The Short: For me, “Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction” (2022 Tor), Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Zelda Knight, & Sheree Renée Thomas editors, was a good but not great original anthology. My overall rating of 3.51/5 was at the upper end of “Good” for the 32 original stories included. I enjoyed reading it for the breadth of African and African-diaspora authors.
The Full Story: I am interested in a wide range of international authors and voices in speculative fiction. When I heard about the original anthology “Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction” (2022 Tor), Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Zelda Knight, & Sheree Renée Thomas editors, I knew I wanted to read it. I was also attracted to reading this as it was original fiction and not reprints as far as I know.
I was pleased to be able to get it from my library.
It includes 32 original stories, with some authors I have seen before and many I have not.
It is decidedly speculative fiction, with science fiction, fantasy and horror interspersed, from authors from Africa and the African diaspora. This breadth was attractive to me.
I liked the Introduction, which tells us what the editors were thinking about. There are also “Acknowledgements”, “About the Authors” and “About the Editors”. I appreciate all of them.
I have mixed feelings about how the “About the Authors” entries are grouped at the end of the book, after all of the fiction. I like that these are provided, but not having the author information adjacent to the stories makes it harder for me to connect them with the stories. This issue is not unique to this anthology. I get why editors do this, but it’s not my preference.
My overall rating for the stories is 3.51/5, or “Good” on my rating scale. It did not get to “Very good”, “Great”, etc. I finished reading all but one of the stories. Having said that, there were definitely a few here that did not impress me. This might be a combination of my personal taste and interests in short fiction and in how those stories are written, and your experience might differ.
Favorites here that fell into “Great” on my personal rating scale included:
- “A Soul of Small Places“, short fiction by Woppa Diallo and Mame Bougouma Diene, with Woppa Diallo an author new to me.
- “Ghost Ship“, short fiction by Tananarive Due, perhaps the most Sfnal of the stories I have read by her.
- “Once Upon a Time in 1967“, a short story by Oyedotun Damilola Muees, another author new to me.
- “Rear Mirror“, a short story by Nuzo Onoh, the best story of the several I have read by this author.
- “The Blue House“, a short story by Dilman Dila, the author of “Red_Bati“.
- “The Soul Would Have No Rainbow“, a short story by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu, who also wrote “The Friendship Bench“.
- “The Taloned Beast“, short fiction by Chinelo Onwualu, another author new to me.
I was pleased that four of my favorites featured authors new to me, and I thank the editors for that.
There were also stories that fell into “Very good” for me by authors new to me that I’ll be paying attention to, including:
- “Door Crashers“, a short story by Franka Zeph.
- Housewarming for a Lion Goddess“, a short story by Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga.
- “The Papermakers“, a short story by Akua Lezli Hope.
- “A Girl Crawls in a Dark Corner“, a short story by Alexis Brooks de Vita.
- “Liquid Twilight“, a short story by Ytasha Womack.
“Africa Risen” contains the first stories listed in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database by several authors, including “Door Crashers” by Franka Zeph, “Liquid Twilight” by Ytasha Womack, and Woppa Diallo‘s contribution to “A Soul of Small Places” (with Mame Bougouma Diene). They might very well have other fiction that is not in ISFDB, but it does tell you the editors worked hard on finding new voices.
This might be a result of my personal taste (I am not a huge fan of horror, for instance) or how I felt about how they were written, but there is one story that I could not finish and others that just did not appeal to me. This balances out by how much I loved some of the others and how much I liked being introduced to new authors that I liked.
I am glad I read “Africa Risen”, but my reaction is decidedly mixed. Recommended especially if you have an interest in international speculative short fiction.
Detailed Story Reviews/Comments – SPOILERS!
“The Blue House“, a short story by Dilman Dila, the author of “Red_Bati”. A great story of an android of a person, after climate change has rendered only androids capable of surviving due to heat and cold, as the android recovers some memories and finally breaks down. As the android finally fails, it hopes that the spirit of the girl’s memory/mind source is still around. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“March Magic“, a short story by W. C. Dunlap. A very good story of magic and hope in the swamp, and “I have a dream”. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“IRL“, short fiction by Steven Barnes, who also wrote a story I thought was fantastic, the 2019 short story “Come Home to Atropos“. A very good story of a virtual life king, and the implications of his actions “in real life”. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“The Deification of Igodo“, a short story by Joshua Ochenna Omenga. A man becomes a big man, a protector of a region. He becomes a king, and then wants to become a god. Things do not go well. This is a fable for me. Rated 3.1/5, or “Good”.
“Mami Wataworks“, short fiction by Russell Nichols. A very good story, with an interesting balance of explained and not explained. A drought stricken world, or perhaps region of a world. A ceremonial or ritual aspect of water, and what happens when there is not enough. An attempt by the daughter of the cupbearer to bring lost technology to bear. In the end, a hopeful and interesting story. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Rear Mirror“, a short story by Nuzo Onoh. I love this almost short short about a new, Christian burial business in a town with very strong pagan beliefs, and a funeral attempt that goes badly wrong, with the spirit of a woman who is pagan and does not want to be buried in the Christian way. Humorous in a somewhat serious way. Great characters. 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“Door Crashers“, a short story by Franka Zeph. A fascinating story of time and timeline travel, and espionage. This felt like a story that should have been a novelette or longer, or perhaps something that should be a novel. I was left wanting more, by an author that is new to me. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“The Soul Would Have No Rainbow“, a short story by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu, who also wrote “The Friendship Bench“. I loved this story of a young woman, studying in America but back home for the funeral of her beloved grandmother Gogo. She is in for a real surprise. Another story that left me hoping for more. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“A Dream of Electric Mothers“, short fiction by Wole Talibi, author of “An Arc of Electric Skin“. A very good story of a war minister and the cabinet’s consultation with a memory/simulation of past citizens, needing insights and advice on how to respond to a threat of war. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good.”
