Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Book Review: AfroSF Volume 2 edited by Ivor Hartmann

Following his critically acclaimed 2012 anthology, AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, Ivor Hartmann came back with Volume 2 last December. Departing from the short story format (AfroSF had 22 of them), AfroSF Volume 2 contains five novellas from six African SF writers (no that is not a typo, as one story is a joint collaboration between Tade Thompson and Nick Wood). As Mark Bould writes, this 'change of format' is significant and 'represents a conscious commitment to the further development of the field - and of the writers within in.' So what's the verdict?

Without a doubt the stand out stories for me were novella 1 (The Last Pantheon by Nick Wood and Tade Thompson) and novella 3 (The Flying Man of Stone by  Dilman Dila). I also really enjoyed reading novella 4 (VIII by Andrew Dakalira), although I wanted more. Now with novella 2 (Hell Freezes Over by Mame Bougouma Diene), I had mixed feelings - enjoying the second half more than I did the first. Finally, novella 5 (An Indigo Song for Paradise by Efe Tokunbo Okogu) was all kinds of crazy, but with hindsight I wonder if that is what the author was going for. So what were they about?

In The Last Pantheon, Nick Wood and Tade Thompson give us a glimpse of Africa's post-colonial history through the lives of feuding alien brothers who came to our planet around 50,000 years ago (ancient, much!). The story starts in the late 1970s, but it goes back and forth (mainly between the 1960s and 2015 - although there is some focus on 50,000 BP) and tracks their story as gods turned superheroes turned rivalling siblings. Black-Power and Pan-African have been part of a lot of our history - yes, Black-Power was in Katanga Province when Patrice Lumumba was assassinated. The brothers could have probably played a more significant (and positive) role in our development, but one brother did not want to take sides politically and instead focused on more superhero dealings - you know protecting the innocent and whatnot. Now it's 2015, the brother's have not been in contact for decades - one in Cape Town, the other in Lagos - and there is now a fight being promoted to reunite the feuding brothers. The Last Pantheon tells elements of Africa's political history in a great way, and if like me you are interested in the political economy of African countries, it's a wonderful read told from a unique perspective - that of superheroes. 

In Hell Freezes Over, the world has become dark and eerie, and if that's not bad enough, it might be coming to an end (hello post-apocalyptic world!). In the future world, we have five Castes, who each have a part to play - The Moles (who dug and borrowed),  The Fish (who dove and swam), The (engineering) Ants, The (agricultural) Bees and The (labour intensive) Beasts. The novella is broken into two parts. In the first part, which seems to be present day (in the context of the novella) we spend a lot of time with The Fish, and one in particular - Ari. The Fish travel far distances, going to towns and cities that have been submerged in search of food, materials, power sources and really what is needed, as ice is coming (clearly not a good thing) and they will be living in caves when this eventually happens. In this part we know there is some tension between the Moles and Fish, but it's not quite clear - but we do know that they have a vendetta against the Fish, who used to rule once.

Part 2 takes us back in time to when The Fish ruled, about a hundred years earlier, and here we meet Rina (she's a Mole woman). Now a Mole woman's life is set in stone and determined to a large extent by her results in the 'Fitness & Fertility' test. Basically if after the test you are barren (a Mole woman's job seems pretty much to populate and re-populate) you have two options: 1) you are cast away from your Caste and you hope another of the male Castes would take you as a wife; 2) you join the comfort houses to provide services for other Castes. Rina chose the second. Rina, I liked though - she didn't follow the norm. Yes, she went to the comfort house, but a revolt was coming and she joined it and played quite a crucial part in it. I do wonder though, if ever there was a history of the Moles take down of The Fish (clearly, I'm getting ahead of myself here) would Rina be included in it or would she be in the shadows - with her brother, the leader, discussed more? My fantasy history of this world aside, we see how - even in a world that is slowly being destroyed - power still dominates.

The Flying Man of the Stone, was another beautiful - if bloody - tale. There has been a civil war in an unnamed African country, and while Katong town was previously left untouched, as the story begins it has now been attacked by soldiers in search of recruits. Our protagonist, Kera (a teenage boy), and his father, Baba Chuma, are the only survivors in their family - Kera's mother and two younger siblings are dead and his older brother captured (pretty much dead). They find a hiding place - a cave in the plateau with charcoal drawings, drawings that came alive and captured Kera's father. The cave, it seems was home to spirits (more like ancient alien race) who transformed Baba (younger, tech savvy and he now even speaks fluent English) as they needed his help. They gave him rocks, which were really an advanced technology that enabled Baba to create wonderful inventions, such as a replicating machine or the flying machine and gun he makes for Kera to rescue his brother. If only it was so simple, as Baba's good intentions lead to unforeseen consequences. 

