This is primarily a list of written fiction. Where relevant some comics or films are listed, but there is no pretence of this being a complete history of African comics and fantasy films. Given publishing difficulties, dates of writing are sometimes used in preference to date of publication. Authors are often listed only once, dated by their first or first significant SFF work, with later works listed in that entry. Given my own ignorance, it is basically a provisional timeline of Anglophone fiction. Speculative fiction is a loose category that includes most forms of fantasy or fiction in which reality differs from standard rationalist models. The term ‘traditional belief speculation’ includes stories retelling, inspired by or taking the flavour of traditional material, or which show traditional practices to be a working branch of science.
For another somewhat overlapping list of works, check out African Science Fiction 101 by Mark Bould. See also Nick Wood’s articles on South African science fiction. Read his 2009 history and a summary from 2012. See The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction for most science fiction enquiries. Finally, Wole Talabi is maintaining a database of SFF by Africans on the African Speculative Fiction Society Website. This is the most complete source of information on published African Speculative fiction in 2016 and 2017.
Before Africans started speculating in European forms there was a vast body of orature – informal tales, key cultural artefacts and epics rooted in the African languages. There are thousands of living languages on the continent, and each one comes with its own beliefs and tales. Dogon cosmology, Yoruba belief, Igbo belief, and traditions from the East African coast are only some of the frequently revisited sources of African speculative fiction, movies and comics. ‘Africans have always written science fiction,’ I have heard Africans say many times. (Almost as often as they used to say ‘Africans DON’T write science fiction’).
The logo for the Nommo Awards is based on Dogon cosmology as is the logo for the AfroSF series of anthologies. For an example of how vivid the SFF reception of Dogon cosmology is, visit this site.
Roots and intrusions – through the 1990s
Speculative elements were present from the very earliest adoption of European written forms.
1909 or 1910 Chaka/Shaka by Thomas Mofolo (Lesotho)
This Macbeth-like novel of bloodlust and magic undermining the moral authority of the great Zulu ruler Chaka was first written in the Sesotho language. Mofolo’s two previous novels Moeti oa Bochabela (1907) was a story of a young man’s conversion to Christianity but made use of traditional stories and verses. Pitseng (1910) is said to be a love story. Both were published by the Morija Mission. By the time when Chaka might have been published by them, Mofolo had left the Mission. The first Sesotho publication of Chaka was 1925. The first English translation appeared in 1931. Translated into English a second time by D P Kunene in 1981.
1913 A Romance of the Karoo by Joseph J Doke (South Africa)
This and its prequel The Queen of the Secret City (1916) are lost-race adventure novels in the general tradition of H Rider Haggard.
1919 Mhudi by Sol Plaatje (South Africa)
This is the writing date of what can be counted the first novel in English written by a black South African. The author described it as being in the tradition of the Zulu tales of H Rider Haggard. It was not published until 1930. Plaatje’s first language was Tswana, and he was known as a translator of Shakespeare into that language. A crowning achievement: he was the first General Secretary of the South African Native National Congress, a precursor of the ANC.
1924 ‘The Man who Banished Himself’ by Ferdinand Berthoud, in Weird Tales, January 1924
Berthoud is accepted as an African writer, though he was born in England, and travelled to South Africa to fight in the Boer War. He stayed for a time in South Africa before emigrating to the United States before 1918. From 1921 he started publishing in US pulp fiction magazines. Much of his fiction is set in Africa and now makes uncomfortable reading, since it predicts laws against miscegenation. Another notable publication was ‘Webbed Hands’, the lead story for Strange Tales, December 1931. Perhaps his greatest claim to fame is his family ties with the great Swiss watchmaker also called Ferdinand Berthoud. More information at this site.
1938 Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀ by D. O. Fagunwa
Sometimes credited as the first Yoruba-language novel, Fagunwa’s first work re-tells the adventures of Akara-ogun in the Forest, a realm of natural and supernatural dangers. Like the work of Amos Tutuola, it has its roots in Yoruba storytelling. This work was translated into English by none other than Professor Wole Soyinka, in 1968, as Forest of a Thousand Demons. Fagunwa died in 1963. His other work includes Igbo Olodumare (The Forest of God, 1949), Ireke Onibudo (1949), Irinkerindo ninu Igbo Elegbeje (Expedition to the Mount of Thought, 1954), and Adiitu Olodumare (1961).
1946 The Palm-Wine Drinkard and his Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Dead’s Town, by Amos Tutuola.
Written in 1946, this was first published in 1952 in London by Faber and Faber, who still administer the rights to publication. Translated into French by Raymond Queneau (Zazie dans le Metro) in 1953. The novel was written in a powerfully flavourful English that was at first criticized in Nigeria for pandering to stereotypes of the backward African. Since then Tutuola’s style has been recognized in Africa as the equivalent of Mark Twain or James Joyce. This influential book has never been out of print and has been adapted as an opera and as a comic book. Almost as well known are the subsequent My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1954). Tutuola’s last published works were Pauper, Brawler and Slanderer (1987) and The Village Witch Doctor and Other Stories (1990). He died in 1997. The Amos Tutuola Literary Society continues to discuss his and related works and their website has more information.
1954 The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
By the definitions of the African Speculative Fiction Society ‘Who is an African’, Tolkien would be accepted as an African. Tolkien left Africa when he was nearly four years old. Yet for me Lord of the Rings, and its recreation of several different oral literatures, has Africa in its bones. No other great novel in English takes linguistic diversity as its inspiration or so consistently explores the links between language, culture and character. Tolkien as a young child in Bloemfontein would have been surrounded by a maze of languages – Afrikaans, English, Sesotho, and Tswana. For me his sentimental depiction of the English as hobbits is the view of an outsider. His fascination with the epics and legends of Europe mirrors that of so many black Africans for their own folklore. African writers such as Alex Ikawah prefer The Silmarillion (1987) to The Lord of the Rings because of its resemblance to African orature. Tolkien’s sourcing of all things good in the Western lands makes me queasy. The way that race is validated as a source of individual character reminds me uncomfortably of other South African traditions. Finally Lord of The Rings is typical of so much South African writing now. This is due in part to his influence there, but it seems some white South African writers also prefer fantasies drawn from European traditions – goblins, princesses, kings and dragons – to traditions from Africa. Lord of The Rings: traditional belief speculation for white folks?
1956 Pitso ea liphoofolo tsa hae (“The Meeting of the Domestic Animals” by Libakeng Maile
A Southern-Sotho language adaptation of Animal Farm as ‘The Meeting of Domestic Animals’. Listed in The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction.
1961 Jagua Nana by Cyprian Ekwensi (Nigeria)
A realistic novel with a lively, scandalous prostitute as its main character. Ekwensi is listed by speculative writers like Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso as being a favourite when young. Ekwensi published his first novel in 1948. In 1954 his novel People of the City was published in London. Jagua Nana was followed in 1961 with Burning Grass and in 1962 with a reworking of An African Night’s Entertainment.
1961 Die groen planeet by Jan Rabie (South Africa)
Jan Rabie published in Afrikaans from the 1940s on. Most of his work is not in translation. Another one of his novels considered to be speculative and published in 1971 is Die Hemelblom (The Heaven Flower), a novel Nick Wood remembers being forced to read in high school. Along with Andre Brink, Rabie was listed as one of the Sestigers, a group of notable South African Afrikaans writers in the 1960s.
1962 ‘The Problem’ by Claude Nunes (with Rhoda Nunes) published in Science Fantasy no. 52 (South Africa)
Claude Nunes, sometimes collaborating with his wife, would continue to publish good standard SF stuff until 1980 with the novel The Sky Trapeze. His short story collection Inherit the Earth (1966) is still available from Amazon.co.uk.
The magazine of the South African Science Fiction association starts to publish discussion pieces and fiction. Many South African fiction writers, including Nick Wood, published there. Nick once asked them if they had any black members…the answer was no.
1968 Land without Thunder and Other Stories by Grace Ogot (Kenya)
The short stories collected in this single-author anthology sometimes have traditional spiritual or folkloric elements. Contemporary writers like Ray Mwihaki cite her as an influence.
1969 Tauraruwa mai wutsiya by Umaru A Dembo (Nigeria)
The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction lists this Hausa-language children’s book. ‘It tells of the travels in space of a small boy, and of his encounter with a friendly alien.’
1972 ‘An Imaginary Journey to the Moon’ by Victor Sabah (Ghana)
A story written by a Ghanaian schoolboy made the 1972 Best SF of the Year edited by Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss. Read the brief entry here.
1975(?) 1984 by Orwell adapted by Bala Abdullahi Funtua
Onitsha Market Literature from Nigeria in the 60s and 70s is frequently mentioned as a source of fantasy writing. Few of the younger SFF writers I have spoken to have read any of it. The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction lists this adaptation as an example.
1975 Mighty Man (South Africa)
This was Soweto’s answer to Superman, a black hero who lived in a largely segregated South African universe where the only white characters were doctors or some authority figures. Mighty Man was published into the 1980s, but a warehouse fire destroyed most of the back issues, which are now valuable. Author Nick Wood wrote this article about Mighty Man and African comics.
