For the last few weeks, I’ve been grappling with a singular question: Has African science fiction influenced African technology and design? The answer is, well: yes and no. Science fiction and science fact have always been linked to each other, and it’s no different in Africa. The problem is that there just isn’t enough home-grown scientific innovation or science fiction in film and literature to say exactly how the two influence each other. And for a lot of the same reasons.
For one thing, neither African science fiction nor African innovation are clearly defined terms.
Speculative storytelling has had a long history on the continent. However, no one has been quite sure what to call these tales. There’s certainly a difference between the kind speculative fiction written by those invested in Africa and her future, and those merely set in Africa – where the continent acts as an exotic prop or backdrop. It’s the difference between H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines about European adventurers in Namibia in 1885 and Amos Tutuola’s The Palm Wine Drinkard a retelling of a Yoruba folk tale written in the 1930s.
However, as academic Mark Bould notes, the term African science fiction risks homogenising a diverse continent and casting these stories as an exotic subset of a “normalised” Western form of the genre. Even Nigerian-American sci-fi author Nnedi Okorafor is wary of the term.
“How do I define African SF?” she wrote in a 2010 essay. “I don’t. I know it when I see it.”
No one is quite clear on what African scientific innovation is, either. There has been a lot of celebration of the rising numbers of young Africans at the forefront of inventive applications for the web and mobile phones. In an Okayafrica article, African-British activist, Toyin Agbetu praised these innovators saying:
“The young geeks clustered around the iHub in Nairobi and MEST in Accra have started to move the conception of Africa from victim of technology to its masters.”
But this concentration on urban tech hubs, what one article dubbed “Silicon Savannahs”, ignores the quieter forms of innovation that happen when Africans remix and repurpose existing technologies. For instance, the four Nigerian girls who found a way to run a generator on urine or the young Malawian man who built wind turbines out of spare parts are actually at the forefront of a long history African innovation, but are often praised as special cases rising improbably from obscurity.
As Agbetu rightly noted, to the average African mechanisation is not progress. Those who have seen large-scale construction projects such as hydroelectric dams stall and fail because of corruption, poor construction and shoddy maintenance are bound to view mechanisation with suspicion. They fear that it comes with extractive or exploitative processes.
Another problem is that both African science fiction and African technological innovation suffer from a lack of supporting infrastructure. In Nigeria for instance, the publishing industry is only beginning to rise from the ashes of the country’s economic meltdown in the 80s. During the industry’s golden era, books like the Pacesetters series featured stories set in alternative pasts and glittering futures. My favourite remains a high-tech thriller called Mark of the Cobra by Valentine Alily, about a James Bond-style spy working for Nigeria’s secret service and featuring a solar-powered superweapon.
These days, however, low literacy rates and the high cost of books means that the demand for literature is often poor. Though consumers buying cheap imported books and watching Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters has shown that genre fiction is highly popular, many publishers still prefer to concentrate on proven sellers such as religious materials and textbooks.
Scientific innovation has the same problem. According to a Guardian article earlier this year, Africa produces just 1.1 percent of global scientific knowledge. This is because, as commenter Benjamin Geer pointed out, science fiction is less effective in encouraging scientific innovation than simply providing funding for the sciences.
“If you want young people to become scientists, there need[s] to be well-funded degree programs and career opportunities for them,” he wrote in response to a 2010 article about the future of science fiction in Africa. “This means that states need to invest heavily in science education and scientific research.”
Perhaps the biggest problem both scientific innovation and science fiction in Africa share is that they are not often recognised for what they are.
As I said earlier, Africans have been creating their own science fiction for quite some time; only these stories often don’t have the elements we have come to expect from the genre. For instance, two icons of African speculative fiction Ben Okri’s 1991 novel The Famished Road and Wizard of the Crow written by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o in 2006 feature magic and spirits, but neither deals directly with technology.
Nigeria’s prolific film industry, Nollywood, is the third-largest in the world and frequently features stories of magic, supernatural encounters and physical transformation. But the matter-of-fact treatment of these themes within these movies means they’re often dismissed and not recognised as legitimate science fiction.
In fact, magic, surrealism and abstract poetics are big features of African sci-fi. This is because, as Ghanaian writer Johnathan Dotse explained in a 2010 essay, Africans have a fundamentally different relationship to technology than those in the West.
“The widely optimistic view of technological progress underlying traditional science fiction simply doesn’t resonate with much of the experience on the continent,” he wrote.
Only recently – in the last decade or so – has there been a true groundswell of science fiction written by Africans for a primarily African audience. Most of this sci-fi doesn’t deal with the mechanics of scientific innovation, though. Stories tend to focus on the social costs of progress. Two recent African science fiction anthologies, AfroSF edited by Zimbabwean author Ivor Hartmann and Lagos 2060 edited by Nigerian Ayodele Arigbabu, have a diverse range of stories that could be considered firmly speculative, however, this is not the place to find the kind of explorations of hard science that Isaac Asimov and Larry Niven wrote.
This has led some to speculate that right now, technology is influencing African science fiction more than the other way around. In a series of social media chats in November, science fiction author and academic Geoffrey Ryman noted that sci-fi writers on the continent tend to have great ideas for science fiction stories, but not necessarily for scientific innovations.
“Technology contributes to SF and not the other way around,” he wrote. “Even Arthur C. Clarke’s geostationary satellite appeared in a science FACT article he wrote. SF can sometimes promote interest in science among the young that bears later fruit. But trying to justify SF on those grounds is dodgy. It’s a literature and an entertainment and THAT is its justification.”
Nigerian writer and engineer Wole Talabi has hope, however, that this currently one-sided relationship will right itself. In an upcoming essay, he presents evidence that shows that the influence of science fiction often takes about 15 to 20 years to show up in scientific innovation.
“You need to be able to imagine the future before you can begin to create it,” he wrote.