I really liked Dilman's writing in this story and I have really been meaning to read his collection, A Killing in the Sun. Reading this novella spurred me to do so. In Chapter 2 of the novella, he excellently captures the downfall of Katong town, which went from a worker's camp to a divided home for Indian traders, English colonial governors and mine owners and African workers - 'servants to the foreigners'. A military coup, death of a charismatic General, bloody coup after bloody coup, and a civil war later brings us to Katong town today. This section is quite key to the story as it reveals how colonialism lingers today in the town and with its inhabitants - particularly with one character's distrust of Europeans and non-African religions and his devotion to traditional religions and the ancestral spirits. This leads to an uprising - Baba's inventions have been taken to mean the ancestors are back - which spirals out of control. This story reveals how terrifying humans, and our killer instincts, can be. 

On to VIII. I read the last line, 'War had begun', and I could not believe it was over. I honestly felt like there was more, or at least there should be. It is 2023, and the 8th billion person is about to be born. A cause for celebration, and there will be one as preparations are under way. On a beach near Lake Malawi, a spaceship has crashed and with it a series of events unfold - increasing murders in Malawi and beyond, and the Roman numerals, VIII, on some of the dead bodies. Um! What's going on? Multiple characters are in this story, but it doesn't feel overwhelming or confusing. With time we find out what exactly is going on. It's an alien invasion, but not as you might think. We find out from Sir Gregory - who was pretty bad ass - who finally reveals his secret and the reasons behind the killings. This has been coming for a really, really, really, really, really long time and the aliens have been waiting until we were at 8 billion for their fun to begin. Here, I got Predator vibes (in a hunting-humans-for-sport way). 

I liked this story. It had a very cinematic feel to it (I also got Independence Day vibes - maybe it's the alien invasion, the President ...).  I could see Onani in his white 2006 Corolla listening to R&B, the female prisoner in Chilinde Barracks being held captive, the road blocks, the conference room in Lilongwe ... Still the story ends abruptly, which is sad because it could certainly have gone on. As it ends, we know there's going to be a bloody battle between the Metsu's and the guma's, but who will win? I guess it's entirely up to us to decide.

Last, but certainly not the least is An Indigo Song for Paradise, which was all kinds of weird, but I wonder if that's what Okogu was going for because 'Paradise City, aka God's clock, aka the PC', seems to be all kinds of crazy. It starts with Ecila, who finds a metallic object after a storm which transports him instantly from his village to Para City - which used to be part of a once great city before the emperor departed and took the brightest and best with him. What Paradise City is now is pretty unclear - even for its inhabitants. Is it 'an illusion, a simulation on a hyper-dimensional computer', a 'criminal organisation', or something else? In between there are huemen's, vampires, xombie's, TerraCorp's and more. There's also a lot going on - a protest against TerraCorp who is 'terrorising the planet', what looks like a heist/or a break-in to retrieve an object from TerraCorp (an object that is pretty similar to the one that transported Ecila to PC), cops trying to break the riots, a science fair, a music award show and towards the end a xombie apocalypse (don't worry, this was not all in one night). There is clearly frustration in Para City, with the majority huemen mad at the ruling minority vampire elite and their corruption and devastation of the city. I wonder, is this story placing a mirror onto society, corporations, ruling elites, the like? Also, will violence, and a xombie apocalypse, be the only way to deal with the social injustices that are present (and have been present) for a really long time in this world?

Having read the anthology, there is an underlying theme of violence (in different forms) in this collection - the political violence in African countries, but also the feuding superhero brothers and their fight to death; the Mole take down and the violence that comes with it and the resulting doom of the Fish 100 years later; the civil war and the uprising in Katong Town; the alien invasion and killings in 2023 Malawi; and the madness in Paradise City (there was a lot of killing there). Scratch through that and there is some serious social commentary about the state of affairs - be it in the past with Africa's political history post-independence to the injustices that arise from corporate and elite greed. Having said that, this is also a really fun collection, and while I definitely enjoyed some of the stories more than others, Ivor Hartmann should be commended again for bringing together such innovative and imaginative stories. 

