SF in SA (25): Academia and the Advance of African SF (August 2015)

African SF used to be pretty thin on the ground, although this may be partly down to narrow Western definitions of what exactly SF is – whether it was referring to science fiction or to the broader, more encompassing label of speculative fiction. Certainly, as Nnedi Okorafor (2014) put it in one of her online essays: “African science fiction is still alien.”

Dr. Okorafor’s (2014) essay mentions two important considerations: 1. Africans are (generally) absent from the creative process of global imagining that advances technology through stories. 2. Africans are not yet capitalizing on this literary tool, which is practically made to redress political and social issues. Or as editor Ivor Hartmann phrases it in AfroSF (2012), the first SF anthology by African writers: “If you can’t see and relay an understandable vision of the future, your future will be co-opted by someone else’s vision, one that will not necessarily have your best interests at heart. Thus, Science Fiction by African writers is of paramount importance in the development and future of our continent (p.7: emphasis mine).”

However, when academia starts to collate and analyse it, there is a feeling that a ‘movement’ is perhaps starting to make ground. Such a collation took place with the 25th volume publication of the journal Paradoxa, which focused on African SF (2013). The journal, edited by Mark Bould, starts with a historical overview of the origins and current emergence of African SF – although – given that Africa is indeed a lot more than a country – it may well be that there will be multiple and differing representations of such a huge, geographically rooted form of this genre. The introduction from Paradoxa has been generously made available online and is well worth a read. However, for those unwilling or unable to wade through the online introduction to Africa SF, I will give a summary of contents as – more or less and with paraphrasing apologies – represented by the editor.

Paradoxa 25 covers a sweeping range of topics addressing both stories and issues from authors within Africa and across the Diaspora. Initially, Mark Bould analyses North African texts, such as Mohammed Dib’s Who Remembers the Sea; Sony Labou Tansi’s Life and a Half and Ahmed Towfik’s Utopia, within colonial, neo and post-colonial discourses. (Cheryl Morgan has an interview with Ahmed Towfik on The World SF Blog.)

Lisa Yaszek then “rethinks” portrayals of the apocalypse arguing that in some short African SF stories, the ‘apocalypse is re-contextualised, rewritten – and refused’ (p.12). Melissa Kurtz analyses Lauren Beukes’ first two books, arguing for the enduring legacy of apartheid, transmuted into futuristic cyberpunk representations of capitalism. Marleen Barr situates Zoo City within systems of power and difference – and then focuses on species connections, represented by a common ancestor and the novel’s animal “familiars.”

Noah Tsika reassesses the first Nollywood SF movie, Kajola, with other movies such as Pumzi and District 9 pointing to the gradual emergence of an African SF cinema.

The second half of the book focuses on Afro-Diasporic authors, including an interview with Minister Faust, looking at variations of Afrofuturism. Andrea Hairston is also interviewed and emphasises a wider (and indigenised) conceptualisation of science, including Afrofuturism, as needed to reboot the world from a cataclysmic post-European colonial patriarchy. Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death is examined by Lisa Dowdall as a brave critical feminist dystopia, looking for new and better ways of being. Ian McDonald’s African-set Chaga saga is evaluated by Neil Easterbrook, focusing on postcolonial themes. De Witt Douglas Kilgore assesses the first black superhero in mainstream comics – T’Challa/Black Panther from Marvel’s Fantastic Four 52 (1966). Three major Afrofuturists are then focused on: Sun Ra, Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson. Nick Mamatas and Andrew Butler overview recent work by Samuel Delany. Finally, Nisi Shawl reviews AfroSF and Zahrah Nesbit-Ahmed (aka Bookshy) reviews Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls (2013).

Paradoxa represents (perhaps) the start of a considerable emerging academic coverage of African SF, which in itself appears to be gathering significant momentum. Mark Bould (2015) has updated this overview with a blog posting ‘African Science Fiction 101’ (link below)

2015 has thus already seen Jalada’s online African speculative fiction anthology Afrofutures launched on January 14th. The anthology has a prelude piece from Binyavanga Wainana as a lead in, written late last year. Linked in to Jalada’s anthology is a podcast panel debate on Afrofuturism between Nnedi Okorafor and Sofia Samatar et al at the University of Texas, recorded during their Symposium for African Writers in December last year (2014).