Author Biram Mboob believes this influence goes beyond just sparking new ideas. African science fiction can change the very orientation people might have towards the future.
“I would make the argument that SF will either ‘reinforce’ or perhaps challenge our ‘mood’ about the future,” he wrote in a Facebook chat last year.
I have to agree. In my work as a writer and editor of African science fiction over the last five years, I have noticed an emerging optimism. Africans are moving away from their justified suspicion and mistrust of large-scale innovation. More African writers are imagining unique utopias – their countries and cities improved by technology that works with their societies rather than ruined by it.
For instance, in the most recent edition of Omenana, which I co-edit, 10 writers and artists shared their vision of African cities of the future. Almost all of them had themes of hope and possibility. More than anything, inspiring the creators of the future is where I believe the intersection of African science fiction and science is clearest.
“Inspiration, ideas, they flow both ways,” wrote Talabi in a Facebook chat last year. “But for that you need a critical mass of technology, industry, popular science, SF creators and publishers, and organised fandoms before you begin to see and quantify the impact.”
Welcome. I will be the one taking you around. Don’t stretch out your hand to shake anybody’s again. If you shake hands, or attempt to, it will be noted in your file. My name is Joel. You are to call me “Sir,” like you will call all male people here. All female people are to be referred to as “Madam.” If you want to be specific, you will have to use their tag numbers. My tag number is eleven. You may call me Sir Eleven. It will take you some time to get used to the tag numbers.
You have only one week to learn at least twenty tag numbers. If you need help on that, you may talk to Sir Fifteen. He sits by the window at the far end of the western wing. He has all the faces and their respective tag numbers on his computer. He may offer to print the names and their tag numbers for you; do not accept his offer. If you accept the offer, it will be noted in your file. Printing out the numbers and faces means using paper. If you leave with a piece of paper with names and numbers on it, it can be used against the company. If it is used against the company, you’ll have put us at risk.
You shall be searched every time you come into or leave the company premises. It will not be intrusive. You may not even notice it, but please remember that you will be searched every time. Sometimes, you will leave with papers given to you by the company. Most of them will be delivery notes. If you leave with delivery notes, please have them signed by the client. If they are not signed by the client, please don’t come back again. You shall continue to draw a salary for a period not exceeding six months, after which all contacts with the company shall be terminated. If you ever take this choice, by your own volition or otherwise, please note that it will be noted in your file.
Did I tell you my name? I lied. That is the one printed on the job ID card. You shall be issued with a job ID card. You shall go to Madam Twenty-nine for that. She sits at the corner room just after the reception. She will also issue you with a new national ID card. Those two, your job ID card and the new national ID card, shall be kept in a new wallet. Madam Twenty-nine shall give you the wallet. You shall use these cards only when dealing with clients. For your bank transactions or any other official business, please use your original national ID card. If you use your new national ID card, we shall know, and it will be noted in your file.
The lady at the entrance is Madam Eighteen. You may look into her eyes. If she looks back at you while smiling, do not smile back at her. If you do that, do not say you weren’t warned. You may ask her to open the door for you. She will only do that for your first two weeks here. Within that period, ask Sir Nine to add to you the system. The process is not as painful as you may have heard. What was painful was the old way of doing it. The new one is much better. He will simply insert a small chip into your forehead. That will be your key into the premises.
Please note that it is not a camera. If you look into the lens, it will be reading your forehead chip. If it reads your forehead chip, the door will be opened for you. The door is opened only twice in a day for each person except Madam Eighteen. If you need to come back to the office more than twice in a day, please email Madam Eighteen in advance. If she does not reply to your email, then note that it is okay. If she replies, however, please read the email and take note of what she says. If you do not take note, it shall be noted in your file.
The door in front of you leads to the washrooms. The door right after this one leads to the kitchen. You may take a cup of tea from the kitchen. There is also a microwave in there. You can heat up your food, if you’ve carried any. You shall not carry smelly food into the premises. If you do, Madam Eighteen shall let us know.
The door to your right is the Madams’ washrooms. You shall not use the Madams’ washrooms for reasons we know best. The one to your left is the Sirs’ washrooms. You may use the Sirs’ washrooms. If you do, please ensure that you clean up your mess.
Now, back to this corridor. The seats by that table are for general use. You may take your cup of tea over there. You may also make notes and read from that table. You may also watch TV as you relax, but only for a period not exceeding fifteen minutes. You may surpass this time only during the lunch hour when you have a one hour break. You’re however encouraged to get back to your station immediately after. If you watch TV all through the lunch hour, it shall be noted in your file.
On the right part of this corridor is the directors’ office. You shall call them Sir One and Sir One A. You have some latitude here. If you call Sir One Sir A, he will understand that it is an honest mistake. Madam Eighty should however not catch you mixing up the names of Sir One and Sir One A. If she does, it shall definitely be noted in your file. She sits on the other side of the premises. She is the head of operations. You shall report to her at all times. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask her. She will also give you all the details with regards to your responsibilities.
The place on your left is occupied by four people. Two of them are the company designers. You don’t need to know their tag numbers. If you need to talk to them, you shall have to ask Madam Eighty to do that for you. If she authorises you to go ahead, she will also give you their tag numbers. You will not be required to remember them. If you forget them, it will be totally understandable.
On the other side here are Madam Twenty Nine and Madam Twenty. Madam Twenty-nine will give you your new national ID cards and job ID cards. Madam Twenty is the legal officer. If you think you may have done anything that is against the law, please feel free to speak to her. If you break a law while working for the company, please ensure that you inform her as soon as you can. If you fail to do this, you’ll have put the company at risk.
