Part 2 – African SF?

My reading of South African SF through the 80's was shaped by the Science Fiction Club of South Africa's (SFSA) Probe magazine and their annual SF short story competition, with me being aware of little else of local note/publication. This may reflect my own blinkered reading, perhaps. A writer from the SFSA club of prominence at the time was WG Lipsett, who won the annual competition on a good many occasions with thoughtful stories, sometimes set in a (somewhat depoliticised) South African context. Significant Probe writers into the 90's were Arthur Goldstuck and Gerhard Hope, with emerging writers of note thereafter into the current century being Yvonne Walus and Liz Simmonds.

Black membership of SFSA was encouraged but not taken up in any numbers (Gail Brunnette, SFSA, pers.com.) My reading of fiction had taken in African writers around the colonial experience such as Chinua Achebe (http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/achebe.htm) and Ngugi wa Thiongo (http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ngugiw.htm). Black South African writers such as Can Themba (http://people.africadatabase.org/en/profile/16163.html) and Alex la Guma (http://www.sahistory.org.za/pages/people/laGuma,a.htm) had been largely banned until the demise of apartheid.

My awareness of South African writers who has published SF beyond the borders of SA is limited to Claude Nunes (1924 - ). He has had books published such as Inherit the Earth (1963); Recoil (1971, US) and The Sky Trapeze (1980, UK), focusing on the powers of the mind, both on Earth and in alien settings (Thanks to Clute and Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction for this information.)

Currently in the area of Crime/African fiction, Richard Kunzmann has written a thriller set mainly in Jo'burg, utilising aspects of African traditional beliefs, called 'Bloody Harvests' (MacMillan; 2004) Lavie Tidhar, a writer with both South African and Israeli connections, has written speculative works set within (and outside) South African themes (see Lavie's website at: http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~lavie/)

Jaroslav Olsa jr, a Czech diplomat in Zimbabwe, has written a number of articles on African SF and fantasy in the respective Encyclopedias, as well as in magazines such as Locus. Olsa noted in the SF Encyclopedia that the output appears to be limited, certainly in terms of 'hard' SF, with an exemplar being work such as 'Journey to Space' (1980 chap), by Nigerian author Flora Nwapa, focusing on a scientist who discovers antigravity. Brian Aldiss and Sam Lundwall edited a 'Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction' (1986) which included a short story by Victor Sabah (Ghana), entitled 'An Imaginary Journey to the Moon.'

I have recently come across West African writers Ben Okri (ex-Nigeria) and Kojo Laing (Ghana), who have written post-colonial works of what appears to be an African form of 'magical realism', in fictions such as Incidents at the Shrine (Okri, Vintage, 1986) and 'Vacancy for the post of Jesus Christ' (Laing, Heinemann, Contemporary African short stories, 1992).

Aldiss and Harry Harrison have pioneered a 'World SF' movement several decades ago, but the contribution of Africa appears limited so far. Lavie Tidhar has put together another attempt currently to globalise awareness of SF as a potential world fiction online, at: http://www.phpbbserver.com/phpbb/index.php?mforum=internationalsf

As this new millennium gathers pace, I hope that awareness of the diversity of speculative fiction will increase from seepage through countries and ethnicities so far sidelined by 'mainstream' SF. An interesting example - largely ethnic minority or indigenous writers from North America - is the collection of fiction known as 'So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy', ed Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004.

May I continue to dream of a world rich with stories from all its places, and - if anyone can - please help me with a way to find them; particularly from the African continent, where I was born and have lived for so many years, which still holds so much of me…

Nick Wood - September 2005