Monday, December 31, 2012

AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers

I constantly hunt for collections of speculative short stories featuring themes and characters with an Africa flavor. I was excited to discover AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers edited by Ivor W. Hartmann.  AfroSF presents 22 noteworthy and emerging authors who are Africans living on the continent and throughout the world. I have read or been involved with other sci-fi collections such as Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction (Black Science Fiction Society); Dark Matter: Reading the Bones edited by Sheree R. Thomas; and The Darker Mask: Heroes from the Shadows edited by Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers. I've published my own anthology (AFRO Sci-Fi) that features my stories. I like sci-fi anthologies, a lot. 

AfroSF as with all anthologies has literary high plateaus, mediocre valleys and dismal pits. Most readers will find at least one or two stories that they will thoroughly enjoy and be enlightened by and perhaps even be moved emotionally to tears. There are midrange stories that despite flaws are still worth the time to read and ponder.  And, some stories will make you wonder, how in heavens did the manuscript get past the editors.  

My biggest concern is the price of the e-book: I paid a whopping $9.99 for the Kindle edition! In reality, this is far too much money for a digital volume of this scope (apparently, the U.S. Justice Department agrees with me). However, my curiosity overcame my fiscal sensibilities.  I wanted to read purely “African” science fiction; and embrace the hopes, fears and view-of-the-future by writers who intimately are aware of the 54 individual nations and thousands of social cultures in Africa.

“Home Affairs” by Sarah Lotz is set in an African dystopian where robots are the face of the government that most people interact with. A slight computer error can cause a catastrophic loss of your personal and national identity. It is a thought-provoking piece that is probably closer to reality than we would like to admit. “The Rare Earth” by Biram Mboob is an excellent piece set in a future Africa ruthlessly controlled by global corporations, hi-tech gangs, and a self-proclaimed messiah who uses stolen technology to produce religious miracles. 

There are other stories offering killer drones, spaceships, political and technological conflict that I found interesting. However, many of the contributors are young writers and not conversant with concepts such as FTL and other sci-fi hardware. For instance, traveling to the edge of the Earth solar system in a chemical-powered rocket would take more than a few months such as depicted in "Heresy" by Mandisi Nkomo. The NASA Voyager space crafts, the fastest human-made machines ever, have been traveling for more than three decades just to reach the fringes of the solar system boundaries. The science in science fiction should be plausible or at least current with existing tech. 

The real power of AfroSF flows from the exploration of everyday human problems in futuristic settings. Situations involve oppressive government, newly incurable diseases, innovative expressions of sexuality, foreign nations occupying huge tracts of native lands, corporate greed, global climate change and religious fanaticism. These are relevant issues for Africans today and tomorrow. Many of the writers in AfroSF strove to investigate the crucial element of sci-fi by asking, “What if Africa was . . .?”