I still would have loved some female voices up in here (something I mentioned previously). Fear not! There has been a call for submissions for AfroSFv3 - a spaced themed anthology - and I remain optimistic that the brilliant female voices in African SF won't be left out.  Deadline for submissions are December 1 2016. I would like to thank Ivor Hartmann for the ARC of AfroSFv2, and I eagerly await v3.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Book Review: Joanne Macgregor's 'Scarred'

Back in March of 2014, I delved into the world of a crazed gynaecologist and a psychologist trying to bring him down. The novel was Dark Whispers, a psychological thriller, and it was my first introduction to the work of South African author Joanne Macgregor. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Joanne Macgregor's new novel, Scarred - a YA novel set in the United States and I am just going to come right out and say Scarred was an absolute pleasure to read. Also, Joanne Macgregor has a way of drawing you in from the first page with her writing (I felt the exact same way with Dark Whispers) - she made me want to find out more. 

Scarred tells the story of Sloane Munster who used to be THAT teen - popular, great athlete (a champion swimmer) and gorgeous. Until a tragic accident which greatly affects her. All that was BS (before scar). Now AS (after scar), in addition to many pills and regular visits to her psychologist, Sloane is also obsessed with tragic accidents. She follows the news about them regularly to make her self feel somewhat better about her situation - it could have been worse. Now starting her senior year in a new school, Sloane is prepared for the worst - stares, teasing and bullying from the other kids. As the accident, well, left her scarred.

Scarred is as much about physical scarring - Sloane was severely injured in the accident leading to critical damage not only internally, but also a scar on her face which makes her extremely self conscious so she tries to hide behind tons of make-up and her hair - as it is about emotional scarring. Unable to swim again (competitively) and dealing with the consequences of the accident, Scarred reveals the scars we cannot see, which usually causes us even more pain. 

Scarred is also about love, but not the gooey teen romance, but a quite mature love that requires forgiveness. This is where Luke Naughton comes in - super hottie swimmer who Sloane had a serious crush on before the accident (when she was still swimming competitively in her other school). Now in the same school, Sloane cannot believe her luck. That is until Luke - who she thought might be different - gives her this look of disdain when she first walks into class on her first day of school (vain much, Luke. Here, I was rooting for you). Looks, however, can be deceiving, and one of the ways in which Scarred works is that we are not left to wonder only from Sloane's perspective what that look could mean. This is because with time we learn that Scarred is also told from Luke's perspective. Luke himself is actually more complex than you would imagine and is not just another pretty boy (he volunteers at an animal shelter for one). 

While Sloane is clearly the main character and we hear more of her; plus understandably, the accident has preoccupied Sloane's entire being (both physically and emotionally) since it happened. Yet, from Luke's perspective we learn that scars can run deep, and that more than one person has been scarred in this novel. Finding love, when you think you can no longer find it because physically you don't find yourself attractive or worthy emotionally is one thing. Finding love in the most unexpected place, or to be more precise with the most unexpected person, is a whole 'nother battle. Joanne Macgregor reveals the complexity of teen love and the maturity in both Sloane and Luke, especially based on the history their potential relationship is based on. As young as they are (seventeen/eighteen), these two characters showcase a level of maturity people 10, 20, 30 years their age may not necessarily have.

Another thing about Scarred is that it manages to reveal scarring in other characters in the novel - from Luke's family to another character, L.J - who like Sloane is the subject of school bullying. While Sloane is a very brave and confident girl (although she herself does not believe she is) and can handle the teasing and bullying, L.J clearly cannot. Kids really can be cruel and he reveals in a quite scary manner the impact bullying can have on young people, especially if they do not have enough support at home.

I may have started off reading Scarred thinking it was about the pain of Sloane, but the more I read, the more I realised we are all in pain in one way or the other - Sloane's was just more obvious and sometimes the visible scars are better as you cannot run or hide from it. It is the invisible ones that if left to fester can lead to some unintended negative consequences. Joanne Macgregor has written another beautiful novel, and while it is YA and readers of contemporary YA would enjoy this, I think its message cuts across ages and older readers could certainly relate to it. 

Monday, 21 December 2015

My Top Moments in African Literature in 2015

It has been another awesome year for African literature - the 2015 Windham Campbell Prizes winners for fiction were all African writers (Teju Cole, Helon Habila and Ivan Vladislavic); Uzodinma Iweala's Beast of No Nation got its film adaptation thanks to Cary Fukunaga and Netflix; Chigozie Obioma's debut, The Fishermen, seemed to have a good year, being named FT's Emerging Voices Award fiction winner and shortlisted for a number of awards including The Man Booker and the Etisalat Prize for LiteratureAnd the books - so many wonderful books published this year, including Ankara Press' Valentine's Day Anthology - seven short romance stories, which were also translated into the different language spoken by the authors, as well as amazing debuts (Sweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi) and fiction in translation (Natives by Inongo Makome and Our Musseque by Jose Luandino Vieria).  


