I found the term Africanfuturism (My computer thinks I misspelled Afrofuturism. Thanks, but no, I didn’t.) on author Nnedi Okorafor’s blog, after reading her novella Binti. Like many who pick up Okorafor’s books, I wanted more. I wanted to read more of this Africa that blended science fiction elements to create something new and somehow familiar. But finding more books within the subgenre can be difficult because a lot of bookstores, critics, and publishers treat Africanfuturism and Afrofuturism like the same thing—often grouping the two genres together and calling one by the other’s name, or totally excluding Africanfuturism from the conversation in order to lump all Black stories under Afrofuturism.
The distinction between the two couldn’t be plainer, however. Okorafor describes it in her blog post “Africanfuturism Defined” as a subcategory of science fiction centered in and about Africa and their people.
That doesn’t mean that the stories have to take place explicitly on the continent of Africa, but that the themes, characters, and roots of the story are based in Africa and not in America or another predominantly white Western culture. Afrofuturism on the other hand is also a subcategory of science fiction concerning Black people within the diaspora that often features stories from outside of the continent of Africa and usually in colonized Western societies like America, Canada, and the UK.
For example, Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts could be considered Afrofuturism while Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift is Africanfuturism. One follows an antebellum south colony ship and deals with themes closely related to the experiences of Blacks within the African diaspora. The other focuses solely on the stories and futures of African people or places. See the difference?
To help with getting a grasp on what it means to dream of an Africa separate from the Western gaze, to live in a world where Black joy, fear, and love is at the center, here’s a list of books and stories from the Africanfuturism genre to get you started.
Africanfuturism: An Anthology edited by Wole Talabi
I love using anthologies as introductions to genres because they offer a wide sampling of stories within that style. Editor Wole Talabi’s Africanfuturism: An Anthology does not disappoint in this vein. And like any good anthology, there are stories by prominent and well-known African authors in the genre alongside those of new authors, creating a wide breadth of experiences, themes, and voices. These tales explore what it means to imagine a future Africa and a future for Africans among the stars or on this planet. There are tales like “Yat Madit” by Dilman Dila that explore socio-political themes alongside those of familial entanglements. Following in the same tradition of centering themes of family within a science fiction story is “Lekki Lekki” by Mame Bougouma Diene that is equal parts beautiful and emotional.
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
Zambian author Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift has recently made the rounds of being hailed as a staggering feat of debut greatness from. It’s sorta a historical novel, sorta fantasy, sorta science fiction, all around breath-taking journey into the past, present, and future. There’s a lot going on in this book, but the key takeaways are centered in African histories, dreams, and fears. Winner of the 2020 Arthur C. Clarke Award, The Old Drift explores the interwoven lives of three families and their interconnectedness to the history and future of a slightly embellished Zambia. This is one of those books that has sometimes been labeled as an afrofuturist text, but the content, characters, and themes stick close to Africa and aim to show its pain, power, and promise.
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
I would be totally beside myself if I didn’t include Okorafor on this list. The challenge came down to which book to include. No doubt, you should read all of her books and see for yourself the diverse themes and contents that make up africanfuturism. There’s the instant go-to Binti, which showcases in a dazzling way the merging of African ideals and customs with science fiction tropes and themes. Or her contributions to the Black Panther series, Shuri and Long Live the King. But those were too on the nose for me, which is why I choose Lagoon, a story that plays with the first contact trope in a way that makes it feel more magical and less scientific without sacrificing the science of it all. In Lagoon, Okorafor offers a new take on an overplayed and usually violent story by using familiar elements in new ways. Yes, there is horror to be had in an alien setting up shop in your hometown, but there is also growth and change that comes with it.
The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
Like The Old Drift, Drayden’s The Prey of Gods straddles the border between multiple genres, blending them all into one multifaceted tale centered around a future South Africa. Drayden presents a promising world where there are many advancements that make the world and people of South Africa better in some regard. However, Drayden doesn’t stop there. Pushing past the good that scientific advancements bring, there are gods and tech out of sync with this new, better world, threatening to turn it to ruin. A story with queer and Black heroes working together to save a piece of Africa, The Prey of Gods is a great take on what the hope of the future can bring in more ways than one.
Ife-Iyoku, Tale of Imadeyunuagbon by Oghenechovwen Donald Ekpeki
There’s this theory that people from severely colonized nations have already lived through an apocalypse, that their lives thereafter are all post-apocalyptic. Having this theory in mind while reading Ekpeki’s novella Ife-Iyoku, Tale of Imadeyunuagbon makes this story feel less futuristic and more current, more real. The imagined war that nearly lay waste to the continent of Africa giving rise to powers and nuclear waste creatures sounds like a loose metaphor for the truth. Featured in the Dominion anthology of tales from Africa and the diaspora, Ife-Iyoku is a story that rejects many tropes of the science fiction genre in order to strike a new tale of choice and freedom set in a post-apocalyptic Africa.
War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi
Onyebuchi’s War Girls is an africanfuturist tale surrounding two sisters in a future Nigeria. Like past Onyebuchi books, the author does a marvelous job at writing for young audiences in a way that doesn’t hide or downplay the violence and horror of what it means to be a child in a war-torn country. The story follows the two sisters as they wage war for and against their home, for and against each other. This is a Nigeria marked by its past and striking out at a new problematic future in the process of being changed by its children.
For some, there may not seem to be a need for distinction between the two subgenres. Black stories are Black stories, right?
When we as Black authors grapple with our own Blackness and roots whether in the diaspora or in dialogue with Africa, we are taking control of our own futures, stories, and histories. By doing this, new technologies and ways of being emerge, giving insight to the readers about how to interact within their own communities. Tropes that felt old and tired to begin with are birthed anew and cloaked in Black hope and intrigue. This is magic.
Aigner Loren Wilson is a SFWA, HWA, and Codex writer who hails from the Lenapehoking coast. She writes poetry, nonfiction, in-game stories, and fiction. Aigner is an associate editor and copy editor for the award-winning magazine Strange Horizons and horror podcast Nightlight; a writer for Oly Arts, Discover Pods, and other publications; and a judge for the international writing contest NYC Midnight. She is an Otherwise Fellowship honorable mention for 2019, and her work appears in Arsenika, Terraform, Rue Morgue, and more. Her work has been called evocative, noteworthy, and imaginative. Currently, she is writing and editing for herself and others while working on the endless submission grind for her short and long works.