1976 The Adventures of the Kapapa by J. O. Eshwun (Ghana)
A novel about a scientist who discovers antigravity. Listed in The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction.
1979 Shikasta by Doris Lessing (Zimbabwe/UK)
The first of five linked ‘space fiction’ novels by the noted author of The Golden Notebook. Other works by Lessing such as The Four-Gated City (1969) and the post-apocalyptic Memoirs of a Survivor (1970) definitely had speculative elements. However, these five novels in the series, Canopus in Argos, are outright SF. In content they have acknowledged sources in the real world in, for example, the Scott Antarctic expedition or life in the Soviet Union. The other books in the series are The Marriages of Zones Three Four and Five (1980), The Sirian Experiments (1980), The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1982) and The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire (1983). Lessing was born in Iran but when six years old she moved to what is now Zimbabwe, where she was educated. She moved to London in 1949. In 1956 her left wing politics led to her being expelled from both the then Rhodesia and South Africa. In 2007 she won the Nobel Prize for literature.
1979 Conscience de tracteur by Sony Labou Tansi (Zaire)
This Congolese novel in French is set in what was then the near future – 1995 – in a fictitious country. Listed in The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction.
1979 House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera (Zimbabwe)
Marechera is the wild boy of East African fiction as influential for his outsider status as his books and poetry. He died of AIDS, penniless, on a park bench, disowned by the Mugabe regime. House of Hunger is the Guardian-Fiction-Prize winning book (a novella with related short stories) that made his name, a picture of growing up ‘starving’ in white-ruled Rhodesia. In 1980, Black Sun was less critically successful, but still breathless with seething prose. At times his work feels laced with fantasy elements that may only be metaphors or delusions. A huge influence on contemporary writers like Mehul Gohil. An appreciation in The Guardian makes interesting reading.
1980 Journey to Space by Flora Nwapa (Nigeria)
A novelette published as a chapbook, listed in The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction.
1980 Waiting for the Barbarians by J M Coetzee
The Good Reads discussion of this novel shows why some readers love and other readers feel queasy about J M Coetzee. This is undoubtedly a fantasy of some kind, set in a future in a made-up country, but the content is largely mundane and charged with political implications that continue to be relevant. An Administrator is put in charge of a border outpost that needs to keep down a neighbouring indigenous population. So just who are the barbarians? Like Doris Lessing’s SFF, Philip Glass composed an opera based on this novel. Also by Coetzee, The Life and Times of Michael K (1983) has speculative elements being set in an imaginary civil war in South Africa.
1985 SozaBoy a novel in Rotten English by Ken Saro-Wiwa (Nigeria)
A hilarious MASH-like novel about a war resembling the Biafran conflict, that is written in modified Pidgin. Speculative but only by the end, so SPOILER ALERT. In later chapters it is clear that the narrator was dragged behind a truck. There is no clue as to how he could have survived. Instead, he has returned to his old village. Why does everyone run when they see him, and close their doors? An old man explains that people don’t like talking to someone they think is dead. We see, but he does not, that he is in all likelihood dead. Heartbreaking and side-splitting in equal measures, the novel ends with the narrator’s moving soliloquy on the unfairness of young men dying in war. Saro-Wiwa also wrote the Mr B series for children, based on the character from the Nigerian TV series Basi and Company. These children’s books from the 1980s sometimes had magical or SF elements such as Mr B Goes to the Moon.
1985 The Bottled Leopard by Chukwuemeka Ike (Nigeria)
This is the date of the University of Ibadan edition – the novel may have been published earlier in other forms. It tells the story of a young boy at boarding school who finds he has an ancestral link to leopards – he can control them. This is another one of Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso’s favourites. Francis I Mogu in an essay writes “In The Bottled Leopard, Chukwuemeka Ike uses two children and two backgrounds to juxtapose two varying cultures. Ike explores the conflict, which results from the inability of the West to understand and come to terms with indigenous African culture.” Tolu Akinole saw the novel as a crucial example of African re-purposing of English to explore African traditional belief.
1989 The Flying Saucer by Dede Kamkondo (Malawi)
This children’s book is the only outright piece of SF by the Malawian author. A short piece about him and his work is available in 100 African Writers of SFF.
Mostly 1990s The West African Boom: Beyond ‘Magic Realism’—and local works
1986 Search Sweet Country by B Kojo Laing (Ghana)
The first of three novels that made B Kojo Laing one of the great figures of African fantastic fiction in the 1990s. Before this novel, B Kojo Laing was known primarily as a poet. A vast cast of often comic characters includes witches and a man who looks like a tortoise. Woman of the Aeroplanes followed in 1988. It drew on Laing’s experiences studying in Scotland to write about two fantastical cities, one the invisible Tukwan which sends a delegation of its immortal inhabitants to a Scottish town, Levensvale. Major Gentl and the Achimoto Wars (1992) is a phantasmagoria around a futuristic organic/environmental war – I am not too sure as I can’t get hold of the book. His last novel published after a gap of many years was 2006’s Big Bishop Roko and the Altar Gangsters. When Kojo Laing died in April of 2017, The Johannesburg Review of Books ran a mosaic of tributes from many people, discussing his impact and the qualities of his highly unusual, unclassifiable writing.
1990 The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar by Syl Cheney-Coker (Sierra Leone)
…is frequently described as magic realism. Cheney-Coker himself spoke about the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Africa Region) in 1991. Critic Brenda Cooper in her book Magical Realism in West African Fiction: Seeing with a Third Eye chose this work over those of B Kojo Laing and Ben Okri as an example of magic realism in an African context. Read a transcript of a talk by Syl Cheney-Coker at the University of Ohio.
1991 The Famished Road by Ben Okri
The most visible of the West African fabulists of the 1990s, Okri came to prominence with The Famished Road, which won the Booker Prize that year, making him the youngest winner until that date. Part of a trilogy with Songs of Enchantment (1993), and Infinite Riches (1998), it tells the story of Azaro (a name derived from Lazarus). Azaro is an abiku, a tradition in many traditional cultures. An abiku is a vexing spirit who plagues a family by being continually reborn as one of its children – and then dying, over and over, killing one child after another. Okri’s earlier collection of short stories Incidents at the Shrine (1986) contains some stories that could be considered speculative. He rejects the description of ‘magic realism’ but equally, in a short conversation with me, rejected the term ‘traditional belief realism’.
1992 The Heinemann Book of Contemporary African Short Stories edited by Chinua Achebe and C.L. Innes
This influential anthology shows how the African mainstream blurs into speculative fiction. The collection contains Lusophone fabulist Mia Couto’s ‘The Birds of God’, Saida Hagi-Dirie Herzi’s ‘Government by Magic Spell’, and Tijah M Sallah’s ‘Weaverdom’. Ben Okri is also represented, but with a multi-character mainstream story of Lagos life, ‘Converging City’. The anthology ends with Kojo Laing’s ‘Vacancy for the Post of Jesus Christ’, a rare short story from him that demonstrates his prose style and surrealistic content – in the opening paragraph a divine truck bearing golden wood descends from the heavens. The story was anthologized in Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer’s The Big Book of Science Fiction (2016).
1993 Osimbe by Kwadwo Abaidoo (Ghana)
This hard-to-find novel by a Ghanaian writer is outright science fiction, one of the earliest attempts to clear a pathway to an imagined African future. It was published during the mini-boom in West African speculative fiction that included Syl Cheney-Coker, Ben Okri, and B Kojo Laing. I am indebted to author Manu Herbstein for the following description from Reclaiming the Human Sciences and Humanities through African Perspectives, ed. Helen Lauer and Kofi Anyidoho. Osimbe takes us
…into the twenty-first century and to a united Africa strong enough to hold its own against a coalition of powerful industrial states. As the novel opens we are in the ninth decade of the twenty-first century…. It is a world of high-tech programming of almost every human endeavour, a world of sophisticated espionage, a world in which the better element of civilization has been reduced to easily disposable units. Here in this “brave new world” robots armed with deadly laser guns are ready for the job humans can no longer do, and the industrial conglomerates of the civilized world are on the mark/rampage.
1998 Magical Realism in West African Fiction: Seeing with the Third Eye by Brenda Cooper (South Africa)
An early and insightful scholarly monograph on the work of Ben Okri, Syl Cheney-Coker, and B. Kojo Laing by this South African scholar, then at the University of Cape Town. Still available as an e-book on Kindle.
Elsewhere in the 1990s
1993 A Referendum of the Forest Creatures by Steve Chimombo (Malawi)
This was the first instalment of the political allegory/fantasy that became The Epic of the Forest Creatures. The verse epic drew on Malawian forest folklore and was often read by children for fantasy delight. But it was also a pointed political satire that criticised the dictatorship of Hastings Banda. Chimombo credited it with keeping him out of jail – unlike many colleagues (including Jack Mapanje). Chimombo also wrote a series of children’s books retelling folk tales that have fantasy elements. For example his Operation Kalulu (1994) re-tells the stories based on the character of the trickster Hare. Chimombo died in December 2015. A short piece about him appeared in 100 African Writers of SFF with links to a Malawian obituary.