“Simbi“, a short story by Sandra Jackson-Opoku. I wanted to like this vignette, but it lacks what I need for even a short short. Rated 3/5, or just barely “Good”.
“Housewarming for a Lion Goddess“, a short story by Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga. A lion goddess can never trust again, and has relationship issues, perhaps justifiably so. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“A Knight in Tunisia“, short fiction by Alex Jennings. I was interested in this story of Powers and galactic war, but I felt there was too much going on here for the story length. Rated 3.3/5, or “Good”.
“The Devil Is Us“, a short story by Mirette Bahgat. A story of jinn and cemetery archeological theft. Rated 3/5, or “Good”.
“Cloud Mine“, a short story by Timi Odueso. A good story of a dry village, and a need for a rainmaker, and what happens when they get one. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.
“Ruler of the Rear Guard“, a short story by Maurice Broaddus, author of the 2020 “Bound by Sorrow“. A very interesting story of a young woman from the US who has had it with “Living While Black” and returns to Africa to find community. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“Peeling Time (Deluxe Edition)“, short fiction by Tlotlo Tsamaase, author of the 2020 “The Thoughtbox” and the 2020 “Behind Our Irises“. Horror, not my thing, did not finish. Rated 2/5, for “Did Not Finish”.
“The Sugar Mill“, a short story by Tobias S. Buckell, author of the 2019 “The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex” and the 2020 “The Machine That Would Rewild Humanity“. A very good story of a descendant of Caribbean slaves, attempting to sell a historic sugar mill to Americans after a devastating hurricane. He sees and hears from the ghosts of his ancestors, some of whom died in the mill. When the ghosts convince him to tell the truth about the mill, the sale falls through, and the ghosts are pleased. Not surprising, but a good story well told. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“The Carving of War“, a short story by Somto Ihezue. A good story of the rebellious daughter of a high priestess or goddess, and her unending battle with her mother. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Ghost Ship“, a short fiction by Tananarive Due. The most SFnal story by the author I have read, and a great one. The orphaned daughter of two mothers who emigrated back to Africa and died is named “Flordia”. She sent back to the US by her employer. It turns out she is to be a courier to deliver a genemod animal. As a service person, she is second class on board. It turns out that the genemod animal is carrying a plague. Everyone but her friend Lesidi (in service also) dies, and Florida is the captain of a ghost ship. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“Liquid Twilight“, a short story by Ytasha Womack. A story about dancing, and spirits, and the ocean. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“Once Upon a Time in 1967“, a short story by Oyedotun Damilola Muees. I love this story of a were fox during the Nigerian Civil War (AKA “the Biafran Revolution”), and a adventure with a river goddess. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“A Girl Crawls in a Dark Corner“, a short story by Alexis Brooks de Vita. A horrific story of a form of female genital mutilation, I think. I might like this more if I was a bigger horror fan. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.
“The Lady of the Yellow-Painted Library“, a short story by Tobi Ogundiran. An amusing and macabre story of a man who loses a book, and things go badly for him. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“When the Mami Wata Met a Demon“, a short story by Moustapha Mbacké Diop. A good story of a young man, who is the son of a witch, and the last sea goddess they worship, and a demon. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.
“The Papermakers“, a short story by Akua Lezli Hope. A very good story of a woman who is a member of a guild of papermancers. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“A Soul of Small Places“, short fiction by Woppa Diallo and Mame Bougouma Diene. A horrifying story of a young woman who becomes a soukounio, a flesh eating demon. She saves her younger sister from rape and ruin, but causes the deaths of her parents. Rape by herdsmen is a big part of this story. Very powerful. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.
“Air to Shape Lungs“, a short story by Shingai Njeri Kagunda. This story is made up of “memory” and “living now” segments, alternating, of beings that learn they cannot ask questions when it is not time. I suspect this is somewhat of a conversation about racism or colonialism or both. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.
“Hanfo Driver“, a short story by Ana Nnadi. I really like this story of a young man who occasionally works for a close friend of his father after he is orphaned. This friend, a visionary entrepreneur who has big ideas that the young man often suffers for, is asked to drive a new hover bus, or hanfo. As he suspects, the hanfo breaks down and he must call the good-looking nephew of the owner to fix the hover bus. Romance might be in the air. My biggest issue with the story is that it did not need to be SF. I still loved the characters and setting and where the story went. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.
“Exiles of Witchery“, a short story by Ivana Akotowaa Ofori. A not unpleasant, but very lightweight tale of witchery, psychic powers and dimensional travel. I did not care about the characters or the outcome. Rated 3.1/5, or “Good”.
“The Taloned Beast“, short fiction by Chinelo Onwualu. A great story, of the young man Edim, perhaps a child of the Goddess, who is different in a number of ways. He is sent to be the city to live with his uncle and learn to be his apprentice. His uncle is a horrible person. He finally escapes after regaining the Voices, and frees a dragon kept captive. I loved the characters and where this went. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.
“Star Watchers“, a short story by Danian Darrell Jerry. A good story of twins, destined to be Star Watchers to protect their city. One of them decides to leave, and the other barely survives initiation without her. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.
“Biscuit & Milk“, short fiction by Dare Segun Falowo. This story has some real potential, but does not get there for me. The biggest issue for me is the structure, of mostly characterless descriptive numbered paragraphs. Maybe I am taking this wrong, but it felt like the outline of a story. Rated 3/5, or just barely “Good”.
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