The current wave of speculative fiction from underrepresented groups continues to provide the SFF world with peeks into oft-forgotten slices of the globe. Interesting settings are huge draws in science fiction and fantasy, so little wonder we’ve been enamored by these sojourns into non-EuroAmerican spaces. The African continent stands in the front lines of this charge, offering stories that overturn long held views about its history and future, or at least provide some long desired nuance. However, our fascination with Black Panther, Children of Blood and Bone, and Who Fears Death? is mostly steeped in the fantastic or futuristic representations of these African locales, and not as much the contemporary.
Pray, where are the SFF books about the African locales of now?
This question came to me while writing David Mogo, Godhunter. I discovered there was little work out there representing contemporary African spaces in all their multilayered complexity. So I set out to find books where the otherworldly is juxtaposed with the contemporary—used here to mean since the 2000s—socioeconomics, politics and culture of post-colonial Africa. These five locales offered fresh glances at the African continent, so that both inhabitants and non-inhabitants of these cities, towns and villages end up discovering their magic and potential anew.
Lagos, Nigeria: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Lagoon, it may be argued, is the prime Lagos SFF novel. An alien ambassador named Ayodele lands in Lagos’s Bar Beach of the early 2000’s, drawing three diverse protagonists with special abilities into a whirlwind journey. The city quickly devolves into chaos then, but Lagos is no stranger to madness, responding with almost extraterrestrial alacrity. This science-fantasy tale of first contact carries Lagos with it, allowing the city’s characteristic dank infrastructure, colourful motley of inhabitants and bustling energy shine, while paying homage to its history and folklore.
Cape Town, South Africa: Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human
Apocalypse Now Now is what happens when you cross pulpy B-grade fiction with sleazy African tabloids rife with tales of supernatural exploits. Baster Zevcenko, a porn-peddling, egoistic high-schooler, teams up with Jackie Ronin, Cape Town’s ass-kicking supernatural bounty hunter, to recover his kidnapped girlfriend from the city’s eldritch underworld. This hyperactive narrative puts the city’s drug-trafficking armpits and scarified architecture in dialogue with tokoloshes and zombie strippers, resulting in a rapidfire conversation that delights. The Verge described its proof-of-concept film as “Ghostbusters meets District 9.” If that doesn’t aptly describe the Cape Town that Charlie Human opens our eyes to, I don’t know what will.
Northern Desert Counties, Kenya: Attack of the Shidas by Muthoni Muchemi
This children’s book was commissioned by the Kenya Human Rights Commission to educate its children about ethnic intolerance which, studies show, is usually forced upon them by their parents. The book follows three children, one each from three ethnically different communities in an unnamed desert in a northern Kenyan county. Blessed with special powers, they alone can see and hear the invading water-stealing aliens from a dry planet. The adults of the three communities, which share a single bore-hole facility, point fingers at one another as the cause of its depletion. It becomes up to the children to use their powers and awareness of tolerance to prevent a war. The book has since been adapted for theatre, with music and dance performed in English and Kiswahili.
Sonokrom, Ghana: Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes
This remote village just outside of Accra is a perfect location for a paranormal detective mystery, where the persuasions of traditional belief clash with the obstinacy of western science. Kayo, a UK-trained forensic scientist, is dragged into an investigation that starts with the discovery of a chunk of human flesh. Kayo finds that not only has Sonokrom not changed much over generations, its people exist pretty differently from his life in Accra, and his dismissal of their tales for scientific explanations will be detrimental to the case. This story, in essence, is a peek into two Ghanas, and readers will appreciate the complexity of the frictions between the rural and the urban, the old and the new, in this post-colonial nation.
Johannesburg, South Africa: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Much like Apocalypse Now Now, Beukes’ Zoo City takes place in South Africa, features its invisible undesirables and ventures into noirish territory. Most of the comparisons end there, though. Johannesburg—and Zoo City, the slum where the “animalled” population live (those who’ve committed a crime and have been forced to “carry” an animal, as well as gain a strange magical ability)—is its own world. Zinzi December is a con artist with her own animal—a sloth—and a gift for finding missing things. She’s dragged into a missing persons case that turns out to be much more. There are strong allusions to xenophobia, class segregation and the stigma of conviction (and in a tongue-in-cheek manner, AIDS), all issues plaguing the brick-mortar-and-flesh city outside of the book.
Originally published in June 2019
Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a Nigerian author of stories featuring African(esque) gods, starships, monsters, detectives and everything in-between. His godpunk novel, David Mogo, Godhunter, is out from Abaddon in July 2019, and currently available for pre-order. His internationally published fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Apex, Podcastle, The Dark, and other periodicals and anthologies. He is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, where he teaches writing to undergrads. He tweets at @IAmSuyiDavies and is @suyidavies everywhere else. Learn more at suyidavies.com.