1990s The Comics of Papa Mfumu’eto (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Nancy Rose Hunt, in the recent comics issue of The Chronic, provides a fascinating article on this 1990’s phenomenon. Writing in Lingala, a vernacular spoken in Kinshasa, Mfumu’eto produced over 200 comics, in 115 different titles. Crudely drawn, printed in monochrome, sometimes black, sometimes blood red, they feature creatures like the water entity Mama Wati, or a crocodile with a human head. Rose Hunt: ‘Papa Mfumu’eto first rose to fame with his comic about a cannibalistic urban dandy. The big man transformed himself into a predatory boa….’ The snake man later ‘vomited up his meal of a woman as cash’.
As so often with comics, fantasy and politics mixed – the snake man was assumed by Papa’s readers to be a portrait of the head of state, Mobutu.
1994 Captain Nigeria, Skybond Comics (Nigeria)
From 1993, Marvel started to reprint its comics in black and white under licence in Nigeria. Skybond Comics in Ibajan followed in 1994. They published Captain Nigeria, a cyborg created to counter a robot called Sunrise who woke up after the Biafran War programmed to destroy Lagos. Skybond also published a title called Epic, with four different superhero characters including Green Eagle, a bit like the Falcon, and Justice who was a bit like The Punisher. Captain Ecomog was another 1990s comic that followed. Ibrahim Ganiyu tried about that time to create The Justice League of Nigeria. Information from Ibrahim Ganiyu in an interview in 2016.
1999 Dark Edge by Ibrahim Ganiyu (Nigeria)
This infrequently appearing comic book series written and illustrated by Ibrahim Ganiyu (called SirGAI by friends) debuted in 1999 while he was in university. Issues appeared irregularly from 1999 to 2012, selling for 20 naira each. In 2003 SirGAI created the character June XII named after the date he gained his superpowers. June 12 is a famous date in the political history of Nigeria – SirGAI’s comic is not to be confused by the influential graphic novel June 12: 1993 Annulment by Abraham Oshoko. June XII did not begin to appear regularly until 2010. This character was licenced to a new comics company, Vortex, in 2016.
These hard-hitting fictions are sometimes listed as speculative and are cited as major influences by contemporary SFF writers. See also the 1979 listing for Dambudzo Marechera.
2006 The Hidden Star by K Sello Duiker
This novel published posthumously, is the most speculative though least well known of K. Sello Duiker’s novels. A young girl finds a magic stone that grants wishes. The story includes figures from African folklore. In Duiker’s first novel Thirteen Cents (2000) superb prose relentlessly explores male-on-male sexual violence in Cape Town. It won the Commonwealth Fiction Prize for best first novel. In an interview with me, Unathi Magubeni talks about how Duiker inspired the prose style (but NOT the subject matter) for Magubeni’s Etisalat-prize-longlisted evocation of sangoma practices pre-colonialism, Nwelezelanga: The Star Child (2016). Duiker’s next novel The Quiet Violence of Dreams (2001) was actually written earlier. It is a 609-page exploration of the hero’s mental state, including his time as a male prostitute. It was awarded the Herman Charles Bosman Prize. Famously, Duiker killed himself a week after reading the eulogy at Phaswane Mpe’s funeral who also died from suicide.
2001 Welcome to Hillbrow by Phaswane Mpe
A borderline speculative novel in the hard-hitting mode. Two villagers’ lives are destroyed when they come to the poor section of Johannesburg. The ‘you’ addressed by the communal narrator is the dead hero. The storytelling draws on older African story telling traditions. Read an interesting self published review by the blogger Roughghosts. The Guardian published this moving obituary following the author’s death in 2004.
2010 The Book of the Dead by Kgebetli Moele
Speculative but not science fiction or fantasy, this impactful novel from South Africa introduces, about halfway through, HIV as a voiced character, at least in the main character’s mind. HIV is sinister, mocking, misogynistic – a serial killer. This book won The South African Literary Award. Moele’s previous novel, Room 207 was about the lives of hustlers who share the room in Johannesburg and won the Herman Brosnan prize. His next novel Untitled (2013) tackled misogyny head on in a realist mode.
Lift-off: Early 2000s
2003 ‘Branded’ by Lauren Beukes
A short story written for the creative writing MA with Andre Brink at the University of Cape Town. The story was finally published in December 2003 in SL magazine and is an early piece of outright futurism set in Johannesburg fuelled by the author’s experiences working in early viral marketing. What makes the story pivotal is not just that it imagines a new future in Africa. Beukes was being influenced by uses of technology that were distinctively African, including the use of SMS. Technology in Africa was already developing in slightly different directions when African SFF began to lift off. It also formed a chapter in Beukes’ first novel Moxyland (2008). Beukes’s next novel Zoo City (2010) established her as a major international writer, winning the Arthur C Clarke Award. Set in Johannesburg it features a psychic detective seeking out missing persons, and people who have animal familiars. Her subsequent novels include The Shining Girls (2013), Broken Monsters (2014), the graphic novel Survivor’s Club (2016) with Dale Halvorsen, and the collection of short fiction and essays Slipping (2016).
2003 The Kwani Trust is founded (Kenya)
There had long been a conversation about how Kenyan writers were to be published. When Binyavanga Wainaina won the 2002 Caine Prize, he contributed the prize money to the foundation of the Kwani Trust, with its journal/anthology series Kwani?. The journal and the trust have always been SFF friendly, publishing Mehul Gohil, Nikhil Singh, Jennifer Makumbi and many others whose work moves in and sometimes out of speculative fiction. Read the Kwani website’s own account of how it was founded.
2004 to 2009 A Fistful of Tales by Ayodele Argibabu (Nigeria)
This early single-author collection of tales, many of them with an SFF edge was published by Dada Books, a company founded by the author in 2009, though fiction in the book was being published from 2004. ‘Warp’ from 2004 is included in this special issue. Ayodele Arigbabu was at the forefront of the creation of the future through architecture, comics, computer animation, theatre and fiction in Nigeria all through the 2000s, culminating with the anthology Lagos 2060. A detailed interview with him in 100 African Writers of SFF gives a good idea of the long, long gestation of African science fiction.
2004 Souvenir by Jane Rosenthal (South Africa)
Thanks to Nick Wood for listing this climate change novel which features a tidal wave on the way to South Africa following the collapse of Antarctica.
2005 BEEF, editors Yegwa Ukpo and Adeniyi Adeniji (Nigeria)
Yegwa says: ‘The idea behind BEEF was to do an anthology series in the vein of 2000AD and Manga magazines like Shonen Jump etc. and I got a whole bunch of writers and artists together to work on it and printed a few teaser copies which we distributed at a few events.’ Both men went on to many other comic related projects. See Spaceboy Nigeria and Comic Bandit Press.
2005 Gem Squash Tokoloshe by Rachel Zadok (South Africa)
This novel was shortlisted for the Whitbread Book Awards First Novel award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and long-listed for the IMPAC Award. Set partly in 1985 when the heroine Faith is a little girl, terrified of the tokoloshe. Her father leaves them; the mother withdraws. In her 20s, Faith returns to the farm and finds that traditional African healing can help her overcome her past. That last element did not please The Guardian’s reviewer. In her second novel Sister Sister (2013), twin sisters are magically linked in an episodic narrative that looks at the dark side of South African life, from AIDS, to child murder. Set in a very slightly alternative South Africa, again where traditional beliefs have real power.
2005 The Icarus Girl, Helen Oyeyemi (UK/Nigeria)
A literary writer with fantastical elements, Helen Oyeyemi has had a high-profile career since beginning to publish at a very young age. The Icarus Girl (2005) revolves, as so much African fiction seems to, around twins or doppelgangers. A Nigerian/English girl goes to Nigeria for the first time and seems to be haunted by an imaginary friend. The Opposite House (2007) draws on Cuban mythology and has a portal that will take whoever goes through it from London to Lagos. White is for Witching (2010) won the Somerset Maugham Award of its year. It is a complex novel that is in part narrated by a house and it might be that there are vampires lurking. Mr Fox combines meta fiction with a reworking of the Bluebeard story – Mr St John Fox is confronted by his imaginary muse on why he kills so many of his heroines. Oyeyemi’s most accomplished novel might be Boy, Snow, Bird (2014), a retelling at many removes of Snow White – with our first narrator occupying the role of the Wicked Queen, who discovers that she’s married into a black family who is passing for white. Like A Igoni Barrett’s Black Ass, this a tale of trans-racialism articulates with a tale of transexuality. Oyeyemi’s collection of short stories straddles the balance between speculative and mainstream fiction. The short story ‘Presence’ from her collection What is Not Yours is Not Yours was shortlisted for the 2017 British Science Fiction Association Award. The collection as a whole won the PEN Open Book Award. As a rough measure of her impact, Goodreads has well over 1,000 reviews of Mr Fox.
