In fiction, we are exposed to new places. With speculative fiction, we are exposed to new possibilities. There are new ideas of science, of magic, of horror lingering in books from authors Western readers insist have unpronounceable names. These books offer fresh perspectives into people or places we thought we knew. African SF&F grapples with unique themes like colonialism and the recovery from this past. There are witches and wizards, infusion of cultures and traditions that will stun the reader. Not all magic happens using a wand, and people perform magic in their native tongues too.
Here are 10 books by African writers offering a breath of fresh air.
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Témi Oh
In this heartbreaking debut, an earth-like planet is discovered by an astronomer. In a future time when the space race has been renewed to include most countries of the world, humans have determined that the new planet may soon be inhabitable.
A team of astronauts, including six teens and four veterans, is sent to the newly discovered planet. This journey will take 23 years. Do You Dream of Terra-Two is about that journey.
This book is ambitious. It’s an oddity as it differs a lot from other Space race novels. Oh walks us through the misery of growing up and the viciousness of preparing for a destiny, and brings our fear of the future to fore. While it appears to be about astronauts, it’s also about humans, and reveals a lot about the future.
Rosewater (The Wormwood Trilogy) by Tade Thompson
This trilogy is a masterclass in genre-bending. Set in Nigeria 2066, we meet Kaaro, a banker by day and a government agent by night. When an alien biodome crashes into the earth, the people of Rosewater rush to the biodome to get the healing powers it has been rumoured to have. But Kaaro is sensitive, a psychic with abilities to read people’s minds and replay past events. As his fellow agents begin to die mysteriously, Kaaro sets out to find answers.
Rosewater is redemptive and meditative. On the former, it creates an hopeful Nigeria where people find solutions to their problems save from the government. On the latter, it offers a philosophical approach to concerns about ecological dysfunctions and the negligence of encouraging solutions in Nigeria, and the world.
There’s a mix of hardcore SF, biopunk, fantasy and crime thriller in this series.
Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwe Parkes
In a village in remote Ghana, the Sonokrom people walk with the spirit of their ancestors and speak the language of their ancestors. But when the discovery of the bones of a vanished man is unexplainable, a pathologist, Kayo, appears to have the much-needed answers.
This novel is filled with the urban and the rural. We see street hawkers and Accra pubs. We follow the lives of the people of Sonokrom as they live, sheltered by the forest, not worrying about IOS upgrades. It appears to be a metaphor for the clash between the old and the new, the mythical and the scientific and where they overlap and intersect.
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
In this beautifully written debut, we witness the coming of age of a Farmer’s son, Jevick. Jevick, a boy in love with books, explores the land of Olondria while trying to sell his pepper crop. The novel explores the concepts of writing, languages, and stories. We see Jevick’s ghost companion—a young girl, Jissavet, whom he met on his way to Olondria and who subsequently died from the disease kyitna. The ghost of the girl possesses him in an effort to immortalize her memory through writing..
The descriptions in this book are exotic. It’s not the typical fantasy novel as the author explores the subject of hauntings and how, between beliefs, we are constantly in search of answers.
David Mogo, GodHunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
The gods fell from the sky. Now they’re forced to wander Lagos.
In this Lagos-set urban fantasy, a demigod, David Mogo, walks the street of the city as a freelance gods hunter. Even though he has been able to catch a high-profile god, he still struggles to make a decent living wage. Despite this, he perseveres. But when he’s contracted to capture a pair of twin gods, David knows he’s gotten the wrong job.
Okungbowa does a good job painting police brutality in Nigeria. There’s the endearing use of pidgin and “Nigerian english.” Yoruba mythology is central to understanding the book.
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Zinzi is a former journalist and an addict. Living in the slum of Zoo city has not been easy on her. She runs email scams to repay her debt to her former dealer. But finding things–keys, wallets, rings, is her talent.
Residents of Johannesburg carry the burdens of their sins on their shoulders in the form of animals. Haunted by her past in the form of a sloth, she’s forced to take on the job of finding a person for a music producer. As she investigates, she’s plunged into deep dark secrets of a city filled with magic and evil.
This is an urban fantasy with a good amount of horror.
The Terminal Move by Dilman Dila
The Jalabong tribe searched for a new home after losing their former home to a rival tribe. In this long search for a home, the tribe is torn apart by war and famine. But Laceng, a fiery youth from the tribe finds new ways, along with his gang, to put the tribe on course.
In this novel, we witness a story told like a fantasy adventure.
Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood
In this thriller-cum-sci-fi novel, the author re-examines the tumultuous time of apartheid in South Africa.
A white psychologist develops a machine that allows him to see other people’s thoughts As the psychologist continues to test his newfound invention on patients, he happens upon Sibusiso Mchunu who seems to be a super patient.
As news of the machine leaks to the public, , Sibusiso is caught accidentally in-between the two sides of the apartheid. While the Special Branch agents and the ANC want the machine for different reasons, Sibusiso must become the conscience of a nation.
Blackass by Igoni Barrett
In this Kafkaesque novel, Metamorphosis comes to Lagos. When Furo Wariboko, a Black man in Lagos, wakes up one morning to discover that his entire body, save his ass, has turned white, we follow what it’s like being an oyibo man in the city. Furo changes his name to Frank White as he navigates the city meeting beautiful women, having his cab fares raised, and a force-change of psychology.
Blackass exposes the realities and privileges that accompany being white, even in Black communities. It satirizes the extent Lagosians will go to show that they are important.
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
This is a saga spanning 3 generations of Zambian families. we witness high tech drones, a chorus of mosquitoes, blind tennis player, and more. The novel establishes itself in the SF&F genre with varying incorporation of sci-fi and fantasy. We witness high tech drones, a chorus of mosquitoes, blind tennis player, and more.
The Old Drift is based on The Autobiography of an Old Drifter by Percy M. Clark 1874-1937. Set in Zambia from 1903 to 2023, it traces the colonial history of the country till the present day. Written in lush prose and evocative language, if you enjoy historical fiction with complex characters, you should read this book.
Anifowoshe Ibrahim is a freelance writer from Lagos, Nigeria. His works have been published in Kalahari Review, The African Writer, The Portalist, and The Republic. He is a member of the African Speculative Fiction Society. You can find him on twitter @ibankhanwrites. He writes the It’s Not Your Business on Substack.