Speculative fiction is blossoming across Africa. The Nommo Award, established in 2017 by the African Speculative Fiction Society, highlights some of these exciting new works. Major writers like Nnedi Okorafor and Tade Thompson have, between them, won the field’s highest honors, including the Hugo, World Fantasy and Clarke awards. And a wide assortment of authors from the African diaspora have been creating ambitious, well-regarded African-inspired fantasy and science fiction, such as Booker Prize winner Marlon James’s recent “Black Leopard, Red Wolf.”
So, what are some titles that readers may want to add to their collections?
Silvia: Tade Thompson made a splash with his science fiction trilogy “Rosewater,” but as a horror fan I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention his disturbing Molly Southbourne novellas, which feature science fiction elements and an ingenious premise about body doubles created whenever a young woman bleeds.
Another fresh voice is Nigerian author Suyi Davies Okungbowa, whose energetic “Son of the Storm” opens a new series set in a lush secondary world inspired by West Africa. It’s the sort of elaborate classic fantasy scenario with magic and adventure that fans of the genre will adore.
There’s also life in the smaller presses. “Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora” provides an eclectic introduction to several writers, including Dare Segun Falowo, who I’m happy to see is quite active: I published him a few years ago in “The Dark.” And I recently got hold of a copy of “The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan” by Zig Zag Claybourne, another small press title that should please Buckaroo Banzai fans (though I’m well aware this reference will carbon-date me).
Lavie: Good choices — no one does gonzo sci-fi quite like Zig Zag Claybourne, and “Son of the Storm” has a classic sword and sorcery feel to it. I think it’s worth mentioning how much things are changing. Tade struggled for years to find a mainstream publisher — “Rosewater,” a novel that ambitiously details a very strange alien invasion in Lagos — was first published by the small press Apex Publications before being acquired by Orbit. His “Making Wolf” similarly had a small press release initially. I highly recommend it for fans of gritty noir with an alternate history vibe.
Zimbabwean writer T.L. Huchu had wide acclaim as a literary writer before turning to fantasy with his latest, “The Library of the Dead,” which follows a young woman who can talk to the dead as she investigates a child’s disappearance in Glasgow's magical underworld while drawing on Zimbabwean magic. A good introduction to the continent’s wide array of voices is the “AfroSF” series of anthologies, which collects some great writers, like South Africa’s Mandisi Nkomo, Uganda’s Dilman Dila (who is also active as a filmmaker), Gambia’s Biram Mboob and Nigeria’s Chinelo Onwualu. Onwualu was co-founder of Omenana, an online magazine that does incredible work publishing the new generation of African writers. And I picked Botswana author Tlotlo Tsamaase’s “The Silence of the Wilting Skin” last year as one of my top reads, so I won’t belabor the point, but I can’t wait to see where she goes next.
Silvia: Jumping from science fiction to fantasy, Sofia Samatar’s “A Stranger in Olondria” tackles one of my favorite genres: the bildungsroman, which is a fancy way to say coming of age. Feeling a bit like a Dickensian tale of a boy going to the big city, it soon morphs into a ghost story. Charming stuff. And if people are interested in short stories rather than novels, the award-winning magazine “Fiyah” offers a wide selection.
Lavie: For people looking for even more short fiction, Wole Talabi’s “Incomplete Solutions” is a recent collection by this Nigerian author that takes you from “the bustling streets of Lagos to the icy moons of Jupiter.”
I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface. African literature is huge and diverse — from the Francophone works of West Africa to the Arabic powerhouses of Egypt and North Africa, not to mention such classic authors as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who wrote primarily in the Gikuyu language. I am not sure I can claim Ngũgĩ as a fantasist, exactly, but with novels like “Wizard of the Crow” and “Devil on the Cross” he must be counted as one of the continent’s great writers. And we haven’t even mentioned local imprints such as Umuzi in South Africa that publish great genre fiction not available elsewhere. All I can say is that it’s an exciting time for speculative fiction from Africa. Readers and publishers should take notice.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of “Mexican Gothic,” Gods of Jade and Shadow” and “Signal to Noise.” Lavie Tidhar is the author of several novels, including “The Violent Century,” “A Man Lies Dreaming,” “Central Station” and, most recently, “By Force Alone.”