That room on your right is the training room. It is also where you shall have your forehead chip implanted. Sir Nine sits there. He will tell you what rooms you are allowed to access and what rooms you aren’t allowed into. The implant process? That is a good question. Sir Nine uses a device that looks like a gun. The bullet is the chip that goes into your forehead. He will point it at your head and pull the trigger. You should not close your eyes when he does this. If you, however, close them, it will be totally understandable. You will not have been the first one to feel terrified. Madam Twenty-nine passed out when her chip was being implanted. If you pass out, you shall be quickly rushed to hospital.
You shall be issued with a hospital insurance card by Madam Twenty. Please note that you’re the only one in your family covered by the company scheme. The company shall not be responsible for any of your family members. Should you pass away during working hours, your family shall be fully compensated. Your next of kin will receive all the money, as stipulated in the agreement which you will sign and return to Madam Twenty. Should you get injured and become disabled, you shall continue to receive full salary up to the period of your death. Do not worry about dying or getting disabled during working hours. Only one person has done that in the entire history of the company. He was epileptic. He had not notified the company that he was epileptic. Please do notify Madam Twenty about any health complications that you might have. If you don’t, it will be difficult for us to help you. Your cover will not be dependent on this disclosure. If you however get a health complication during work, please note that it will be noted in your file.
Sir Nine also works as the company trainer. He will teach you some of the things you’ll need to do the job. Feel free to ask him any questions, as long as it is not private. His colleague, Sir Eight, also does the same job. You may not, however, speak to Sir Eight unless he first speaks to you. There is no reason for this. It is just company tradition.
This is where all the technicians sit. As a technician, you will spend very few hours in the office. You do not, as a result, hold a permanent office desk. You may share desks with other technicians. If you arrive first, you may have that seat until it is time to leave.
This is the company workshop. There are two people in charge of the workshop. You are not allowed to stay in the workshop if the madam is around. You are not required to remember her tag number. If the Sir is around, you may stick around for casual conversation as long as you are out of the way.
The last office there is the marketing department. You are not required to interact with the marketing department. You may, however, go ahead and do so. You have to be aware that the company will not be held responsible for any of the consequences from these interactions.
That door just after the marketing department is the fire exit. In case of fire, please press the handle on that door and go down using the stairs. Walk quickly but avoid running during fire evacuation. There has not been a fire since the beginning of the company. There are smoke and fire detectors on the ceiling of this building. Note that they may fail, as all man made things do. If you notice a fire, please attack it using a fire extinguisher. Take this step only when you’re sure it is safe.
This here is the balcony. You may come here for a breath of fresh air. You are not allowed to smoke on this balcony. If you smoke anywhere in the premises, it will be noted in your file and you may get a warning letter. If you get two warning letters, you will have to be let go.
You are also not allowed to jump over the balustrade on this balcony. There have been numerous attempts at suicide by way of jumping over the balustrade here. If you commit suicide, your family will not be compensated for your death. Now, let’s go to the other side. Or maybe better, can we continue after you’ve had your cup of tea? Karibu. And remember, if you attempt to shake hands with anyone, it shall be noted in your file.
Frank nearly fell over in his chair when the brown mug moved. He was certain he was hallucinating. He was about to try it again when Liz opened the door and dumped another heap of papers onto his desk.
“Mr. Gesa wants these before lunch,” she said without as much as a glance at him.
Well good morning to you too, he thought, irritably.
She walked out and shut the door behind her. Frank pushed the stack of papers to the edge of the table and reverted his attention to the brown clay mug full of steaming tea in front of him. He stared at it again and willed.
This time the movement was unmistakable. The mug moved towards him, dragging itself on the wooden table with a loud grating sound. Frank stared at it in awe before it came to an abrupt halt again.
There was no one in the records room with him but he still looked about him to make sure. He even turned in his chair to look at the metre-high stack of old records and work orders piled behind him just in case someone was standing there. Satisfied that the room was indeed vacant, he stared again at the clay mug, harder this time, and beckoned it towards himself. It tottered slightly, spilling a little tea onto the table, before charging towards him like mini, tea-filled alien spacecraft and this time he was so gobsmacked that he noticed too late the mug running out of table and flying over the edge, mouth first – tea, teabag and all – plummeting to the floor where it shattered on impact, leaving a mess of clay shards and tea at his feet.
The door swung open suddenly as he stared at the pool of ruin beneath him, and Luswata popped his head in.
“Is everything okay in here? I heard a crash,” he said.
“Y…yes,” Frank stuttered, “Everything’s okay. I fumbled with the mug and dropped it by accident.”
“Oh. Okay then. Lunch’s been brought closer today because Gesa wants the canteen painted before tomorrow morning. The South Africans are coming to inspect us. Be in the canteen by half past twelve, okay?”
“Sure thing,” Frank said tensely.
Luswata took one more cursory glance around the room, as if he suspected something else was amiss, before stepping back out and closing the door behind him. Frank looked at the time on the clock on the wall opposite where he sat: 11:48, it read. He got up and went to one of the corners of the room where a mop and broom were kept. He got the mop ,returned to his seat and cleaned up the mess under his desk.
Frank’s mind was in a daze as he lined up for lunch. Liz and Halima were in front of him in the queue, talking about something that made them giggle endlessly. He could hear their words but his mind could not process them; the image of the mug dragging itself towards him – or perhaps being dragged by him, somehow – was causing all sorts of fantastic thoughts to take root in his head. He could suddenly see himself ordering massive boulders to fly about in the hills back in the village, hoisting entire houses off their foundations in case their tenants had ticked him off, or even suspending the insufferable Liz up in the high clouds just to teach her some courtesy.
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like to a grain of mustard seed, you might say to this mulberry tree: Be thou rooted up, and be thou transplanted into the sea. And it would obey you.” The Bible verse came to him, timely and telling, but he smirked at it and quickly discarded the thought. He was, and always would be, nonchalantly agnostic. Well, agnostic now that he was suddenly telekinetic. He had been purely atheist only two hours ago.
