In AfroSF, Ivor W. Hartmann has collected a worlds-spanning anthology. This historic volume is the first science fiction anthology focused on work produced by African authors. The works included range from Firefly-esque space operas to horror to cyber noir to more conventional far future explorations of the nature of humanity. Most thrillingly, the collection features a well-balanced symphony of new and established authors, all exploring SF/F tropes in challenging and nuanced ways. Each of the stories included is an example of smart, genre-bending fiction invested in exploring multiple dimensions of oppression and colonization.
Several of the stories included explore ancestry and futurity. Nnedi Okorafor's "Moom" is a beautiful reflection on rebirth and protection set in the waters of Nigeria. In this story exploring indigenity and the natural world, a swordfish defends her territory and kin from natural disaster, and also makes first contact with an alien life form. In Nick Woods's "Azania," a generation ship's design includes a benevolent mother goddess of a ship's computer who "wear[s] the face of Wangari Maathai" (p. 80), the Kenyan environmental and political activist and the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This African-crewed exploration mission finds its members facing a crucial decision: to disembark on a planet whose flora may have already contaminated their senses, or to remain in the dubious safety of quarantine. The crew bravely leaves the ship. This story in particular challenges conventional notions of ancestry as the narrator reflects on her mentor, "the great Kenyan psychiatrist who revised Fanon" (p. 91); her grandfather, who helped design the Eco-car that redefined the South African Federation's "lion economy" (ibid); and "the biological seeds from Earth, including a frozen egg from [the narrator's] very own daughter" (p. 96). In many stories featuring African characters, ancestor worship is often treated as something divorced from the technological and as a marker of the character's connection to a distant past. In contrast, this Afrofuturistic tale draws explicit connections between technological and cultural evolution in Africa and Africa's potential future. This plays with the idea of both genealogy and the idea of ancestor worship, as Aneni, the narrator, looks towards a world where she will be both mother and grandmother to Earth's descendants on this planet.
Other stories play with the idea of political and social legitimacy. Sarah Lotz's "Home Affairs" explores definitions of corruption and broken systems as the narrator encounters the broken machinery hidden beneath government buildings containing an intractable robotic bureaucracy. In this wryly humorous story, Pendi loses (then recovers) her identity due to a programming glitch in the rigidly logical decision tree the automated Konabots use to address citizens' concerns. Building on this theme, Efe Okogu's novella "Proposition 23" draws a connection between citizenship and personhood, describing a world where three-quarters of the population are considered expendable, and where the word "person" has gradually faded from use. Only "citizens" remain. In this novella, citizenship depends on technological and social access, and is always, always conditional.
The stories I found most interesting explored the impact of oppression, militarization, and corporatization on the individual and the home. Both Clifton Gachagua's "To Gaze at the Sun" and Dave-Brendon Burgh's "Angel Song" are surprisingly poignant reflections on post-traumatic stress disorder, the military-industrial complex, and survivor guilt. "To Gaze at the Sun" is especially interesting because of its discussion of post-traumatic stress disorder's impact on the family as a whole. In this world, families save for years to afford an "installation"—an artificially created son, delivered at the age of 17, ready to be prized, fêted, and praised before getting drafted into the war. The ones who die will be regenerated. Their memories are erased, but key aspects of training remain; they are, at heart, still soldiers. They are sleepless, perfectly courteous, eager to please. However, Atemi and Murungu's son Stanis remembers the desert, the dryness of his skin. He sleeps, and wakes up tired. He thinks about flowers. He is also too intimately mortal; Atemi finds thinking of him as a "boy experiencing metabolism . . . a system of flesh and blood and nerve endings made her nauseous" (p. 340). He is somehow off, something less than the perfect soldier and the perfect son. This story is well worth rereading; its discussion of family dynamics in the wake of a veteran's return home (Atemi's grief, Stanis's ambivalence about the desert, the sudden painful awareness of a young man's frailty) resonate powerfully in a historical moment where war is increasingly corporatized, and where the lines between the home front and the battlefield have been blurred.
The stories in this anthology are powerful and sometimes cynical. They are also incredibly timely. It's important to situate this publication as part of an intense discussion on the African continent as a whole, and of the role of technology in fomenting revolution, solidifying the gaps between rich and poor, and creating an environment where "forever wars" are an ongoing economic and psychic drain. The stories in this anthology reflect these ongoing political and social tensions, challenging the reader to resituate herself globally and politically as an ambivalent participant in these same global trends. Some of these stories were uncomfortable to read, in the way the best science fiction should be.
Maria Velazquez is a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests include constructions of race, class, gender, and sexuality in contemporary media, as well as community-building through technology. She serves on the board of Lifting Voices, a District of Columbia-based nonprofit that helps young people in DC discover the power of creative writing, and blogs for The Hathor Legacy, a feminist pop culture blog. She recently received the Winnemore Dissertation Fellowship from the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities.
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