Billy Kahora, ed., Imagine Africa 500 (Lilongwe: Pan African Publishers, 2015)

12208473_10207887868455361_7005059626302233307_nThis fifteen-story collection emerged from an sf writers’ workshop in Malawi, for which the final assignment was to write a story set 500 years in the future.

It opens with the bleakest of them, Muthi Nhlema’s ‘One Wit’ This Place’. After the geo-engineers have failed to save the world from devastating climate change, at the ‘terminus between the Oce and the Sah’, a woman awaits the return of her soldier husband. He is a traumatised as the Earth is scorched, and catastrophe keeps coming.

Other stories are set after the apocalypse has been and gone. Dilman Dila’s ‘Snake Blood’ is an almost-fantasy tale of dynastic and domestic struggles years after The Great Disaster. In Catherine Shepherd’s ‘Xaua-Khoe’, an old man recalls his grandfather explaining to him when he was a child that the ‘giant metal flowers’ dotting the ‘arid landscape’ are ‘defunct wind turbines … Clean energy that came too late’. Disease has swept the world in Lauri Kubuitsile’s ‘When We Had Faith’, leaving only a brutal fundamentalist regime unscathed. Aubrey Chinguwo’s ‘Closer to the Sun’ imagines a crazy plan to wipe out all human life on Earth, apart from a new Adam and Eve, which is news to one of them. In Derek Lubangakene’s ‘Transit’, some genius has only gone and made all the men on the continent impotent, which may or may not be the apocalypse, the jury is still kinda out.

In Tuntufye Simwimba’s ‘Tiny Dots’, the world still hangs in the balance; global warming is intensifying, cancer is like a wildfire, but in all of this, it is still possible for an accident – and an Empire Strikes Back joke – to reunite an estranged father and son. Somehow, in Wole Talabi’s ‘Necessary and Sufficient Conditions’, humanity won the Singularity War, and new technologies have led to an African ascendance, but even in this continent-wide Wakanda there are reasons for a son to want to murder his father. Similarly, in Musinguzi Ray Robert’s ‘Unexpected Dawn’, a united Africa arose in the aftermath of the Eighth World War and survived a Ninth – and there is nothing a recalcitrant Texas can do about it.

Other stories imagine a future of more or less endless capitalism and patriarchy. In Hagai Magai’s ‘Those Without Sin’, a thirty-something son, who got himself imprisoned to escape a world of whose changing values and priorities he despairs, returns home to find everything changed and still changing. Frances Naiga Muwonge’s ‘After Market Life’ depicts Nama’s last day selling actual, non-synthetic food in Kampala’s market as she anticipates her new life with an American husband. In Hannah Onoguwe’s ‘A Is A Four Letter Word’, some little shit blackmails his teacher, who is also his best friend’s mother, for sex, because he knows a secret that could destroy her (and because he is a little shit with no compunction about behaving like that). In Tiseke Chilima’s ‘Women Are From Venus’, women long ago had the good sense to decamp to our sister world, even if it required massive biological transformations, but it has only made women-traffickers all the more devious.

The Venus we do not see nonetheless points to some utopian possibility, as does Stephen Embleton’s ‘Land of Light’, with its vision of a rebuilt Africa united into two fraternal states, and of reconciliations and spiritual connection.

But personally, I found the utopian trace with which Chinelo Onwualu’s ‘The Wish Box’ ends more appealing. A cunning indictment of the philanthropy of its well-meaning protagonist, the story culminates with the sudden flowering of class-consciousness, and rage, in the glinting of a child’s eyes.

Imagine Africa 500 is a smart and engaging addition to the growing number of anthologies of African sf, not quite as literary as Nerine Dorman’s Terra Incognita, nor quite as pulpy as Ivor Hartmann’s AfroSF collections. Billy Kahora, The Story Club and Pan African Publishers are to be congratulated for setting this all in motion, for their commitment to developing new writers, for their efforts to address the domination of African sf by South Africa and Nigeria – Imagine Africa 500 includes five authors from Malawi, four from Uganda and one from Botswana, as well as three Nigerians and two South Africans – and by male writers – two-fifths of the stories are by women, which is not parity but is heading in the right direction.

[My thanks to Trine Andersen for providing a copy.]

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2 thoughts on “Billy Kahora, ed., Imagine Africa 500 (Lilongwe: Pan African Publishers, 2015)”

  1. Great overview. Shadreck Chikoti and Trine Andersen thanks so much for giving me an opportunity to meet so many amazing Malawian writers and bringing me onto this project. Thanks to Beatrice Lamwaka and Jackee Batanda as co-convenors of the workshop in Malawi where the stories were incubated.

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