Africa Risen – A Towering Display

Africa Risen is a sizable collection of stories from Africa and the African Diaspora edited by  Sheree Renée Thomas, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, and Zelda Knight. The featured stories are a mixture of science fiction, fantasy and even some horror. Though a few fell flat for me, the majority of the pieces grabbed my attention and opened my ears to a vast array of voices.

Obviously, with a book featuring 32 different stories, I couldn’t go through each individual story discussing their own merits and flaws. I’m not really well equipped for that level of analysis for many reasons, and I don’t think you have that kind of time. Instead, I want to discuss some of the stories that stood out to me, and highlighted the power of the African perspective on science fiction. I have not engaged with a lot of African literature, fantastical or otherwise. I have dipped my toes on occasion with the likes of Nnedi Orokafor, Tade Thompson, and Marlon James, but not much else beyond that. I think that’s why I felt drawn to this collection, because I was ready for more, and folks, this collection provides.

The first story I want to talk about is “The Deification of Igodo,” by Joshua Uchenna Omenga. It’s the story of a man who becomes king, then emperor, and begins to hunger for being a god. Omega’s style has a mythic quality, building Igodo’s story with splendor and a touch of menace. It’s a parable of sorts, and a fun one at that despite its darker qualities. Igodo’s rise to fame is one you inherently feel tied to, and the way Omenga pulls the rug out from under the reader is playful yet sincere. The story doesn’t overstay its welcome and packs a hearty punch that has been indented in my brain for several weeks.

Honestly, I feel I could spend a whole piece digging into why I loved  “A Dream of Electric Mothers” by Wole Talabi. In it, the main character rises to a position wherein she can communicate with her ancestors that are stored as a large collective artificial intelligence that the governing council can convene with when national decisions need to be made. In this case, a civil war may be brewing, and the outlook is grim. I was mostly heartened by the relationship with the technology that was featured in this story, and it made me look for it within other stories in the collection. Though characters are skeptical about the nature of the A.I., they view it as a tool, not a solution. It is used to engage with the collected knowledge of their ancestors in order to help guide their decision. It is not some model that they hope to replicate, nor some decision making machine to reduce responsibility on part of the decision makers, though it was implied some of the council members viewed it that way. The ambiguity of the experience inside the machine left a pleasant aftertaste in my mouth that provoked my curiosity more than most of the other stories. I will need to dig up the rest of Talabi’s work.

The most mind boggling story that I will no doubt re-read again and again will be “Peeling Time (Deluxe Edition)” by Tlotlo Tsamaase. It is a fever dream of a story wherein music is produced as visual media via dreamscape. An up and coming artist uses a drug concoction to enhance his dream visuals, making him take the form of a demon who rapes women to amplify his career. Tsamaase’s writing is visceral and unforgiving, forcing the reader to experience the stream of consciousness of the characters. Xer writing has a vibrant and lively quality that only enhances its darker tones and themes. The deep dive into the co-opting of women’s stories by men for their own achievement is deftly handled, even as it spins out of control. It’s the kind of short story that truly pushes the boundaries of storytelling, not only through its sharp themes, but also because it’s structured like an album. After this story, there is no doubt I will be looking for more of Tsamaase’s work.

The last story I want to highlight is a real heartbreaker. “Housewarming for a Lion Goddess” by Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga is a succinct and beautiful tale about a goddess and the men she has loved through her long life. Centered on a conversation she has with her current lover in the modern era, the story shifts back and forth through the many similar conversations the goddess has had through her long life. It is tender and sweet with a bitter finish that makes the story shine. Niyonsenga’s insights into love, and the place it makes inside someone feel earned and graceful. It’s a story that makes a lump in your throat, and your eyes water.

There are plenty of other stories that I enjoyed that I wish I could just talk endlessly about. Instead of diving into them, I just want to give quick little shoutouts and why I loved it. “The Lady of the Yellow Painted Library” by Tobi Ogundiran was a lovely horror story about a traveling salesman running from an overdue library fee. “Cloud Mine” by Timi Odueso is a haunting tale about harvesting water. “The Papermakers” by Akua Lezli Hope is a small but stunning tale about magic and resistance. “Hanfo Driver” by Ada Nnadi is just a cute story that really captures the frustration of dealing with a doting family member with crazy ideas. Honestly, I could just keep listing them and this review would be just a replication of the list of stories included in the collection. But I’ll spare you and just say, please go pick this up and find the ones that speak to you.

It’s impossible to overstate how much this collection affected my understanding of both fantasy and science fiction. I often try to expand my taste and exposure, but sometimes you just need a tome to come crashing in through your window to remind you of the wide world of fiction just waiting to be read. I’ be hard pressed to say I learned a lot about the myriad cultures and religions that are on display here, but I did gain an appreciation for the relationships these writers have with them. It makes me want to know more about the ideas, history and themes that they are engaging with that are more central to their cultural experiences. Technology, which feels blurred together with magic, just hits differently in these stories, as do the gods and monsters. Obviously, this is not a best-of collection, but it’s an amazing showcase of talent that will expose you to so much more than chasing the next hot novel ever will. It does what short stories are meant to do, and I will gladly read more collections like this one.

Rating: Africa Risen – High and Mighty/10

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An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.


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