With 10 days to go until the year ends, instead of a round-up of everything that happened in African Literature in 2015, I'm sharing my top moments. In no particular order, here they are:

Wonder Women
Women writers were unstoppable this year - Namwali Serpeli won the 2015 Caine Prize winner and shared her prize money; Laila Lalami was the first Moroccan-born author to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize with her historical fiction, The Moor's Account (which also won the 2015 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for fiction); women writers dominated the 2015 Morland Writing Scholarships and Wonder Woman came to Soweto thanks to Lauren Beukes'. 

There was also Nnedi Okorafor, who was recently named Brittle Paper's African Literary Person of the Year 'for the many ways in which African inspires innovation in her approach to storytelling'. This year she published a novel (The Book of Phoenix), a novella (Binti), a children's book (Chicken in the Kitchen) and her feature film, The Camel Racer, which she created with Wanuri Kahiu was one of 8 films selected for the inaugural Triggerfish Story Lab, which aims to aid African writers and directors in developing their craft over a period of 18 months and beyondAnd then there was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People, having the Swedish edition of her book, We Should All Be Feminists, given to every 16-year-old in Sweden, Half of the Yellow Sun crowned the 'Best of the Best' of the Bailey's Prize (yes, it is a prize for women writers, but still ...), her commencement speech at Wellesley College, the New York Public Library Podcast also shared the podcast with Adichie and Zadie Smith from late last year.

The Wonderful World of SF
At the end of 2014, Omenana was launched and this year has given us some oh so amazing SF works. Including Nnedi Okorafor's books listed above, Jalada's Afrofuture(s), SSDA's Terra Incognito, SL Grey's Underground, Rob Boffard's Tracer, Ivor Hartmann's edited volume AfroSF volume 2, Jo Thomas and Margret Helgadottir's edited volume African Monsters, Nikhil Singh's Taty Went West, Fred Strydom's Raft, Cristy Zinn's The Dreamer's Tears and Andrew Miller's Dub Steps

Debut Nigerian Novels 
Nigerian fiction was on fire this year, and there were so many debut novels - Irenosen Okojie's Butterfly Fish, Chigozie Obioma's The Fishermen, El Nathan John's Born on a Tuesday, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's Seasons of Crimson Blossoms, A. Igoni Barrett's Blackass, E C Osondu's This House Is Not For Sale, Tade Thompson's Making Wolf, Chinelo Okparanta's Under the Udala Trees, Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi's On the Bank of the River. Speaking about Nigerian literature, BBC Radio 4 treated us to a 2-part series on a new generation of Nigerian writers and poets. The programme featured Dami Ajayi, A Igoni Barrett, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Wana Udoabang and Lola Shoneyin to name a few.

The A's of Literary Festivals 
Because it's not only about reading, but about celebrating the joy of reading and literature in many different ways, and this year I had the pleasure of attending not one, but two amazing literary festivals dedicated to all things African literature - Africa Writes in London in July and the Ake Festival in Abeokuta in November. This fangirl of African literature could not ask for anything more.

#Love4Binya and #Naija4Binyavanga
The way the African literary community came out to support Binyavanga Wainaina after he suffered a stroke and was later flown to India for treatment. A Medical Fund was set up by Kwani Trust, in Lagos there was a fundraising event while in Nairobi as part of the Kwani Litfest, there was a #Love4Binya concert.  So much love, and truly inspiring! Wishing him a speedy recovery.

Image via BrittePaper

Sunday, 20 December 2015

My Favourite African Book Covers in 2015

It's not only about the best books published in 2015, this time of year we also get what is arguably my favourite list of the year - the best book covers. There have been lists from the NYT, The Casual Optimist (a wonderful website about books book design) and BuzzFeed to name a few. Also check out BooksLive's wonderful list on the 17 of the best South African book covers from 2015 - there are some stunning book cover designs on that list. 

African book covers are definitely stepping their game up, and 2015 came with some stunning ones. This year was particularly exciting with notable cover designs ranging from minimalist designs to extremely detailed artwork, for books of fiction, non-fiction, short stories, poetry and children's literature. Well, here are some of my favourite book covers this year.