With AfroSF (Vol 2) due to build on the successful launch of AfroSF by publishing African writers’ speculative fiction novellas, as well as Short Story Day Africa’s Terra Incognita anthology – featuring nineteen new African spec-fic stories and headed up by Diane Awerbuck – – African speculative fiction in 2015 is now gaining some serious momentum. Other recent notable books is a collection of short stories by Dilman Dila A Killing in the Sun, Deji Olokotun’s Nigerians in Space and Tendai Huchu’s The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician. (Incidentally, the March-April 2015 issue of Interzone will also feature Tendai’s story The Worshipful Company of Milliners.). Also due out this year is Tade Thompson’s. ’Making Wolf’ and Afro Cyberpunk’s Jonathan Dotse continues to drive forward Accra 2057.

Add to this heady mix ongoing work by a number of other established writers including Sarah Lotz, Nisi Shawl, Karen Lord and Sofia Samatar, as well as the launch of this magazine (Omenana) in December 2014 – and the future of African SF looks both bright and imminent.

In fact, I’d say African SF is already here – and is getting ready to take over the world!

Originally published in Omenana (March 2015)

References and Links:

Africa is a Country: http://africasacountry.com/

Arigbabu, A. (Ed, 2013) Lagos_2060 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lagos_2060-Ayodele-Arigbabu/dp/9789344112

Bould, Mark (Ed, 2013) Africa SF. Paradoxa. http://paradoxa.com/volumes/25

Bould, Mark (2015) African Science Fiction 101. http://markbould.com/2015/02/05/african-science-fiction-101/ (accessed 16/02/15).

Brittle Paper (2015) New African Fantasy Series, starting with Eugene Odogwu’sIn the Shadow of Iyanibi’: http://bookslive.co.za/blog/2015/01/27/brittle-paper-announces-a-new-african-fantasy-series-read-part-1-and-2-of-eugene-odogwus-in-the-shadow-of-iyanibi/

Campbell, B. & Hall, E.A. (2013) Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond. Rosarium Publishing.

Chimurenga 12/13 (2008): Dr Satan’s Echo Chamber http://www.chimurenga.co.za/product/chimurenga-1213-dr-satans-echo-chamber

Hartmann, I. (2012) Afro SF: Science Fiction by African Writers. A Story Time Publication. (AfroSF Vol. 2 due out circa July 2015).

Langer, J. (2011) Postcolonialism and Science Fiction. Palgrave MacMillan.

New African Voices (2015) http://www.ttbook.org/book/african-genre-fiction (Featured include Nnedi Okorafor, Sofia Samatar, Lauren Beukes, Ella Allfrey et al.)

Nine Worlds Con (2015) https://nineworlds.co.uk/

Omelsky, M. (2013a) ‘African science fiction makes a comeback: A review of Afro SF’ http://brittlepaper.com/2013/06/african-science-fiction-comeback-review-afrosf-matt-omelsky/

(A particularly interesting analysis of Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu’sMasquerade Stories.’)

Omelsky, M. (2013b) ‘Chronicling the African Metropolis: Q & A with ‘Jungle Jim’, South African genre magazine’. http://brittlepaper.com/2013/10/chronicling-african-metropolis-qa-jungle-jim-south-african-pulp-fiction-zine/

Omelsky, M. (2014) “After the End Times: PostCrisis African Science Fiction.” The Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, v.1 (March), pp. 33-49.

Ryman, G (2014): https://www.facebook.com/geoff.ryman.1/posts/10204705052524860 (Online and smartphone discussion groups of ‘African Fantasy’.)

Shawl, N. & Campbell, B. (July, 2015) Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany. Rosarium Publishing. http://file770.com/?p=20642

Wood, N. (2014a) Friday Five: Beyond ‘Broken Monsters’ and ‘The Three’: 25 South African SF & F Books. Pornokitschhttp://www.pornokitsch.com/2014/02/friday-five-beyond-broken-monsters-south-african-sff.html

Wood, N (2014b) SF in SA (23) African SF Rec List from Nine Worlds http://nickwood.frogwrite.co.nz/?p=1093 (An already out of date list of African SF generated after August 2014 ‘Nine Worlds Con’; – panel on African SF)