He carried his plate of matooke, rice, a sweet potato, beef and sukumawiki greens in one hand and a plastic cup of water in the other and made his way through the buzz and chatter of eating men and women in the canteen to the extreme end, by the half-wall with a view of the parking lot through the gap above it, where Musa, James and Musoke were seated, already halfway through their meals.
“Aah, Frank!” Musoke began as Frank sat down next to him, “I’m glad you’ve come. First tell Musa here how the country has been in decline since Obote II. He doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with Members of Parliament being exempted from paying tax, when children in the North are still dying from hunger!”
“I didn’t say there was nothing wrong with that,” Musa rebutted as Frank split the sweet potato with his fork. “I merely said that I would rather live in a country where the government is corrupt than in one where the government is blood-thirsty!”
“In the end what difference does it make?” Musoke said. “People are still dying. You just can’t see it because there are no bullets being fired.”
Frank was moving a fork-full of soupy rice and potato to his mouth when Richard arrived at the table, his plate stacked high with food. He fumbled as he set his plate and cup down, and the cup, sitting unsteadily on the edge of the table with half of its base over the precipice tilted over.
It happened so fast and suddenly that Frank didn’t have time to think about what he was doing. His reaction was instinctive. He looked at the cup and willed. The cup froze, completely suspended in mid-air, with the head of the water halfway poured out of its mouth, hanging like an amorphous, crystalline gel frozen in time, with a few stray drops and droplets static next to it, as though caught in some invisible web, and a few sun rays from the open gap above the wall striking the shapeless, liquid prism and being dispersed in brilliant little rainbows.
Realizing what he had done, as though he were awakening from a surreal dream, Frank looked away and the cup, released from its place in space and time, assented to the pull of gravity and clattered to the ground by Richard’s feet. The whole scene couldn’t have lasted more than a second, but Frank was sure everyone at the table had noticed it. As indeed they had.
Richard stood transfixed on his spot, staring down at the toppled cup and the water that was streaming away from him, while the other three men all gazed at up at him, as though they thought he was responsible for the trick of the eye that had been played on them. After what seemed like an eon of awed silence it was James who broke their trance.
“You are such a clumsy fool!” he said. “That’s like the third cup you have dropped this week. I have never seen a bigger klutz in my life.”
That seemed to break their spell, and Richard chuckled apologetically, although there was still a bemused look on his face. Musoke and Musa laughed, and Frank joined them to avoid any suspicion being drawn to himself. Before long the event had been forgotten, as though it had never happened, and Frank was grateful that the skeptical side of modern people was so strong it erased any superstitious notions almost instantly. They probably assumed they had not really seen what they had seen and went on with their lives. Frank chided himself for not being more cautious with his newly-found ability, and for the rest of the meal he participated actively in their talk, if only to help bring normalcy back to the table.
He walked pensively on his way home later that evening. Now that he was truly alone he had time to mull over the bizarre events of the day without Gesa calling him every thirty seconds. Everything seemed suddenly strange around him; he felt unreal, like a character in a movie script apt for Hollywood. A poor records clerk at Cresco Bottling Company suddenly finds himself a god among mortals, he thought to himself, beaming widely. For the first time all month he did not brood about the strife in his household. Images of his wife, Oliver, screaming at him at the top of her voice, and the sickly child crying incessantly, coughing up phlegm and blood, were replaced by images of himself floating over mountain peaks and frothing, azure seas, summoning entire land masses to himself and shifting tectonic plates. He felt alive, a new potency coursing through his arteries. He felt a new bounce in his step, a confident, swaggering gait that had been alien to him before.
A little distance from home he passed by the football field where the grass had long been eroded by the exuberant boots, sneakers and bare feet of the children who played there every evening. The ground was now mostly dirt and dust, with two net-less, rectangular frames of metal pipe at either end of the pitch acting as goals.
A group of fifteen, maybe twenty children, all shirtless and covered in dirt, were kicking a ball around, gleeful and oblivious of the dimming twilight. Frank felt a youthful playfulness swell up in him as he watched the wanton children. One of them lashed at the ball with all his might, sending it cannoning towards the left goal frame, and Frank locked his sight onto the flying crude sphere of polythene and rubber, catching it mid-flight. The ball hung stationary and suspended about five metres above the earth, before falling onto the ground about halfway to the goal and rolling eagerly towards Frank, with the children watching it in rapt, frozen bewilderment.
The younger boys seemed to see some elusive funny side to this bizarre phenomenon and chased after the ball, screaming with naïve delight. The older boys stood back for a while before reluctantly following the lead of their younger counterparts. Whenever the younger boys got close to the ball Frank caused it to roll faster, and this seemed to energize them, and they shouted louder and more excitedly, chasing after it with increased intent, as though stop-that-ball was their new game.
It was when they saw Frank, standing pitch-side in his old brown coat and matching brown trousers, and the ball steadily heading in his direction, that the boys became doubtful, reducing their speed cautiously, finally suspecting that something was not quite right. About ten metres from where Frank stood the boys gave up chasing altogether and stood off, watching Frank with suspicion. The ball gradually reduced its speed before rolling to a halt at Frank’s shoes. The boys stared at him with a mixture of curiosity and fear. Frank stared at them for a while, and then looked down at the ball and willed again. The ball lifted itself off the ground, levitating seamlessly towards Frank’s outstretched hand and nestling in the groove of his downturned palm – like a spherical spacecraft module attaching itself to a mother ship’s appendage. He turned and looked at the children again, and this time he could not help the grin that broke out on his face.
The children looked at him with vacant stares that soon gave way to wide-eyed, terrified looks and the younger ones screamed, one after the other, with the older, taller ones, though muted, being the first ones to turn and take to their heels. Soon the whole gaggle was fleeing from him, all shouting hysterically, with a few turning their heads back as they ran to make sure he was not pursuing them.