                                                                                      Not sure what's up with the fly in the Dutch edition though!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Something for the kids: weekend book giveaway

To celebrate my blog turning 4, and to share the love this holiday season, I am doing a special book give away, but this one is for the kids. Recently, at the Ake Arts and Book Festival I was happy to see there was a nice selection of children's literature at the bookstore.


Well, I came back from the Festival with those 14 gorgeous books in the photo below - some purchases others gifted. To celebrate turning 4 I'm giving one lucky reader two new books to add to their library. The giveaway is only for this weekend, and closes Sunday 20 December, 12 noon (GMT). The winner will be announced shortly after. 

Which 2 of these Ake goodies could be yours?

So grown-ups, if you would like 2 new books for yourself or for your son, daughter, niece, nephew, younger cousin, or any other little human out there -  and if you currently follow/subscribe to this blog or like the Facebook pagehere's all you need to do:

1. Take a look at the photo above of my mini-Ake book haul;
2. Which 2 children's books in the picture will I be giving away;
3. Let me know - leave a comment on the blog (sorry, anonymous comments will not be considered) or on the Facebook update for this particular post stating the 2 books.
4. That's all!!!

There is one requirement: I will be using good ol' Royal Mail to deliver the books to the winner, and so the only requirement is that there is a postal address or PO Box the books can be posted to. Good luck!!!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

bookshy is 4!!!!

I still can't believe it, but it's been 4 years - 4 amazing years of blogging about African books and literature, of learning about African books and literature, of obsessing over African books and literature, of sharing my journey with other lovers of African books and literature. 

bookshy turned 4 over the weekend, but I've been drowning in crazy major deadlines at work that I wasn't able to put up a celebratory post on the day. I did, however, treat myself to cupcakes (one cookies and cream and one coconut) from Lola's Cupcakes. My family say I'm obsessed with them, but in the words of Donna and Tom

... and so I did! 
4 years ago when I wrote my first post, I had no idea what to expect, but it has honestly been an incredible journey and I have loved every single second of it. 

This is my short and sweet post to say thank you so much for all the love and support my blog gets. For still coming through - even though I know my posting has been quite erratic of late - for reading, following, tweeting, liking my facebook page, sharing, commenting and more. I can't say enough how much I have truly enjoyed the last four years, and how much I am looking forward to the next year - and as a way to say thank you for all the mad love and support, I will be doing a book giveaway. More details tomorrow, but here's a clue - it's something for the kids!!!!!

From Book Riot to the Wall Street Journal: The Best African Books in 2015

So it's that time of year again, where the lists of the best books of the year come out ... and I decided to check them out to see which books by African writers made it. This year, from Book Riot to the Wall Street Journal - and many publications in between - there were 3 books which were on most of the best of lists, with The Fishermen having seven mentions. 


Over on the Wall Street Journal and Book Riot, there was The Fishermen, which was also on NYTs 100 Notable Books of 2015 and the Guardian's Best Fiction in 2015, where it was described as 'the best debut of the year by some distance.' The Mersault Investigation made it onto NYTs best books of 2015 and Boston Globe, while NPRs list included Under the Udala Trees (also on BuzzFeed's 24 Best Fiction Books) and The Fishermen. The Fishermen and Under the Udala Trees also make it on to the The Root's 15 Powerful Works of Fiction Published by Black Authors in 2015 (and also check out their 14 of the Best Non-Fiction by Black Authors in 2015).

Clearly there were more than 3 awesome books published by African writers this year, as highlighted in The Sunday Times Book Reviewers Best Books of 2015. The Fishermen was there, but other top books included 101 Detectives, Beastkeeper, Green Lion, What Will People Say? and The Raft to name some. It was also a breath of fresh air to see BuzzFeed have Lagoon (which was published in America this year) on their 24 Best Science Fiction Books of 2015


Update: I initially included Paula Hawkins' Girl on the Train on this list (but decided in the end to not include it, as while Paula Hawkins was born and raised in Zimbabwe and lived there until she was 17 - she is described as a British author. Still, NPRs list included The Girl on the Train (which also tops Amazons list of best selling books of 2015 and was on KirkusPublishers WeeklyGoodreadsHuffPost Canada and Barnes & Noble's best of list) - giving it the same mentions as The Fishermen.

Another update: After I posted this morning, LitHub announced their best books of 2015, which included Tram 83 and Folly (published for the first time in the UK in November). I also stumbled on FTs Best Fiction in Translation, which had The Mersault Investigation and A General Theory of Oblivion.