The Surprise Hotbed of Short Science Fiction
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Africa is giving old sci-fi a new twist.
African science fiction has arrived. In spurts. There are a handful of novels and a few films like Crumbs, Pumzi and District 9, from Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa, respectively, but the largely undiscovered bright spot is the short-story genre. African authors are creating their own breed of sci-fi, in which Africans are central, complex participants rather than occasional “gross caricatures,” says Ivor Hartmann, editor of AfroSF, the 2012 (and first-ever) anthology of science fiction by African writers.
Zimbabwean writer (and trained podiatrist) Tendai Huchu says that African science fiction is a way to explore possible futures, allowing writers to envision Africa in a way that isn’t “purely academic,” Hartmann says. And it adds to the wider discussion taking place at this year’s Future Fest in Lagos, Nigeria, and those that will follow across the continent in places like Johannesburg, South Africa, and Nairobi, Kenya. To be sure, African science fiction is still fighting an uphill battle, and finding publishers can be a challenge. But what’s out there is delicious. Here are four of our favorites.
The Rare Earth
by Biram Mboob
This dark tale, set in a very real, if not exact, place somewhere in Central-East Africa, is a thrilling African sci-fi take on the all-too-familiar warlord-turned-messiah trope with an ironic dash of Heart of Darkness–style pilgrimages. Author Mboob, who was born in Gambia and currently lives in the UK, spins a compelling story about spies, war and a future where antibiotic resistance is far too real.
The Zimbabwe-born Huchu is best known for his acclaimed debut novel, The Hairdresser of Harare. The Sale, a much shorter, complex story, was his first foray into sci-fi and is what he calls a “nod to Kafka.” He says he wanted to write something “wacky,” but what lives in his story is actually something quite dark. He plays heavily with the derogatory colonial stereotype of hypersexualized African men, imagining a Zimbabwean future gone wrong with 21st-century colonial overlords and hormone-delivering health drones.
by Sarah Lotz
What could be scarier than the DMV? Well, this. Lotz takes the mundane bureaucracy of government and reimagines what it could look like in an automated future world that is relatable yet somehow still distinctly South African. The story follows Pendi as she struggles to reclaim her lost identity — tied to a series of numbers — in what could very well be a commentary on the real South African Department of Home Affairs’ infamous reputation for failing to distribute identity papers. Lotz calls Cape Town, South Africa, home and is a pulp-fiction and thriller writer with a self-described “fondness for the macabre.”
Take the Nigerian oil industry and mix it with music-loving artificial intelligence and you get Spider the Artist. It’s one of award-winning Okorafor’s lesser-known pieces, but it addresses big-picture issues like corruption and poverty, told through an intimate story of an abused woman’s struggle to get by day-to-day. It’s a beautiful sci-fi tale of good and evil where right and wrong isn’t black-and-white. Okorafor, who was born in the US to Nigerian parents, “likes to shatter what’s comfortable” in terms of culture and tradition, says Onyi Umeh, creator of the African anime series Red Origins, on which Okorafor consults.
Science fiction by African writers is of “paramount importance to the development and future of our continent,” Hartmann says. If African writers don’t imagine their own future, he says, someone else will.