2005 Les Saignantes dir. Jean-Pierre Bakolo (France/Cameroon)
Set in the future and often described as science fiction, this thriller sounds heavy on eroticism, violence, female revenge and political implications but a bit light on extrapolation or sense of wonder spectacle.
2005 Zarah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu (USA/Nigeria)
Though first published in America in 2005, this novel for young people won the 2008 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature, making Nnedi Okorafor, as she would come to be known, one of Africa’s leading literary figures. This is perhaps the most striking example of the openness of the African literary establishment to speculative fiction. Other winners of the Soyinka Prize include Sefi Atta, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Sfiso Mzobe, and Akin Bello. Nnedi Okorafor’s participation ratified many projects and helped African speculative fiction find its feet – African Roar, AfroSF, and Lagos 2060 among them. Her novel Who Fears Death (2010) won the 2011 World Fantasy Award. Her notable novels for adults include Lagoon (2014) and The Book of Phoenix (2015). In 2016 her novella ‘Binti’ won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in its category. She remains, probably, the flagship author for speculative fiction by Africans.
2006 Eternal Forever by John Rugoiyo Gichuki (Kenya)
This radio play was the winner of the 2006 BBC African Playwriting competition. Eternal, Forever, is set in the United States of Africa four hundred years from now, when the continent leads technological advances. Gichuki, a Kenyan, had earlier won the BBC’s African Performance playwriting competition in 2004 with A Time for Cleansing, a play about incest and refugees in Rwanda.
2006 Famine in Heaven by Odo Stephen (Nigeria)
A self-published 431-page Nigerian novel with travels to Venus, the Moon and then to Heaven itself. The male author is less interested in a sense of wonder than philosophical and theological debates on the necessity of a feminist utopia. The novel that convinced me that there must be, in the age of smart phones, an explosion of African SFF.
2006 URBO: the Adventures of Pax Afrika by Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz and others (South Africa)
So African had no science fiction, huh? How about 103, half-hour episodes of South-African-produced animated series, set in an African future with only one city left and a hero who can see the future in flashes? The series which featured comically imaginative villains, satirical ideas, and home truths, had a following among both kids and adults. The series is fugitive – Beukes has been unable to persuade the TV company to put even a single episode on YouTube. Lauren Beukes co-produced the series, and wrote it with a team of creatives who included the redoubtable Sarah Lotz.
2006 The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda (South Africa)
A local man uses a traditional horn to call whales, and falls in love with one. A high living local drunk woman loves him, and comes between him and the whale. The two unforgettable main characters make for a powerful love story. The traditional magic seems real and the sense of lost traditions and connections gives the novel a sense of irreparable loss. In 2016, the South African movie version was released but seems not to have made it to the West. Mda’s earlier The Heart of Redness (2000) dealt with an Xhosa prophetess whose magic failed to drive out the English 150 years ago. The Sculptors of Mpungubwe (2013) is a story of love and artists in a pre-colonialist civilization that draws on research and overlaps with traditional-belief speculation.
2006 Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Kenya)
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Wole Soyinka may well be thought of as Africa’s greatest living writers.
The Wizard of the Crow is wa Thiongo’s last published novel. In a conversation with this author he wholeheartedly concurred that it was a fantasy. It also won a Finnish award for best science fiction novel in its year. Set in contemporary mythical African Republic controlled by the Ruler since independence. The Ruler wants to build a new tower of Babel, since English is the new lingua franca. He doesn’t reckon with the Wizard of the Crow, an academic who started out as a hoax wizard – but whose magic is beginning to be true.
Shadreck Chikoti was also influenced by wa Thiong’o’s Matagiri (1986) a novel about a Mau-Mau freedom fighter returning to a corrupt, neo-colonialist Kenya. The main character is a hybrid between Jesus Christ and figures from East African folklore. Wa Thiong’o’s most influential book may be Decolonizing the Mind. At the time it was regarded as a passionate argument for writing in indigenous African languages. Now, it is also a key text in the de-colonialist movement. It is no accident that Jalada (see below) chose one of his stories as the central text of their Language Project. Visit Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s website.
2007 Chimurenga Issue 9, Conversations in Luanda and Other Graphic Stories (South Africa)
About the closest this graphic issue of this South African journal gets to generic SFF is an early piece written and illustrated Nikhul Singh, ‘God is Dead So Smile’, showing a future religious rally lead by a three-lensed rather binocular-looking speaker. Mostly the issue is political or social criticism laced with some surrealism or fantasy. ‘Visioncarnation’ by Indian artist Orijit Sen features an odd take on Hindu funeral practices. The star names include Jean-Michel Basquiat, a two page spread excerpted from his longer piece ‘Pegasus’.
2007 Panoramic Entertainment (Nigeria)
Panaramic Entertainment, Ltd., commonly referred to as Panaramic, is a Nigerian comic book publisher. The company was founded in 2007 by Tunji Anjorin, Rotimi Anjorin, and HRH Oriteme Banigo to develop, produce, and distribute comic books for the Nigerian reading public and to export these comics as local content to international markets. Adeniyi Adeniji, who founded Comic Bandit Press, started work there, writing Okiojo’s Chronicles, a historical/educational comic series about the life and influences of several notable Nigerian figures from Nigerian history.
2008 Chimurenga 12/13, Dr Satan’s Echo Chamber (South Africa)
A double issue around black technology and Afrofuturism. Two stories from it, Doreen Baingana’s ‘Eden Burning’ and Peter Kalu’s ‘Doppelganger’, feature in this issue. The issue also features an excerpt from The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu. The more science fictional content includes an excerpt from JG Ballard, a contribution from Portuguese author Joao Barreiros and designs for impossible space ships by artist and ‘speculative engineer’ Abu Bakarr Mansaray. Its best known piece of fiction might be the entirely mainstream ‘Stickfighting Days’ by Olufemi Terry, which won the Caine Prize two years later, and an early story by Teju Cole ‘The Snake and the Bee’ about friendship among diaporans in Paris. ‘Dr Satan’s Echo Chamber’, an influential article about Dub by Louis Chude-Sokel was later published as a chapbook. ‘The Last Angel of History’, the outline for the film on Afrofuturism by the artist John Akomfrah. For Ntone Edjabe the film noticeably leaves unmentioned African writers. Though lacking somewhat in recognizable SFF, the Chimurenga issue embodies an absence, an ache, a yearning for visions of African technology and traditional sciences. If in 2008 there wasn’t much outright SFF in Africa to publish —there soon would be.
An interview with Chimurenga founder and chief spirit Ntone Edjabe appeared in 100 African Writers of SFF.
2008 ‘Poison’ by Henrietta Rose Innes (South Africa)
This outright SF story about a giant cloud of poisonous gas emptying Cape Town won the 2008 Caine Prize. In 2016, Lesley Nneka Arimah’s ‘What Does it Mean When a Man Falls from the Sky?’ and Abdul Adan’s ‘The Lifebloom Gift’ were nominated for the Caine. In 2017, Chikodili Emelumadu’s ‘Bush Baby’ from the anthology African Monsters, and another story by Arimah were nominated. The 2016 longlist for the Eitisalat Prize included Dub Steps by Andrew Miller and Nwelezlanga The Star Child by Unathi Magubeni. The acceptance of SFF as literature by the establishment in Africa might be one of the structural differences between African SFF and its Western equivalent. Henrietta Rose Innes went on to publish Nineveh (2011) about an infestation of insects and Green Lion (2015) about the Jurassic-Park style resurrection of an extinct species of lion.
And suddenly here it was, a convincing, well-realized science fiction film from Africa written and directed by Kenyan Wanuri Kathuri. View the trailer on YouTube. Or listen to an interview with her from 2009. Wanuri Kathuri and Nnedi Okorafor are said to be working in Kenya on a new film.
2009 District 9 dir. Neil Blomkamp (South Africa)
Its production values and lead performance are triumphs; the film wants to be a clever take on the Other, but seems completely unaware how much it partakes of and contributes to xenophobia. I’d only visited Nigeria twice when I saw it but was shocked. A Nigerian gangster sells aliens as prostitutes and wants to eat the hero. He’s dressed like a Zulu, calls white people ‘muzungu’ not ‘oyibo’…and has the same last name as one of Nigeria’s founding fathers. The film was created in ignorance of Nigeria while depicting grossly defamatory stereotypes. Not that some of the white South Africans are anything other than stereotypical ex-apartheid thugs. Sony had to formally apologize to Nigeria. It’s said that Nnedi Okorfor was so enraged by District 9 that she sat down and wrote ‘Lagoon’. Read Okorafor’s entertaining diatribe.
2009 Lagos 2060 and Dada Books Ayodele Arigbabu
The Lagos 2060 collective was meant to be a collaboration of architects and local journalists and writers working together to write good stories. The collective’s discussions were online at one point but seem to have disappeared.
