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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.