So each day this week I’m looking at works of science fiction and fantasy which I think might be useful for organisations, institutions, companies, and communities who are trying to anticipate the shape of things to come.
Yesterday we looked at Matthew de Abaitua’s If Then – today it’s colonies, sailors, and cake.
De Abaitua’s novel, with its interest in the ongoing impact of the First World War, sits alongside a few recent sci-fi and fantasy works which all in different ways explore the legacy of colonialism and the changes wrought to the international order in the 20th century.
If we’re serious about moving beyond a colonial, Eurocentric viewpoint and considering other ways of living and looking at the world, science fiction and fantasy needs to be part of that.
As Beth Nowviskie said at the Insuetude Symposium, questions of who gets to dream the digital future are vital, and speak back to historic creative movements like Afrofuturism.
I feel you can’t discuss Afrocentric sci-fi and fantasy without talking about the amazing Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor, whose Akata Witch I reviewed for the Brooklyn Rail a while back. Nnedi’s new novel Binti is also on my bedside table (or at least my Kindle), and her first adult novel Who Fears Death won massive acclaim, but for my money her masterpiece is still Zahrah the Windseeker, a wise and witty adventure set in a magical alternate world. You can read an interview with Nnedi Okorafor on my site here.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl is a book I just downloaded to read on my phone. It’s set on an African continent which is not quite ours, where the Belgian Congo becomes a safe haven run by missionaries and Fabians. (Just next to it on my to-read list is another alternate history, China Mieville’s The Last Days of New Paris, in which Surrealist art come to life is being used by the French resistance against the Nazis).
B. Catling’s The Vorrh was recommended to me by Christchurch Libraries’ reliably stupendous blog and reviewed here in the Guardian. It’s a surreal voyage into an ancient magical forest located in an alternate Africa.
Ranging a bit more widely, you’ll get another interesting take on labour and empire from Nate Crowley’s The Sea Hates A Coward, an oddly wistful tale set in a thoughtfully constructed fantasy world.
Crowley’s novella has zombie slaves hunting sea monsters as foodstuff for the besieged city in which they once lived. It is…surprisingly less lurid than it sounds.
Less lurid still, but also very concerned with how we feed ourselves in the post-industrial age, is The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, a Los Angeles-set piece of magic realism by Aimee Bender. Her novel is a powerful meditation on food and authenticity, and a timely fantasy for an age when food production and consumption has come, for many in the developed world, to seem effortless.
Stay tuned for more sci-fi and fantasy tomorrow. You’re probably still not reading enough of it. And if you’ve got more suggestions, do let us know!