2009 Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Parkes (Ghana/UK)
A three-way culture clash between modern Ghana, a diapora-educated crime scene investigator who returns, and the traditional culture in an isolated village. The magic when it comes – and it is without doubt real in the story –is unlike any I’ve read elsewhere. To those who are part of the culture, it smells wonderful, to those outside it, foul. In English it was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. As sometimes happens, the novel was bigger in France than the UK, due in part to the translation by Sika Fakambi as Quelque Notre Part. It won the 2014 Prix Baudelaire, Prix Mahogany and Prix Laure Bataillon. Lire magazine listed it as the Best Foreign Book of the year, and one of the top 20 published in France in 2014.
2009 Spaceboy Nigeria ed. Yegpa Ukwo (Nigeria)
Sadly, this website-archive was recently lost in a server maintenance accident. By 2010 it was providing online Tengu, a kind of Nigerian noir online comic, and Spaceboy, an elegantly drawn monochrome online strip. The company worked with artists such as Jake Ekiss. Yegpa has gone on to start up many different ventures in fashion, retailing and publishing. Another sign of the coming explosion that was to make Lagos a centre of non-Western, English-language comics.
2010 Afrocyberpunk blog, Jonathan Dotse (Ghana)
Jonathan Dotse was 19 when he founded this blog that for many people back then (well, me) was the sole source of news about African SFF. It’s still up and running at Facebook page.
2010 Kajola dir. Niyi Akimolayan (Nigeria)
In Paradoxa: Africa SF edited by Mark Bould. Noah Tsika discusses this much anticipated Nigerian SF film, its failure, and its virtues. No DVD is available. It depicts class struggle culminating in a second Nigerian civil war in 2059. Read this vivid description of the making of the film and lessons learned by (complete with trailers) by Akinmolayan himself.
People who worked on Kajola continue to turn up in Nollywood credits or in interesting independent creations, such as ‘The Day They Came’ a very short, well realized SF film by Genesis Williams. See it on YouTube.
2010 African Roar: An Eclectic Anthology of African Authors ed. Emmanuel Sigauke and Ivor W Hartmann
Since 2007 StoryTime had been a weekly e-zine that described itself as a literary journal. It published a lot of fiction that was also intended to entertain and grip an audience. By 2010, this first in a series of five annual anthologies was published. Did it lay the groundwork for Hartmann’s later anthology AfroSF (2012)? The African Roar series published many writers who are now regarded as speculative, not least the story by Nnedi Okorafor that is included in this anthology, published in African Roar 2012. Other writers with speculative leanings published in the series include Masimba Musodza (2010), Abdul Adan and Uko Bendi Udo (2012), Dilman Dila (2013), and Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso (2014).
2011 Jungle Jim ed. Jenna Bass (South Africa)
This paper magazine (which you had to cut open with a pair of scissors – not trimming the pages saved money) was the creation of screenwriter Jenna Bass and designer Hannes Berhnard. Jenna Bass knew what writers were out there, needing a venue. So she began to chase them, demanding fiction that would be fun to read. Not serious, not literary, not about the Struggle or neo-colonialism. Detective thrillers, horror stories, science fiction. As a result of her efforts as a fiction hunter, Jungle Jim reads like a who’s who of African speculative fiction. Nikhil Singh, Samuel Kolawole, Jonathan Dotse, Irenosen Okojie (her contribution to Jungle Jim is reprinted in this collection), and Chinelo Onwualu, all published early in Jungle Jim. Jenna Bass’s own serial killer story ‘Hunter Emmanuel’, published in issue 6, was shortlisted for the Caine Prize. The story was written as Constance Myburg. Under that byline Jenna went on to publish several space fiction stories. Jungle Jim in my view has run up against Africa’s great problem: distribution of hard copies. Even in Cape Town, copies can be found in only a few venues. Fortunately, many issues are now available as Kindle e-books. Read Jenna’s account of the creation of Jungle Jim.
2011 The Chronic ed. Ntone Edjabe (South Africa)
Chimurenga started to publish this broadsheet newspaperoid in 2011. It was at first an SF artefact, a tabloid newspaper dated in 2008 three years before and reporting on the xenophobic murder of black immigrants to South Africa. The reason according to Cameroon editor Ntone Edjabe, was that in 2008 the very language needed to report on and think about xenophobia in South Africa did not exist. His interview in 100 Africans tells the story in full.
2011 The Toolsman’s Blog by Wale Adetula (Nigeria)
The history of blogs is fugitive – this example may need to stand in for many. Described by Wole Talabi as ‘incredibly popular’, this blog invited Talabi and others to write fiction as guests. Talabi wrote what he calls ‘a crude and violent story’ called “Animal” about revenge, meant to provoke readers, but it proved popular. Talabi himself had been blogging since 2009 and did guest spots on other blogs – so many that he can’t remember now. The roots of much African SFF lie in those fugitive forgotten web pages.
2012 AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers ed. Ivor Hartmann
Great anthologies have a thesis to prove: this one wanted to show beyond doubt that Africans were writing SFF – a lot of it, in many countries. The table of contents drew on the writers who had showed up in blogs, Jungle Jim, StoryTime, and in South African SFF fan publications – as well as established names.
X S A Partridge
Uko Bendi Udo
Dave de Burgh
Sally Ann Murray
Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu
Joan de la Haye
Some were or become crucial key figures. Almost all of them are still writing and publishing SFF.
2012 Comic Con: The first Lagos comics convention is held
The small but growing Lagos comics industry went public at this first comic con held there. A small affair at the time, but some of the personalities who would drive The Comic Republic, Comic Bandit Press, and Vortex were already lining up.
2012 The Naked Convos by Wale Adetula, The Alchemist’s Corner by Wole Talabi (Nigeria)
Wale Adetula created TheNakedConvos (aka TNC), turning his blog into a webzine with schedules and columnists. It focussed on openness and free expression. Adetula invited Wole Talabi to become a columnist and then the fiction editor, publishing fiction every Thursday at 4.00 pm. Talabi’s column was called ‘The Alchemist’s Corner’ and he became known as The Alchemist. He only featured fiction that he ‘considered concept and idea driven, unusual, experimental, speculative or structurally unique. No standard or normal lit fic.’ The Alchemist’s Corner began to publish now recognized names: Edwin Okolo, Dare Segun Falowo, Suyi Davies Okungbowa, Nyameye Anokye, Nafisat Bello, and many others. TheNakedConvos still exists, but more as a fashion and media site with some, mostly non-speculative fiction.
2013 Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human (South Africa)
A porn-dealing teenager’s adventures in the Cape Town supernaturalunderworld. The sequel Kill Baxter followed in 2014.
2013 Children of Saba by N K Reed (Kenya/UK)
First of a projected trilogy whisks two Kenyan teenagers to the ancient kingdom of Saba in Ethiopia. The Guardian listed it as one of the ten best African novels of 2013. The second volume Heirs of Kush followed in 2014.
2013 Comic Republic, The Might of Guardian Prime
June 3013 and the first comic from The Comic Republic goes online with this Yoruba superhero created by Jide Martin (currently nominated for a Nommo Award). The collective of friends from the streets, high school and college now publish about ten titles such as Avonome (also up for a Nommo Award) based on Edo (Benin) cosmology, and Hero Kekere (in which all their characters are kids in a comic for kids). Other titles include Eru – the traditional personification of Fear, Aje, Ireti, Hero Generation (a kind of Teen Titans), Scion and Visionary. By luck or design most of Nigeria’s ethnic groups are represented and many of their main characters are women. The different national cosmologies are carefully worked into one over-riding Marvel-like universe. Overall directorship is by Jide Martin, with continuity control by Wale Awelenje now living in the UK. Lagos is huge and travelling difficult. So the Comic Republic Collective all work in a Comic Republic air-conditioned flat on the Lekki peninsula, with banks of computers, a multi gym, sleeping quarters, showers and a Comic Republic dog. It’s a bit like meeting the Beatles. Creatives now contribute from other countries include the Ghanaian writer and comics critic Kay Tadi. The business plan is based on providing the comics for free, so visit the Republic.
2013 Lagos 2060 ed. Ayodele Arigbabu (Nigeria)
Beaten to publication by AfroSF, this was very nearly the first anthology of African-written science fiction, in gestation since 2009 when Ayodele Arigbabu founded the collective of architects, futurists and writers. The results are frankly, mixed, with speculation about the future not always really relevant to the story being told. Of the writers Afolabi Muheez Ashiru is still writing SFF and Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu, better known as ‘Mazi Nwonwu’, is one of the founders of Omenana magazine. The illustrations were by comics artist Ibrahim Ganiyu, who wrote the original comics version of June 12.
2013 Nigerians in Space by Deji Bryce Olukotun (Nigeria/USA)
This is almost science fiction. The idea of a Nigerian space programme may have sounded like satire to readers at the time, but the novel was based on a real encounter. This is a fast-paced thriller that combines a planned trip to the moon, an attempt to reverse Nigeria’s brain drain, a murder mystery and abalone smuggling. Read Olukotun on how the novel was based in reality, published in Slate.
