• In the future you test how far AIs have deviated from the original human personality they were based on?
• Is the old man on the beach an ancient god?

‘The Regression Test’ (2017) by Wole Talabi (Nigeria/Malaysia)
‘Herbert Anoda Kudzoka Kumusha/Herbert Wants to Return Home’ (2017) by
Masimba Musodza (Zimbabwe/UK)
Bonus new story: ‘The Old Man with The Third Hand’ 2017 by Kofi Nyameye (Ghana)

I’m told that it’s a problem for Irish or Welsh writers too – the money, the recognition, and the profile all come from publishing in big international venues. And it is only natural for writers to want money, recognition, and profile.

Big international markets have expectations – about language, about form. Their readers do not include the wretched of the Earth or young scholars in rural Uganda.

It’s hard to say to what extent an African writer has to pare back her language to be published in the USA or the UK, or if cultural references get avoided or glossed over. Does a writer lose anything at all by not writing particularly for her own country? Is it so difficult to address multiple audiences at once?

Do you end up writing a fiction that your own people are not particularly interested in reading? What will happen to the continental webzines like Omenana and Jalada? Will the bigger names only offer them fiction that Western publishers have turned down?

Publishers like Cassava Republic and Kachifo are reaching out to readers with more popular or generic fiction. Cassava Republic publishes vivid crime novels such as those by Leye Andele. In 2014, Kachifo Ltd founded a new imprint, Breeze Books to publish popular fiction including specifically sci-fi – though three years later they have not yet published an SF title. Did they get any SFF submissions?
What will happen to local publishing initiatives if both literary and genre writers appear to regard publication first in the West as validation?

Tade Thompson has said (in the online discussions that create the Nommo Awards) that it’s a two-pronged attack – international recognition on one hand, developing a local market on the other. That is no more or less than a clear statement of the actual situation.

The big SFF publishers in the USA and the UK genuinely want to be diverse. The 2017 Hugo Awards have actively sought participation by Africans. Western publishers want to be able to point to African fiction they have published. Anthologies like this special issue seek out work by African writers. African writers are pushing on an open door when submitting to them.

But a certain amount of cultural cringe by Africans still has to be overcome. Kirsten Hall, a South African editor started a small online African magazine Luminous Worlds. She also works for Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a USA based journal. Despite encouraging submissions from Africans, Kirsten did not receive one.

However, more SFF by Africans is being published abroad. Chikodili Emelumadu has published in Apex and alongside many other Africans in the international horror anthology African Monsters (2015) edited by Margrét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas. In 2015, Lesley N Arimah published her first SFF piece in The New Yorker. Strange Horizons republished ‘Montague’s Last’ by Ekvari Mbvundula. In June 2016 the special double issue of Lightspeed magazine was called People of Colour Destroy Science Fiction and featured a novella Omoshango by Dayo Ntwari. In 2017, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction published stories from Wole Talabi (republished here) and ‘A Green Silk Dress and a Wedding-Death’ by Cat Hellisen. The same magazine has accepted a story ‘We Are Born’ by Dare Segun Falowo who is based in Lagos. Tade Thompson has been announced for publication on tor.com – the website that is one of the highest paying markets for SFF. This trend is a swift, significant change to publishing patterns.

Wole Talabi is an influential editor, spokesperson and writer. As The Alchemist, gatekeeping the fiction section of the blog The Naked Convos, he published Edwin Okolo, Nerine Dorman and Dare Segun Falawo. Talabi is a distinguished writer. ‘Wednesday’s Story’, shortlisted for the Nommo Awards, is linked to from our page ‘21 Tomorrow’. That story was also published first in Lightspeed magazine. Our list also takes you to Talabi’s fine story of diaspora ‘A Short History of Migration in Five Fragments of You’, published in Omenana issue 3.

‘The Regression Test’ does some hardcore world-building, rethinking how walls and furniture and human beings will look in the future. It explains why AIs will never get the air conditioning to the right temperature. Non-Nigerians may not catch the reference to Eko Atlantic where the Test happens – that’s the real-world land reclamation development nicknamed ‘The Great Wall of Lagos’. The story is written in Talabi’s customarily clear, beautiful prose.

In contrast to Talabi’s reaching out to an international readership, there is the language issue.