“You forgot your ball!” Frank called after them, his body tingling with a juvenile mischief he had rarely felt before. He dropped the ball onto the ground as the last of the children disappeared from sight and proceeded on his way home.
Oliver was sweeping the five or six square-metres of space that they considered “their” compound when he got home. She did not look up when he got to their door, and kept her eyes fixed on the broom and the dirt it was flinging away from their house. She stood up briefly to tighten the knot of her lesu above her bosom and then bent down again to continue with the sweeping.
“How are you?” Frank greeted. She remained silent, hurling some pebbles away from her with one sweep of the broom. Frank took off his shoes and set them neatly behind the door.
“How is the child?” he asked.
“Why don’t you go and check on him yourself?” she answered coldly, without lifting her eyes from the ground.
Frank entered the small house and made his way to their bedroom. The child was lying asleep on their bed, as he often did when they were not in need of it. Frank walked over to him and observed him. He had two rows of dried, crusty mucus above his mouth and he was wheezing slightly in his sleep. Frank gently placed his hand on his belly and the child suddenly began to cough, becoming awake in the process.
“Shhhh…shhhh…” Frank tried to lull him back to sleep but the coughs looked wrenching and painful and eventually the child started to cry. Frank lifted him off the bed and tried to soothe him, gently patting him on his back. The child coughed harder, now wailing loudly in between his bouts.
“What have you done to him?” Oliver’s voice came from the bedroom door. Frank turned to find her glaring at him.
“Nothing. I had barely touched him when he began to cough.”
“I told you we have to take him to the hospital but you never listen.”
“We have no money for a hospital. Have you been putting Panadol in his milk like Nurse Nampiima said?”
Oliver shot him a look that would have killed him on the spot if it could, and she moved quickly to where he was standing and ripped the child from his arms, causing him to wail louder. She patted the boy on the back and whispered soft words into his ear and he calmed down. She then turned and walked towards the door.
“I don’t know why I was cursed with a man who is poor, can’t even buy meat for his family, can’t keep his wife warm in the bed, and watches as his child dies from stupid, poor people’s diseases!” she cursed loudly as she hurried out of the room and the child, riled by the loud, harsh tone in her voice, began to cough and cry again.
“The South Africans are coming to the office!” Luswata said in a panic through the door.
Frank quickly swallowed the tea that was left in his new claymug and placed it under the desk right between his feet. He quickly organized the paper that was scattered on his table and sat leaning forward, trying to appear as dignified as he possibly could.
The door swung open and Gesa walked in, followed by a big, potbellied, moustachioed Indian man in a black suit and red tie. The man was trailed by a smaller, pale-looking white man with an ID collar, and a light-skinned fat woman with a round face and small eyes.
“This is our records office,” Gesa said to the Indian man. “And this is our senior records clerk, Mr. Frank Aguma.”
Frank stood up immediately and extended his hand to Gesa who shook it uninterestedly. Frank then offered his hand to the big man, but this time his gesture was completely ignored.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Patel,” he said, somewhat timidly.
“Derrick, why don’t you get drawers or cupboards for all this paperwork?” the man said to Gesa, as though he had not even perceived Frank’s presence in the room. “This place is a mess, just look at it! I keep telling you all our offices have to be exemplary. Do you know this could be a finding when the external auditors come here next month?”
“Yes, yes, Mr. Patel,” Gesa stuttered, “We will certainly get all this sorted out as soon as possible.”
“All this paper could easily constitute a fire hazard,” the big man continued, “When I return four months from now I want to find all this properly arranged in drawers and appropriately labelled, understood? Cresco doesn’t just excel at making soft drinks, we excel at everything, even simple tidiness!”
“Yes, Mr. Patel,” Gesa said, “I will have it sorted very soon.”
The big man scanned around with one last disapproving look at the stacks of papers that lined the walls before turning back towards the door where his two counterparts parted to give him way as he exited the office. They followed after him with Gesa humbly bringing up the rear and shutting the door behind them without another glance at Frank. Luswata opened the door as Frank was settling back down.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“Better than expected,” Frank replied.
“You’re lucky. They are giving out bonuses today, by the way. Four p.m.”
Frank ate in silence throughout the lunch hour. His customary seat at the back with Musa and the boys had been taken so he had sat next to Liz and Halima about five tables ahead. Oliver’s words from the previous evening were still cutting through him, reaching deep, tugging and ripping like a barbed stick.
A man who can’t keep his wife warm in the bed, the words echoed in his mind. He ate fork after fork of matooke, rice and beans but tasted nothing. It was the first time in their two and a half years of marriage that she had lashed out at his impotence.
“I heard he can’t even get it up.” Halima’s words snapped him into consciousness and he spun his head towards her like an invisible hand had slapped him across the cheek. She was looking away from him, towards Liz, who was listening eagerly.
Liz gasped. “No! You’re lying!” she said incredulously.
“I’m serious,” Halima said.
Frank swallowed. A chunk of matooke fell off his fork and back onto the plate. He did not notice the tiny splash it made in the bean stew, or the little brown speckles of soup that splattered onto his shirt.
“How do you know?” Liz said.
“Diana went home with him after the employees’ dinner. She said he kept mumbling apologies all night,” Halima said and giggled.
“But Gesa, that gu man,” Liz said, “And the way he likes hitting on me, you’d think he has a fully-loaded one down there!”
They both laughed heartily over their food, looking around briefly to make sure they were not laughing too loudly to attract attention. Frank turned quickly back to his food just before they caught him staring at them. His heart released rapid thuds of relief and his hand shook with gratitude as he raised the fork to his mouth. His secret – his curse – was safe with him for now.
The thirty thousand shillings in bonuses that was given to the employees that day was frowned upon by most of the other workers but Frank was thankful for it. As a clerk he earned the least among all the permanent workers in Cresco, so any add-ons were as important to him as butter to a dry crust of bread.