2013 A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar (Somalia/USA)
A sophisticated metafiction (the book you are reading is vital to its own plot at least twice), this complex novel about literature vs. oral culture sums up many African themes while looking like a typical piece of Western fantasy fiction. Published in the USA, it won the World Fantasy Award, and the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel (the Robert Holdstock Award). In 2016, the sequel The Winged Histories appeared. Forthcoming in and in 2017, a collection of Dr. Samatar’s shorter fiction, Monster Portraits, has already been shortlisted for the Calvino Prize.
2014 A Killing in the Sun, Dilman Dila (Uganda)
One of the earliest single-author, mostly SFF anthologies of short stories and a landmark at the time. The title story, not SFF, was short listed in 2013 for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Dilman Dila’s speculative fiction has also appeared in Terra Incognita (2015) and African Roar 2013. He may be even better known as a writer-director of film. His Hitchcockian thriller What Happened in Room 13 (2007) is the most-watched African film on YouTube. The Felistas Fable (2013), about a curse that makes people smell, draws on traditional beliefs was nominated for Best First Feature at the African Movie Academy Awards.
2014 Kintu by Jennifer Nansubaga Makumbi (Uganda)
Can be read as speculative. A curse from pre-colonial times affects a huge clan of people in the present day. If you believe the magic to disperse it works, it’s speculative. Or is the curse just inherited schizophrenia? Or both. Notable for its detailed imagining of a pre-colonial kingdom, for jumping over the colonial era as being somewhat irrelevant, for showing so much of modern Uganda and its recent history – and for doing well in Africa without being validated first by success in the West. Read an interview Jennifer Nansubaga Makumbi here.
2014 Omenana magazine editor Chinelo Onwualu, co-founder Mazi Nwonwu (Nigeria)
The first issue of this WordPress-based webzine published new stories by Tendai Huchu, Wole Talabi, Rafeeat Aliyu and Saratu Abioloa. If you count issue X, there have been ten issues since then. Omenana has a confident and focussed editorial grip. Chinelo Onwualu is an author in her own right, whose work has appeared in almost every African SFF publication of note – AfroSF, Jungle Jim, and Terra Incognita among others. A list of writers who have appeared in Omenana is representative of the field as a whole. To read some stories from Omenana, visit the page in this issue 21 Tomorrow, key online stories in the field.
2014 Vortex Comics (Nigeria)
Not to be confused with the Canadian comics company Vortex – to find it please search for Vortex247. This Lagos-based comics, animation, and outreach company is led by creative director Somto Ajuluchukwu. In addition to working with Ibrahim Ganiyu on his previously conceived characters, by 2017 it was publishing many titles online, including like Strike Guard, Mumu Juju, Wrath House, Sannkofamaan, Ojuju, Ekun. Hero Lom and many more.
2014 Africa 39 ed. Ellah Wakatama Allfrey (UK)
This prestigious anthology grew out of the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts and featured fiction by what were selected as being the best African writers under 40. The selected authors included A Igoni Barrett, Shadreck Chikoti, Clifton Gachagua, Mehul Gohil, and Nii Ayikwei Parkes, all of whom had written some speculative fiction.
2015 Afrofuture(s) Jalada: a Pan African Collective, Anthology 02
The Jalada Collective had already published Sext Me, Anthology 01 which asked for poems and stories around the impact of technology on sex when it decided to do an SFF issue. Mehul Gohil, a member of the collective and a science fiction fan, suggested doing a science-fiction anthology next. Unlike say, Omenana which publishes fantasy as well as SF, it specifically requested stories about the future and technology and continued to add stories for some time after the launch. Key among the 30 stories and poems in the issue are the Jalada-Prize-winning ‘Where Pumpkin Leaves Dwell’ by Lilian Aujo.
Read an interview with the two main editors, Richard Oduor Oduku and Moses Kilolo.
That interview also discusses aspects of the Jalada Language issue, which began publishing later that same year with Jalada anthology 04. The Language Issues have proved to be perhaps the most impactful of the collective’s many projects, giving Africans something to read in their home languages – and practice in writing them.
2015 African Monsters ed. Margret Helgadottir and Jo Thomas, (International)
Horror stories based on African traditions including stories by Nnedi Okorafor, Tade Thompson and T.L. Huchu. Contains the Caine-Prize shortlisted ‘Bush Baby’ by Chikodili Emelumadu. Other authors include Dilman Dila, Nerine Dorman, Sarah Lotz, Joan de la Haye, and Su Opperman who provided a short graphic story.
2015 AfroSFv2 ed. Ivor Hartmann (International)
The second AfroSF collection featured novellas – three of which were nominated for the Nommo Awards in the novella category.
2015 Crumbs dir. Michael Llonso (Spanish-Ethiopian)
An off-the-wall hugely enjoyable co-production that makes startling use of its Ethiopian locations and actors. The hero, a disabled man, sees in the ball-chute of a bowling alley (that is receiving signals from outer space) Santa Claus, and so goes on a quest to find him. Spoiler: Santa is a skinny Ethiopian living in a deserted lion compound in a zoo. Overhead the arm from the giant Michael Jackson statue hovers in the sky – actually some kind of spacecraft. You may think you dreamt seeing it. View the trailer here.
2015 Imagine Africa 500 ed. Billy Kahora (Malawi)
Perhaps the smoothest written and edited collection of African science fiction, this anthology was the brainchild of Shadreck Chikoti, who set up a workshop to help local writers wrestle with the difficulties of extrapolating African futures from scratch. African mentors helped the young writers after the workshop as well. Billy Kahora is perhaps the best known African editor, the main editor of the Kwani Trust. Three stories from Imagine Africa 500 are reprinted in this special issue. The full story of the writers, Shadreck, and the anthology is told in the Malawi chapter of 100 African Writers of SFF.
2015 Sub-Saharan, The Nigerian Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction ed. Walter Dinjos and Chiagozie Nelson
Described as a weekly online magazine, Sub-Saharan publishes fiction, poetry and articles with an African focus, but with submissions welcomed from all over the world. Contributors include Nommo-nominees Blaize Kaye and Wole Talabi. Check out their website.
2015 Terra Incognita ed. Nerine Dorman (South Africa)
Short Story Day Africa is meant to be a combination of reader-rated fiction contest with a winner, and an anthology. The stories were read blind, with no author’s name shown to the panels of readers in many African countries. The result was an African SFF anthology, three quarters of whose authors were white, selected blind by readers. ‘What were we supposed to do, tell them they were out because of their background?’ Powerful stories from black Africans included ‘How My Father became a God’ by Dilman Dila, the pungently African-flavoured, experimental ‘Editongo’ by Mary Okon Ononokpono, ‘There is Something That Ogbu-Ojah Didn’t Tell Us’ by Jekwu Ozoemene and ‘The Corpse’ by Sene Yane. Diane Awerbuck contributed her take on the Tokoloshe, ‘Leatherman’. Other fine writers included in Terra Incognita included Cat Hellisen, Mishka Hoosen, Chinelo Onwualu, and Tiah Beautement. See this special issue for Nick Mulgrew’s ‘Stations’. Read the interview with SSDA organizer Rachel Zadok.
2016 The Corpse Exhibition and other graphic stories, in Chimurenga Chronic ‘Could be issue number 3’, ed. Ntone Edjabe (South Africa)
A large-format album of graphic storytelling, partly funded by the Goethe Institut and in partnership with a South Korean museum so that some of the text is translated into Korean. Not all the content is speculative but the title story by Hassan Blassim is definitely in J G Ballard territory with black and red illustrations of ‘The Master’ going about his art – butchering people in artistic ways. Nikhil Singh, author of Taty Went West provides a three-page, wordless adaptation of Kojo Laing’s Major Gentl and the Achimota Wars. Avions de Nuit by Phumle April is a five page story about tokoloshes and witchcraft. ‘Brent Haye’s Edwards Afro-horn’ by Native Makari is about a US jazz player in 1968 who finds himself playing a magical African horn, that player being Rasaan Roland Kirk. I very much wanted for this special issue London Kamendo’s rendition of a section from Amos Tutuola’s The Palm Wine Drinkard. The issue closes with a beautiful wordless interpretation involving giant sacred cattle by Breeze Yoko of a piece of music – ‘Yahkal’ Inkomo’, composed by Winston Mankuntu Ngozi. This is a very classy publication and a nominee for the 2017 Nommos.
2016 The Upright Revolution by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and many others, from the Jalada Collective (Kenya)
The core of the Language issue was The Jalada Language issue 01 published in 2016 is this speculative story by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, written first in Gikuyu and then translated into at first 23 languages spoken in Africa. That total has now risen to over 50 languages. You can read the story here in Kikuyu or in English as ‘Why Humans Walk Upright’ translated by wa Thiong’o himself here.
2016 Luminous Worlds ed. Kirsten Hall
This new WordPress journal from South Africa launches with a story by Nigerian author Ayodele Olofintuade and a critical piece on Dune. Visit the webzine. Read an interview with its young editor.
