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So that’s it. What were your favorite African speculative stories of 2016?

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Postscripts: Notes and Other Thoughts: –

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:
  • The Apologists” by Tade Thompson, Interzone (Science Fiction)
  • Omoshango” by Dayo Ntwari, Lightspeed: People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue(Science Fiction)
  • When The Trees Were Enchanted” by Masimba Musodza,Winter Tales (Fantasy)

And let me know?

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

That’s it for now.

Live long and prosper.