He passed by the butcher’s on his way home to buy some meat for Oliver and the child. His father’s voice came to him as the butcher chopped up the pieces and weighed them on the scales: Frank, the best way to quiet down a nagging wife is to bring home some meat! Followed by the loud, snorting laughter that was his old man’s trademark.
Oliver carefully set the child down on the mat beside their bed. She cushioned him with a folded blanket and covered him with a bedsheet as Frank watched from his vantage on the bed. When she was done she took a can of Vaseline from her purse and began to smear some on her legs and thighs, massaging herself slowly and purposefully.
Frank felt his heart dip. He knew what was coming next. Whenever Oliver oiled herself before bed it always meant she wanted intimacy. Frank wanted to turn and face the wall but he didn’t want to give her any cold vibes. So he shut his eyes and prayed for sleep.
Oliver placed the Vaseline back into her purse and got under the bedsheet next to him. She placed her head on his chest and wrapped her arm around his belly.
“I’m sorry I was harsh to you yesterday,” she said.
“You had every right to be. But I see he isn’t coughing as much today,” he replied.
“Nurse Nampiima came over and gave him some funny herbs, they seem to have worked.”
“I’m glad. I’m so tired, work was endless today!” Frank yawned. Oliver’s arm held him tighter across the belly, and she pushed her face up to his neck so that his nostrils were filled with the scent of Vaseline. She rubbed his torso suggestively and pecked him slightly on his nipple. When he remained still, she moved her hand down to his groin and tenderly held his manhood, finding it as soft as a sock. She tugged at it as gently as she could, and then with a bit more urgency when she felt no response to her advances.
Frank closed his eyes and willed with all his might. He commanded it to rise. He beckoned, entreated and then threatened it. There was not the slightest movement in his loins. Not even the subtlest of twitches. With his eyes still shut, unable to look at Oliver, he heard her sigh with exasperation and detach herself from him, leaving the bed altogether and setting herself on the mat next to the sleeping child. In that moment Frank could not care less whether he had the power to control aeroplanes or shift the moon in its orbit.
“Something is wrong with me,” Frank said.
“What do you mean?” his mother asked. He sat his bony, seventeen-year-old frame opposite her and looked down at his hands.
“I’m not normal,” he said.
“Why do you say that, Frankie?”
“I was with Connie yesterday. In her bedroom.”
“What were you doing in a girl’s bedroom, Frankie?” she asked with a hint of anger.
“Listen mummy!” he snapped. “Connie kissed me. And then she…she touched me. She touched me there.” His mother cleared her throat and shifted uneasily in her chair.
“And?” she asked.
“And…nothing happened. I know what’s supposed to happen, mummy. I’m not a child anymore! What’s wrong with me?”
“Have you always known?”
“Frankie…listen to me.”
“You knew all along. I knew you did!”
“Frank!” she shouted at him. He became mute and stared at her.
“Listen,” she said, “when you were born you had a lump under your manhood. The doctor removed it in a surgical procedure but he said there might be some nerve damage. Some permanent nerve damage. He said we could only be sure after a few years. Yes, I knew. Of course I knew. Every morning I checked to see if there was something, anything. Boys are supposed to get hard in the mornings sometimes. You never did. Not once. Yes, I knew. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell you. How could I? I’m sorry that this had to happen to you. God’s plans are never similar to our own.”
Twelve years later, when his father arranged for him to marry Oliver, he was struck by a terrible fright. Oliver would find out, like Connie had. And then she would spend her entire life despising him for being half a man. No, not half a man. A midget was half a man. A midget was small but he could still keep a woman warm. No, not half a man. Something less, something worse, something more base than the lowest form of man. To him could not be ascribed any form of masculinity. Not in the eyes of a fellow man, at least. And certainly never in the eyes of a woman.
When Oliver got pregnant, he was more relieved than upset. More glad than surprised. He had known for a long time about her clandestine rapports with their neighbour, Kizito. He had once found Kizito and Oliver playfully scuffling in the compound in a way that a man should not scuffle with a married woman. She was giggling, trying to dislodge his veiny, powerful-looking arms from around her waist when Frank appeared, and Kizito had quickly released her and mumbled an embarrassed greeting to Frank.
“At least daddy can now have a grandchild,” he had told his mother after breaking the news to her. “Maybe now he can finally see me as a human being. As a man. And not as some freak of nature.” His mother had been too distraught to answer back. She had just nodded in agreement and then hugged him fiercely, whispering “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry” over and over again.
Oliver’s screams woke him up with a start. He turned to see her kneeling on the mat and cradling the child. Her face was wet and her eyes were white and wild.
“What’s the matter?” he asked in a panic.
“He’s not breathing!” she shouted.
Frank leapt out of the bed and took the child from her. The child’s mouth was making gaping, gasping motions. Frank turned the child onto his face and hit him hard on the back. Once…twice…and then the child made a feeble, coughing sound.
“Put something on,” he said urgently, “We have to get to the hospital now!”
Oliver wrapped her lesu over her nightgown and followed Frank hastily out of the room. It was just becoming light outside, and they hurried past a sleepy-looking Kizito washing his face on his veranda. He gazed worriedly at them as they rushed through the gate.
At the hospital the doctors said the child had a bad case of whooping cough, and though they had brought him in just in time, he was not in good shape at all and had to be immediately admitted into the ICU. They sat Frank and Oliver down by the reception and told them to wait.
About two hours had passed when Frank got up off the seat and decided to walk around, leaving a tired Oliver on the seat, her head resting in her lap – asleep. He walked through the corridor past rows of women with crying infants and men escorting their pregnant spouses, some holding them by the hands, others holding their luggage.
He got to a closed room on his left and looked through the glass visor below the letters “3C”. He saw the child lying on a bed, asleep, surrounded by all sorts of machinery. He opened the door and entered. He walked over to the child’s side and looked down at him. As though sensing his presence, the child opened his eyes and stared up at him. He smiled at the child and waved his hand at the tube running into his arm from the drip.