2016 Vortex licences the characters of Ibrahim Ganiyu
In 2016 Vortex, a new comic company, began to regularly publish titles created by Ibrahim Ganiyu, with him still contributing artwork and stories. A look at the first Vortex issue of June XII will confirm that some of the most directly political fiction in Africa is found in its comics. This superhero simply threatens to murder a corrupt official. The first Vortex issue was nominated for a Nommo Award and can be read for free on the Vortex website.
The title also has a regular manga version, in the Japanese style, illustrated by an American. SirGAI also created and works on Badgaiz, described as ‘The X Files of the Lagos Police Department’ about a team who investigate spiritual cases. Badgaiz is also available on the Vortex website, which shows the full range of their many other titles.
2016 Her Broken Shadow written and directed by Dilman Dila
A film about writing, a piece of metafiction, a portrait of loneliness and solipsism, this feature film by Dilman Dila is that rare thing – literary SFF on screen. Financed by the work Dilman did on the Uganda-set Hollywood movie Queen of Katwe, and with an amazing central performance as two women by one of that Disney movie’s stars, Her Broken Shadow is set in layers of futures – a near future, the far future, an indeterminate third far future and Now. Despite technical and budgetary challenges (the future ‘space suburb’ looks like CGI, but is in fact an animated painting created by Dilman himself), the film was finished and premiered at the Cairo Film festival. An excerpt from the script is included in this issue. View a trailer here.
Azotus the Kingdom by Shadrek Chikoti
A restrained picture of an African dystopia from this Malawian author.
Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood
In an alternative South Africa both sides in the Struggle want to use an empathy machine as a weapon.
Black Ass by A. Igoni Barrett
A comedy about a Nigerian who wakes up one morning as a black man – except for his bottom.
Rosewater by Tade Thompson
Earth has been infiltrated by an alien life form in this vision of a much changed future.
Taty Went West by Nikhil Singh
A slow motion Alice in Wonderland as if written by William Burroughs with heavy doses of sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll.
Other key recent novels:
The Beast Master by Cat Hellisen
Fantasy novel by this gifted South African author.
Dub Steps by Andrew Miller
Long-listed for the Etisalat.
Nwelezealanga: The Star Child by Unathi Magubeni
An albino girl survives her mother’s attempts to kill her to be raised by a herbalist. The child has a direct link to the spirit world. A stylish evocation of sangoma practices and beliefs by a working traditional healer. Long-listed for the Etisalat Prize.
The Raft by Fred Strydom (South Africa)
In my personal view something of a masterpiece. Everyone in the world loses their memory, and (it becomes gradually apparent) regains someone else’s. This is the work of aliens. Set in South Africa, but not looking directly at apartheid, this nevertheless is about memory, destructive acts and guilt. Realities shift as the baton of the plot is handed from narrator to narrator as we see the future and visit an alien installation, but always returning to the main character – who may or may not be hallucinating much of the novel. (Thank heavens—he isn’t. Most of it actually happens. Not a spoiler, more of an encouragement). Think of Lost only with a worked-out plot and revelatory ending, as written by David Mitchell. Published worldwide but somehow this outright SF novel sneaked under most people’s radar.
South by Frank Owen (South Africa)
Frank is actually Diane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer. Set in a disease ridden USA in which the Civil War divided the country. The companion novel North is will be published this year.
Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun (Nigeria)
A famous musician discovers that everyone has forgotten him overnight. A philosophical fantasy based on the biography but not the music of Fela Kuti. Risks sentimentality, but captures the ability of music to move audiences and tell stories. Again, like The Raft, published worldwide in a variety of languages including Turkish.
2017 Fear Anthology 05/ Transition 123 Jalada collective in association with Transition magazine
In June, Jalada went online with its first print anthology in partnership with Transition magazine (published by Harvard University). The cover is based on the image of the weeping man used on the poster for the movie Get Out. Only a slide show of the content is available online but the focus seems to be very much on literary fiction or essays. However, it looks like a further anthology called Fear is almost being recruited.
2017 Mashu oMusha by Kha Ya Maseko
In 2016 Fred Strydom, author of The Raft warned me that there was SFF coming out of the townships, but I wouldn’t be able to find it. Efemia Chela said the same thing. It took Nick Wood to tell me that it was, finally, surfacing into my world in the shape of a book launch for this futurist, local-language novella. Mashu oMusha is difficult to get hold of – the curse of print. Read an interview by African Geek Girl with the author.
2017 Stillborn dir. Jahmil XT Qubeka (South Africa)
This Xhosa-language SF film set in the future opened the BRIC’s Film Festival in Chengdu‚ southwest China, on June 23 2017. Watch the Vimeo teaser. The director is an established director of mainstream and TV in South Africa. His short entry on the IMdB database lists his films as being A Small Town Called Descent (2010), Of Good Report (2013) and A Small Town Called Descent (2011).
2017 Short films by Dilman Dila (Uganda)
Dilman Dila starts to upload a series of short films on supernatural subjects including How to Start a Zombie Apocalypse, Cursed Widow Blues and What Happened to Jilted Lovers.
The Writivism Festival is organized by the Centre for African Cultural Excellence, and is Uganda’s leading literary festival. It has been held annually since 2013. The August 2017 festival will be centred around the theme of ‘Reinventing the Future’. Find out more from the Writivism website.
2017 – the Nommo Awards
The Nommo Awards and the African Speculative Fiction Society
These grew out of a Messenger group discussion among members of the African Fantasy Reading Group about what an African SFF Award would look like. In the end, what was proposed was a Nebula-like award nominated for and voted on by African writers, editors, artists and film makers. So that necessitated the creation of the African Speculative Fiction Society. In November 2016, at the Ake Festival in Abeokuta, the existence of the Nommo Awards was announced by Chinelo Onwualu and Shadreck Chikoti. Panels on the subject of African SFF also included Pemi Aguda, Mazi Nwonwu and Tendai Huchu. During the preparation of this article, voting for the 2017 Nommo Awards commenced, to be completed 21 July 2017, with the Awards to be given at the Ake Festival in November. Visit the African Speculative Fiction website.
July 2017 – Who Fears Death
As we were going to press it was announced that George R R Martin would be executive producer for an HBO TV series based on the Nnedi Okorafor novel Who Fears Death
A list of works by year like this one will always have gaps – it’s a work in progress. If you know of other works of African speculative fiction, please let Geoff Ryman know by visiting the African Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Group.
Feel free to use this list for research; please credit.
Endnote: How did this all happen? A work in progress
I am not an academic really. I am not a scholar, and I’m not African but I have interviewed over 100 African SFF writers. Here are some things I’ve observed, possibilities, to account for what amounts to a cultural explosion.
In 2009 it seemed to me as if there was almost no African SFF, at least not in bookshops. People tended to say that Africans were too sensible, or too concerned with issues of development, or survival, to write science fiction and fantasy. By 2012, however, African SFF started to appear everywhere. How did all this happen? Now it is almost impossible to keep up just listing published works. Here are some tentative suggestions:
Diaspora in many directions
It is the case that many African SFF writers spent some time in the West either for work or education. This contributes to understanding of forms and language that international writing demands. But also…
Changing your country mimics an acceleration of time. You lose a past and gain a new future at a stroke. You see that real change happens, deep change that overturns things you assumed were human nature. You may be yearning for a cultural past or want to recreate or preserve that culture, or understand your parents. You probably both fear for what could go wrong and what can be made better in the future. How much of American SFF comes from the two great American diasporas – from 1900 to 1920 one third of Americans (like Clark Kent) left the countryside and moved back into urban centres. How many great American SFF names are the first generation children of the great 20th century diaspora from Southern and Eastern Europe?
Looking one way at traditions produces fantasy; the other way produces science fiction. They are linked. Some African writers were born in the West and moved ‘back’ to Africa, and then returned to the UK. They live in a kind of cultural echo chamber. Chikodili Emelumadu remembers that moving to the UK meant that she realized the English did not do things ‘properly’ and this increased her interest in Igbo culture. Read an interview with her on 100 Africans of SFF.
People used to say Africans didn’t travel. Wole Talabi is a Nigerian who lives in Malaysia and used to live in Mexico. White South Africans are another diaspora (Europe to Africa) and they produce several distinct strands of SFF stories that strive to portray a white African identity in horror or fantasy, using European traditions that owe very little to Africa.
However, in Africa you don’t need to move to experience diaspora, or something like it.
Rapid cultural change at home
Kiprop Kimutai in an interview talks about how only three generations ago his grandparents lived an entirely vernacular life – local languages, clothing, food, housing, transport. Social change in many African countries has been traumatic, at the point of a gun. Colonialism and then neo-colonialism created linguistic and cultural stress that can sometimes help create writers. Jennifer Makumbi in an interview talks about how her father would insist she speak English in the city and how her grandparents would insist she speak Luganda in the country. Her first experiences as a storyteller were in retelling Western fairy tales in Luganda to other children. Her masterpiece Kintu could be said to reverse this process – it tells stories of pre-colonial curses in English.
