Nick Wood – December 2007/January 2008

What is change? This is one of the 'problem based learning' exercise questions we sometimes ask our new clinical psychology trainees to research and report on, with particular reference to clinical practice. It's a peculiarly science fictional theme too, where the notion of the 'future' as distinct from the present is speculated upon, very often with implications for the 'here and now.' It's a question I was asked recently, with reference to Cape Town – presumably because as I am no longer currently living here, it was perhaps assumed that I have an 'outsider's perspective' on the matter.

Yes, Cape Town has changed – but having visited often and being familiar with the 'nooks and crannies' of the place from decades of living here, perhaps less radically than it may have felt, had I been absent for a long time. Certainly it's a more African city and it's good to see previously segregated communities - especially the young - mix with a lot more freedom than they used to. Poverty is still here of course, as is crime, but that was also present in spades under the apartheid regime; just less apparently in previously 'whites only areas', which had been brutally 'protected' by an aggressive police force.

It's a lot more cosmopolitan than it used to be, with a huge variety of nationalities represented in the variety of art and food on display. There are many more languages I hear now too, and I have seen vibrancy and laughter in the interactions between people. I gather a sense of general optimism, although it may be more muted on the Cape Flats, where crime and the devastation of 'tik' (crystal methamphetamine) addiction grips harder. It remains to be seen how changes in the overarching political scheme - e.g. the leadership of the ANC - will impact further on Cape Town, as well as South Africa more broadly.

Still, I remain cautiously optimistic too, after all this country has positively survived. I remember sending a story many years ago to a prominent sf magazine - which was eventually published as 'African Shadows' in Scheherazade - and was told by one of the sub-editors at the time that it was "too mindlessly 'right on' about Africa, a place of perennial problems."

Sure, but I had thought science fiction was about future change too -'perennial' seemed a bit harsh and limiting, especially with what I had lived through and experienced as an African. (I also wondered whether the reviewer had much direct experience of Africa themselves on which to base their opinion, or whether it had been garnered from the 'received wisdom' of the Western media, much of which seems to foster a pervading sense of Afro-pessimism.)

My latest story 'Thirstlands' - which I aim to revise as 'Soutie' - struggles with this notion, i.e. some of the difficulties here, but also some of the joys and hopes too. I think it's a racist assumption to think Africa will remain a 'basket case' through all the changes that lie ahead - there may not be a full-flowering 'African renaissance' that Thabo Mbeki spoke about, but who really knows – just perhaps eventually there may be? There was a recent article in the New York Times about positive developments in Africa: And, after all, with change, who can predict with any certainty at all? ***

I have thoroughly enjoyed Carole McDonnell's 'Wind Follower' - a rich tapestry of a book. The social structures underpinning the novel have been described in loving detail and the characters are real, vivid and flawed, i.e. humans, struggling with their fellow humans, the spirits and God.

I have sold my story 'Mindreader' to 'Escape Velocity', which is due to appear in issue 2 around February 2008. 'Thirstlands', mentioned above, received an 'Honorable Mention' in the Writers of the Future Contest, 4th quarter, 2007. Both stories have reached the last 10 of their respective sections ('General Section - 'Mindreader' and 'South African Section - 'Thirstlands') in the 2007 Science Fiction South Africa Nova short story competition (winners due to be announced January 2008)

What does 2008 hold? Hopefully, it will be a good year for anyone reading this. Hopefully, there will also be more stories too. What's for certain is that it will be different from 2007 - after all, that's the nature of change.

Nick Wood - Dec 2007/Jan 2008