“Let daddy make you laugh,” he whispered.
The drip line wriggled and twisted over itself like a thin, plastic snake and the child smiled behind his oxygen mask.
“You like that?” he said to the child. “Watch this.”
He looked at the large machine by the child’s bed and the machine moved right, then left, then right again, in dancing, groovy movements and the child’s smile grew wider. Encouraged, Frank looked at the beeping screen above the child’s bed and the beeping sound became more rhythmic, making polyphonic music that Frank nodded his head to. And then he felt himself unleashed, and as the child cooed and giggled he had the bed shifting up and down, dancing to the music of the heart monitor, and the catheter doing waves like a stage prop, and the machines coming alive and dancing with mechanical precision, like an impromptu robot dance crew assembled just for the boy.
Frank was in a frenzy when the door opened and the doctor and nurses rushed in, gazing around them in astonishment. He found himself unable to stop as one nurse shouted at him to get out. The blanket floated off the child’s bed, followed by his oxygen mask, and the needle from the drip slid out from his arm and made for the ceiling, where it turned left and right like a pin-sized dancer. Every object in the room was dancing for the child, and Frank was the conductor, too attentive to get any movement wrong – so attentive that even when the child’s eyes closed shut for all eternity he was still moving the blanket in waves like a small, floating, grey ocean.
This edition of Omenana is late, over a month late.
It is our intention to publish a high-quality quarterly magazine, however, everything that could delay the production, did. It’s been a crazy four months, but we are happy that Omenana 7 is here now.
In the time between the last edition of Omenana and this one, we were reminded why it is of great importance to continue producing this magazine. Through it, we encourage more writers to look to the extensive materials we have on the continent called Africa for speculative fiction.
This month, we are happy to introduce stories from new voices and established writers of the speculative on the continent. We hope their stories speak to you as they did us.Also, we are spotlighting Sunny Efemena, who illustrated this edition and has worked on other editions in the past.This edition of Omenana closes with an essay on African sci-fi and literature and its impact on technological advancement on the continent by my co-editor, Chinelo Onwualu.
Meanwhile, we are very happy to announce the start of a partnership with Okadabooks.com, an online publishing portal. All editions of Omenana will now be available on Okadabooks.com, where you can access and download various formats of the magazine. No fear, Omenana remains free, and will remain that way for as long as we can manage.
Your name is Asake and you can tell that you are being taken south because the wind is in your face and the clayey redness of the soil is slowly becoming a yellow sandiness. The soil is all you see.
Everything else is a blur.
You scream for help in desperate, high-pitched shrieks but it seems there is no one willing to save you. Desperation claws at your belly like unanswered hunger.
You remember that you had only stopped walking briefly, pausing as you navigated your way back from your mother’s farm at the place where the Imu and Buse pathways met. You paused to make the seemingly mundane choice of which route to take when a powerful arm suddenly wrapped itself around your torso, hoisted you onto a sturdy shoulder and began to run. A moment was all it took.
Screaming even louder, you consider that you did not really need to go to the farm today, or any other day for that matter. There was no need for the daughter of the great hunter Ajiboyede, the niece of the Baale of Olubuse, to go to the farms – your family has never lacked anything. Your father’s lands began along the banks of river Elebiesu and ran all the way down to Olubuse’s limits where great big trees stand like soldiers guarding your uncle’s territory. But you went anyway because you like to work with your hands, you enjoy the feel of soil beneath your feet and you relish the sight of verdant life around you. You decided to go to the farm today because the quiet beauty of the rising sun at dawn had spread over the sky, cloudless and taut like a drum skin. You went seeking nature’s touch.
Now, you are being carried along a snaking pathway carved into the reeds that stand beside the river like a loyal spouse – a path that takes you far away from home. You writhe and wrestle and fight with all the might you can muster but it is futile. The hands that have you are iron and do not loosen their grip. You remember the stories that sad visitors from nearby villages would sometimes tell of children who had been kidnapped and sold to strange men from faraway lands, and you wonder if this is what is happening to you. Just then the wind carries the unmistakable briny tang of the ocean air to your nose.
You scream louder.
Your name is Newton Brookes and it is your turn to go into the hold and take stock of the slave cargo. But you do not want to go into the belly of this wretched whale where men, women and children are chained and crammed into every available space like beasts. The stench is appalling, even the walkway is mired in filth. Starved of food, kindness and humanity, many of them have little choice but to die.
You tell the chief mate that you were never meant to be aboard this abomination, that you are no slaver. You are just a man who was seeking his fortune, whose brother-in-law offered him free passage to the new world in exchange for your services as a crewman on his ship. If you had known this was his vessel, you would have refused his kindness.
The chief mate spits a gob of something brown and viscous and tells you to stop talking and start counting before he puts a bullet in you. He looks angry, but the clearer emotion plastered across his thickly bearded face is impatience. You choose not to test him.
You clamber down the hatch reluctantly, carrying a lantern and some rope and begin to audit the ship’s misery, counting corpses and trying to ignore the sunken, accusing eyes of the living that stare back at you. You steel your heart, close your mind and try to do your duty, aware that these eyes will haunt you for years to come.
You reach a column and see a young girl lying still on the wooden floor, delicate and angelic, even as she is surrounded on all sides by her own filth. You tally her as dead and turn away but something gnaws at you, small but persistent in its urging. You turn back and walk toward her, set your lamp on the floor and take her hand in yours to feel for a pulse. Her eyes open slowly, revealing brown orbs set in a sea of jaundiced yellow. An alien emotion overwhelms you – a bizarre admixture of tenderness and something not unlike love – that you are frightened of. You decide suddenly in that moment, what you will do, knowing what it will cost and that it will change the course of your life forever.
