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Africa in SF – The Prequel


Originally published at Cheryl's Mewsings. Please leave any comments there.

Today I went to see the Africa in SF exhibition at the Arnolfini in Bristol. This is not my report in it. This is my post about Africa-related science fiction literature which I’m doing for the benefit of all the people who asked for my blog address afterwards. My report will probably appear on Tuesday.

A few words of explanation first. Some of these people write what appears to be fantasy, or an SF/fantasy mix. Without getting into too much theory, it is worth pointing out that a lot of apparent science fiction is fantastical because, for example, faster than light travel is supposedly impossible. Also I note Sir Arthur’s famous dictum that sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic. So I’m not worrying about distinctions here. (Regular readers, please do not derail with nitpicking over genre boundaries.)

Links in what follows are to my reviews in the case of books, and to the SF Encyclopedia for writer names.

Let’s start with Western writers who have used a future, more developed Africa as a setting. Before Ian McDonald got into the full swing of his developing economies books he wrote Evolution’s Shore and Kirinya, both set in Kenya. Mike Resnick has also written books set in Kenya, though I’ve not read them. A more recent example is Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds.

Alternate history has also been used to imagine a more technologically sophisticated Africa. In Years of Rice and Salt Kim Stanley Robinson killed off the population of Europe and allowed human civilization to develop out of Asia and Africa, though I was disappointed that the plot merely re-told European history with the names changed. A better example is Jon Courtenay Grimwood‘s Pashazade series (Pashazade, Effendi and Fellahin) which does away with the First World War, allowing Grimwood to write cyberpunk thrillers set in a near future North Africa that is protected by the still extant Ottoman Empire.

There are many African American writers publishing SF&F, though most of their output is more fantasy-focused and often relates more to the American part of their heritage than the African. Some examples are Samuel R. Delany, Nisi Shawl, Andrea Hairston, David Anthony Durham and N.K. Jemisin.

Caribbean writers have produced some interesting science fiction. Good examples are Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson and the Xenowealth series by Tobias S. Buckell (Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose).

Moving on to Africa itself, two women writers have had notable recent success. Lauren Beukes, who lives in Cape Town, won the Arthur C. Clarke Award with Zoo City, though Moxyland is a more obviously science fictional take on South Africa. Nnedi Okorafor was raised in the US but her parents are Nigerian and she still keeps close contact with that country. Most of her books are set in Africa. Zharah the Windseeker won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Africa Literature, while Who Fears Death won the World Fantasy Award.

A useful source of what is going on with science fiction in Africa today is the Afrocyberpunk blog maintained by Jonathan Dotse from Ghana.

Science fiction is also written in languages other than English. Pierre Gevart, the editor of Galaxies magazine, tells me that he has received submissions from Francophone writers in Africa. Egypt has a thriving SF community writing in Arabic. Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik was recently published in English translation.

There are bound to be other examples that I have forgotten or missed, so if the hive mind would like to contribute by all means comment below.