The Jalada collective, led in part by Moses Kilolo and Richard Oduor Oduku have helped revive the aesthetic of writing first in a home or local language and only then translating it into English. This gives people something to read in their home language – and writers a chance to write in it. Read an interview with them about the Language Issue and their SFF anthology Afrofuture(s).

Our page ‘21 tomorrow’ links to a key story by Richard written first in Duluo and then translated into English as ‘Tribulations of Seducing a Night Runner’ preserving the idioms and repetitions. This more highly flavoured English is for me one of the payoffs of writing first in local languages. The page also links the crucial short story by one of Africa’s greatest writers, Ngugi wa Thiong’o. His story in Gikuyu is at the core of Jalada’s Translation Issue.

Masimba Musodza is the author of a 400-plus page SF novel in ChiShona, Munahacha Naïve Nei? (2014). In English translation the title means ‘What was in the River?’ It’s about genetic experiments unleashing a giant predatory fish into a Zimbabwean river that is thought to be a traditional entity. Masimba found that people wondered if he’d have problems finding words in ChiShona for technological and other scientific terms. Instead, Masimba found it easy – even the stars and planets have traditional names in ChiShona. Venus had two. Read an interview with Masimba about his work.

Another novel in ChiShona by Musodza was published on his blog as Herbert Anoda Kudzoka Kumusha. We publish an excerpt from it, and alongside it published for the first time, a new English translation of the excerpt called ‘Herbert Wants to Return Home.’

The title embodies the yearning of emigrants for home, and the pain when they return – diaspora hybridizes you. In this story, Herbert has been Europeanized enough to return as a predator.

The story also deals with another theme of some African fiction – the disruption to mourning caused by cultural change. For example, in her collection An Elegy for Easterly, another Zimbabwean writer, Petina Gappah includes stories about colonialism or diaspora changing how people mourn.

Finally our own contribution to publishing internationally, a new bonus story from a writer getting his first publication in the West. Kofi Nyameye examples not only his own clear beautiful prose style, but also again the key role played by blogs in nurturing talent.

As Nyameye Dwomo-Anokye he was first published by none other than Wole Talabi under Talabi’s nom-d’editeur The Alchemist in the blog The Naked Convos.

For me Nyameye’s story embodies something I’ve noticed in both East and West African cultures – beliefs don’t contradict each other but are held alongside each other as different kinds of truth. Christianity co-exists within the same person alongside traditional beliefs and a scientific view of the world. The same events are explained by the same person using these very different cosmologies. Some Westerners reading this story will want to know what exists in the real world – what is really going on – I did – and they may feel that some things are left unclear, difficult to see. The answer is that, once you’ve gone through the possibilities, very different actual events could be occurring depending on how you read the story – depending on your beliefs. That is deliberate.

I am reminded of Jennifer Nansubaga Makumbi’s novel Kintu, in which there both is and is not a curse on a clan. It is both inherited schizophrenia and/or something magically imposed. You decide.

Kofi’s story has something of the same ambiguity. Plus, it mentions Cthulhu. HP Lovecraft in Africa?

Additional material

The rise of African SFF happened mostly online, not in print. So we include a page of links to fiction in online venues like Omenana and Jalada. This list is called ‘21 Tomorrow’.

This issue goes on to provide a work-in-progress, an overview of the rise of African SFF, ‘The Rise of African Speculative Fiction, year by year.’ The list is incomplete, and could not be anything else.

There is too much to be said about African SFF. Too many countries, too many languages, too many writers, too many theories and opinions. And it’s changing as we speak.

The number of SFF stories being published is now too great to do anything other than list. Soon that will be true of novels, comics and movies. Right now, this wave of creativity reminds me of Elizabethan England at the time of Shakespeare – the power is rising, and the literature with it.

I am not so interested in whether SFF by Africans invigorates our international genre.

For me the crucial question now is: what does this mean for Africans – their cultures, their economies, their countries, and their opportunities? Like anyone in the West who is interested in this wave of creativity, I can only hope that I have done no harm, while drawing attention to particular writers and stories.

In the meantime, this is a genre, a movement that can only gain in impact. As we were going to press it was announced that George R R Martin will be the Executive Producer of an HBO TV series based on Nneddi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death. An African Game of Thrones?

The only way is up.

All introductions, lists and commentary © Geoff Ryman, first published in The Manchester Review, issue 18.

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