Editors Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald are bringing speculative fiction by writers from Africa and the African diaspora to a wider audience. For readers who are interested in the broad spectrum of speculative fiction, this anthology offers science fiction, fantasy, science fantasy, horror, and myth — sometimes within the same story.
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For Pride Month 2020, we’re featuring a story by E. I. Richardson, a queer Black and Malay writer. “A Good Mother” is a powerful, subtly unnerving horror story about family relations, abuse, and the day to day tasks of living with and working through trauma.
This creepy bit of sylvan horror is the kind of thing we’d like to see in our slush pile: a story about the inhabitants of an anarchist commune in Freedom, Iowa, who summon Uliksi, a blood-red three-antlered deer god, in order to deal with their hierarchy problems. Uliksi “turns predator into prey” when he “hunts those who wield power over others”.
Though Uliksi is originally summoned to deal with a violent sociopath who has seized control of the commune, the summoners soon realize that the act of summoning an “endless spirit” to dispatch Freedom’s unwanted leader results in the deer god’s gaze falling, inevitably, upon them.
Seanan McGuire’s “Hello, Hello” is a science fiction short story which bridges the gaps between several human and inter-species categories to illustrate that while future technologies will facilitate communication in ways that we cannot now imagine, technology alone is not enough.
N.K. Jemisin’s “The Ones Who Stay and Fight” is the opening story in the author’s short story collection, How Long ‘Til Black Future Month. The story introduces the collection, as does the book’s title, as a work of fundamentally utopian sff.
“The Ones Who Stay and Fight” was written in conversation with “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, Ursula K. Le Guin’s own challenge to utopia, published in 1973. “Omelas” has been discussed extensively (a recent article on “Omelas” and its utilitarian implications for our own times can be found here) and this review will side-step a comprehensive comparison of “Omelas” and “The Ones Who Stay and Fight”. Instead, the focus here is on Jemisin’s story, its conception of systemic violence, its implicit sense of justice and hope, and how Jemisin’s vision applies to the fight against climate change.
Osahon Ize-Iyamu’s “More Sea Than Tar” in Reckoning 3 is about a Nigerian family struggling against the currents of modern life in a flooded and slowly disintegrating town. The main character, Uti, must navigate opposing family dynamics in order to find his own way of living.
Tlotlo Tsamaase’s novelette “Eclipse our Sins” is a dense and lyrical story in which a young girl searches for the reason her family members are falling ill in a world in which Mother Earth seeks revenge for a multitude of sins committed against her.
Tsamaase’s future is one in which those effects against the earth are tangible. For example, xenophobic or sexist thoughts emerge into the air as smog, contributing to ecological destabilization. The protagonist, and many others in the story, wears a respirator which protects her from the material effects of anti-social elements; but requiring this protection is a burden on the poor who must not only regularly replace their respirators to survive, but are also dependent on proprietary medicines.
P. Djèlí Clark’s The Black God’s Drums is fast-paced and fun, with characters that play off each other’s quick-witted banter. The world created in this novella is a slightly off-kilter version of our own, with recognizable politics (where the bad guys are Confederates singing songs about Andrew Jackson) juxtaposed with airships and mind-numbing “drapeto gas” which keeps a slave economy running after emancipation. But the part of this book that is so interesting to us is the orisha magic wielded by main characters Jacqueline (or Creeper) and Anne-Marie, magic which connects the narrative so strongly to place.
Both rage and hope can be detrimental to developing the kinds of responses to the climate emergency that we need to restructure society (and the kinds of stories we tell ourselves). Certainly, rage can motivate, but it can also turn on itself; hope can push relentlessly toward unrealistic, unachievable goals when good-enough is right in front of us. Bolander’s novelette is certainly a rage-packed pill that is, at times, tough to swallow; but it is easier if the book’s moments of beauty are not overlooked.