The assortment of fiction available for African writers to read when young
Aubrey Chinguwo invented writing for himself out of a volume of Edgar Allan Poe short stories and a Judith Clarke YA novel.
Books can be hard to get hold of in African. Science Fiction magazines in print might as well not exist.
Those books that are available in shops can be there because they are ‘useful’. Reading is often not seen as fun – it’s work. Bookshops are likely to stock textbooks, self development books, religious books, or business books. Children’s books are there to teach your children how to read and speak English.
After interviewing 100 African writers, I can show you that African science fiction (as opposed to fantasy, horror, or philosophical fiction) owes almost nothing to the great SF tradition. Not Arthur C Clarke, nor Issac Asimov nor Robert A Heinlein, certainly not say Connie Willis, or Greg Bear, or Joanna Russ or Iain Banks. By and large the writers have not been able to get hold of it or read the great tradition of science fiction.
African SFF owes more to Enid Blyton than it does to Analog or even Tor.com. More to Japanese manga and the Hardy Boys than it does to any SF writer of note. Harry Potter and Stephen King have been read, and Octavia Butler has been seized upon, but even Samuel Delaney had not often punctured the wall of distribution problems, neo-colonialism and utilitarianism that restricts the African literature system. The works cited by Afrofuturism are not well known.
What are almost universally cited are works by African authors, authors that are part of the school curriculum, authors that were on parents’ bookshelves, and books that appeal to writers who have a strand of the fantastical in their work.
By and large, African Speculative Fiction is self-generated.
English – in the worst possible way
What can drive some fantasy fiction is that moment in so many countries when you are forced to stop speaking your own language and do all your learning in English – or you will be beaten (at least this was true until recently).
That produces a hidden continent of the heart that lives in poetry and beliefs whispered in another language. These ghosts of language and culture thrust their way into the imaginative fiction of sensitive young people.
English in supposedly Anglophone countries is not often a language of self expression. It is the language of taxes, laws, media and fashion careers, banking, politics, lies, status, privilege, and pretentiousness. English is for making money. Only off in a corner, for a very few, is it the language of a great literature.
The question English answers for many African writers is not What do I Want to Express, but How Would They Say This? …‘they’ being the people who really own the language you have to speak. You don’t own your own language. Your grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax were forced on your culture at gunpoint, and imposed on you by schooling and business. For many Africans, English is a penance, a carping reminder of failure, a boring means to an end, something enraging – almost anything other than fun.
Linguistic conformity, polishing your rhetoric until it is good enough to be published in London (or at least win an award), sometimes seems to be the driving engine of much African writing.
Linguistic diversity and linguistic strain – cultural loss – can drive experimental writing (Kerouac spoke only a dialect of Canadian French until forced to speak English in school) and something similar may be encouraging experimental writing in Africa.
It is no accident that the rise of African SFF has happened at the same time as the Jalada Language Project (who also publish SFF) and the de-colonialist movement in South Africa. It is no accident that only about a quarter of the pieces read at the Kwani open mic nights in Nairobi are now in English, at the same time as local SFF starts to flourish.
If I could stand back far enough, and I might say science fiction and fantasy writing is the product of many countries’ difficult cultural situation being inflicted most poignantly on their children.
The arrival of smart phones and other chargeable tech that did not depend on stable electricity
Some African countries have stable electricity supplies. But ten years ago in many, most especially Nigeria, desktops fried. Devices dependent on telephone infrastructure, if they aren’t fried, may not be able to connect to the internet. Cybercafes when they weren’t down charged the price of a meal for a half hour online. In other words, the western model of desktop computing plugged into a reliable grid, and the old fashioned internet of wires and email, did not suit Africa.
Africa needed chargeable devices that you could pump full of electricity whenever it became available. It needed a radio-based network that could be drawn on via dongles or used by smarter and smarter phones. It could not be large or heavy or require lots of security.
This technological difference from the West has resulted in innovative uses of technology that owe nothing to the West – and these colour the vision of the future. See ‘Branded’ in this issue.
Young writers now get their books via smartphones. Smartphones were the venue for blogs, and to an extent, tablets. African SFF happened on them.
The ubiquity of fantasy in the media
Many if not most Africans have smart phones. The privileged kids who end up writers sometimes have tablets. Those kids see every movie and TV show out there for free by downloading. Andrew C Dakalira says as much in his interview. Africans in their 20s have seen the Marvel movies, and The Flash, and all the Harry Potter movies. This for them is science fiction. People are inspired by those movies to write fantasy and SF.
The harder, more speculative strain of written science fiction is not something that many of them have experienced. Nor yet, frankly, is it something many of the new writers do very convincingly. People like Shadreck Chikoti know this, and when I did a workshop for his monthly group, he asked me to do a lesson on worldbuilding. I am the last person he should have asked as that’s not, um, a strength of my own.
But Billy Kahora, in an interview with me, critiqued most African SF for accepting stale tropes and not thinking through what an African technology and future would look like.
Blogs and webzines
This Golden Age (?) happened at least partly on blogs and webzines, that could be read on and contributed to via a smartphone or tablet. The webzines sometimes rose up on blogging platforms, like Omenana on WordPress.
Blogs were a safe space, out of sight of parents and schools. They were a place where your fiction could finally appear – and then be shared, commented upon, earn some kudos. The best blogs had enough of an audience that there was little point starting your own blog. These blogs were gate-kept, sometimes by outstanding personalities like The Alchemist (aka Wole Talabi) who worked with authors. Publication on The Naked Convos meant someone else had said you were good. Blogs were a place that new editors like Ivor Hartmann or Jenna Bass could go to find new, experimental, speculative authors.
Many of the young writers I’ve interviewed started out before blogging by circulating their stories among friends. They first became popular in a small circle of readers in their schools. So the model of showing work to friends for comment fitted right in with blogging.
The rise of African SFF is due in part to brilliant even heroic editing: Jenna Bass of Jungle Jim, Billy Kahora of Kwani? and Imagine Africa 500, Wole Talabi of The Naked Convos, the Jalada collective, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey in many roles, Chinelo Onwualu backed up by Mazi Nwonwu at Omenana, Ivor Hartmaan of the AfroSF series, Brittle Paper, all the mainstream African literary magazines who publish SFF…all of you stand up and take a bow.
It also happened because of local leadership that pulled people and opportunities together more like NGOs than literary societies: Ayodele Arigbabu in Nigeria, Shadreck Chikoti in Malawi or Goretti Kyuhmundo (Femrite), the whole Writivism project, or more informally Dilman Dila all in Uganda, and again, in Kenya, the SF-friendly Kwani Trust and the Pan-African Jalada collective led by Moses Kilolo and Richard Oduor Oduku.
Something Western SFF writers will not be used to – there seems to be no prejudice against SFF in most of Africa as exampled by the 2008 award of the Wole Soyinka Prize to Nnedi Okorafor and more recently by nominations for the Caine Prize. Malawian writers often sell stories in their teens to newspapers, and regularly win mainstream writing prizes before they are 20. New important writers like Innocent Immaculate Acan or Amatesiro Dore are regularly published in mainstream venues like Brittle Paper or Munyori. It’s a habit that may be catching in the West – Lesley Nneka Arimah’s outright SF and horror fiction regularly appears in, of all places, The New Yorker.
The great exception is South Africa where publishers still proudly announce they will not consider SF or fantasy. The irony is that that just about the only contemporary South African writers causing a stir internationally are Lauren Beukes, Rachel Zadok, Sarah Lotz, Frank Owen, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Fred Strydom, etc.
Writers clearing a trail
And this of course is the most important.
Jonathan Dotse, in his yet-to-be published interview for 100 African Writers, talks about the initial problems he found writing about an African future at all. He could imagine African characters in a future USA. His novel started out like that, but he realized it had to be set in Africa. And he encountered difficulties — a silence. There was nothing to build on, no previous conversation of different African futures to bounce off. American writers have generations of futures worked out for them. In 2009 an African writer imagining a future Africa had few tropes, no previously established future scenarios, no traditions to build on. Thus the number of stories that are set in Pan-African Unions, with aircars. If s/he was to write even one short story, s/he would have to think about how all all those nations, languages, traditions would move together or separately into a future of AI, climate change, and power economics. Each story might take years of original speculation. Pan-Africanism sometime seems to be so attractive to African SF writers partly because it simplifies that encyclopedic task of inventing an African future.
Lauren Beukes, Dotse, Ayodele Arigbabu as writers pioneered this speculative task. It is still a huge and collective undertaking at the beginning of its work. There are still many more stories that are speculation-based on traditional beliefs. There is even a very small tradition – for example Faith Ben Daniels in Ghana – of fantasy fiction based on the Christian tradition.
But at least now there are now hundreds of people taking part. The membership of the African Speculative Fiction Society, a professional body, stands at 140. There are many more writers and editors who have not joined.
Here, as elsewhere, this social process will be accelerated by the ability of technology to help people find fiction and find each other.