You are twelve years old and you are running through your grandfather’s cornfield, laughing, carefree and wild as the summer breeze. You are being chased by Tom Wiggins, your best friend and the overseer’s son. He is desperate to turn the tide in the game of hide-and-seek that you are currently winning. You bank left, hard, and burst through the curtain of stalks and leaves onto a dirt road. You realize too late that you are going too fast to keep from colliding with the regal man talking with your father and Brutus Wiggins, the overseer.
You crash into him clumsily and he falls to his knees. When you manage to get up and reorient yourself, your father is glaring at you, his caramel skin glimmering in the hazy shine of the afternoon sun.
“Amira Brookes! How many times have I got to tell you not to keep running around this here cornfield like you’re being chased by the devil, child?”
“Sorry Papa. Tom’s running real hard behind me and I didn’t wanna ruin the cucumbers but I was running too fast to stop and I was gonna run into them, so I turned. I’m sorry.”
The man rises slowly, dusting at his trousers with his callused hands. He has a thick imperial moustache and his skin is darker than yours but he reminds you of your white grandfather, whose thick beard and strange mannerisms always make you smile.
“That’s alright,” He says with a smile of his own, “I have two young boys about your age and they run around and knock me down so often, I’m used to it now. You’re the one I came to see anyway.”
He looks directly at you and you decide you like him because he has honest brown eyes.
Tom appears from behind the curtain of corn and is seized by Brutus who takes him by the shoulder and starts to walk with him toward the shed. You hope Tom isn’t in trouble because of you. The regal man with the moustache watches them briefly and then asks, “Tell me Amira, do you like school?”
“Of course! I love it!” You exclaim eagerly, because it is true. You love learning about things and ideas and numbers and how if you put them together in just the right way, they can describe the most amazing things.
The man says, “Well, I can’t say I’m surprised. Your teacher Miss Emily said you were the smartest girl she’s ever come across.”
You blush and looking more at your father than the man, you say with puffed up cheeks, “Miss Emily is wonderful! She taught me some real fancy math she called differential calculus and it’s just the most wonderful thing!”
You watch the old man’s eyes dance in their sockets, animated and alive with an idea or a thought or a vision that has seized him like a fit of epilepsy. He says something to your father in deliberately hushed tones. You father says something back. Then the old man bends over and extends his hand to you.
“My name is George. George Elijah Culver. From Michigan, up North. Pleased to meet you, miss Amira.”
You take his hand. It is hard but it is warm.
And then he says, “How would you like to come with me to Michigan? We have a special boarding school there for bright young coloured kids just like yourself where you can learn about differential calculus and lots more things they won’t ever teach you in regular school. Would you like that, Amira?”
You are sitting with Akin in his sprightly ’62 Opel commodore, parked beside Iowa State University’s Lake Laverne. The Temptations’ ‘My girl’ is on the radio, it is two weeks to Valentine’s Day and the heater is on even though the car is not moving. Somewhere in some recess of your mind, you are wondering how much gas the vehicle is consuming just to keep you both warm. He is telling you something in his lilting Yoruba accent and you are staring at his face intently – wondering in another little recess of your mind what your grandmother would have said if you told her you were dating someone from West Africa, from Nigeria. . The words are spilling out of Akin furiously. Then, unexpectedly, he slows down and measuring his words, asks, “Darla Culver-Brookes, will you marry me?”
Your breath catches and all your diffuse thoughts condense like water vapour from a breath blown against a window in winter. His proposal is unexpected but not surprising; you have both discussed the possibility for months now and you have been, in some way, waiting for it – even though you did not know when it would come.
You feel tension in your neck and dryness in your throat because you know that what you say next could close the door on choir practice with the lovely girls of First Baptist, on the weekly dinners with your parents and perhaps, and even, perhaps, on the annual thanksgiving dinner with your large, loving family.
You gaze and you wonder just how much your life will change, having only been to Nigeria once and seen it not just for all its beauty and potential but also its shortcomings. The unknown beckons and you gaze into its eyes in that moment wondering about the new friends and colleagues that you will make, the heat and the food and the potential of the country you will call home and if you will receive the same warmth and love as you have now from the family that will adopt you as their own. And then you stop wondering about things and let yourself be overwhelmed by how happy Akin’s proposal makes you feel. How much you want to hold him, make love to him, bear children with him, grow old with him. You let yourself say, “Yes.”
Akin leans in to kiss you, his soft brown eyes locked on yours. You let him. Then you kiss him back, urgently. Outside, on the lake, the mute swans are gliding along the surface of the water, made vitrescent by the empyrean caress of a full moon.
You stare through the observation panel at the planet’s moon – a pale alabaster orb with streaks of bright brown criss-crossing it like the etchings of a great cosmic artist. Up close, with nothing but black space framing it, the vision is beautiful, almost worth the year-long cosmic trip to this satellite that you hope will tell humanity something new about its place in the universe. For some reason you are not entirely sure of, the sight of Jupiter’s moon sends a pang of familial hankering through you.
In your pocket is an old picture of you with your family: brother Femi, father, Akin and your mother, Darla. In it, your father still has his afro, you and your brother are young children and your mother’s hair is dark and braided. She is holding you tight against her chest and your brother is pulling at her skirt, smiling. You have been thinking a lot about your family – there was not much else to do on this voyage. Now, you are about to land on Europa, and the constant thoughts about them have become a longing for them. You wonder if you made the right choice, volunteering for this mission.
Ivor, the Russian navigation officer who has become your friend and lover, is floating lazily beside you.
“Moyin?” he calls to you.
You turn, still thinking about your family, to see him pointing at an electric orange patch splashed against the mostly blue and green background of his display screen. His broad, heavy-set shoulders partly obscure what he is looking at.
“There are active cryo-volcanoes in our primary landing zone,” He begins, “It will be too hot to land there for the next seventy-two hours or so, but…”
He smiles and points with stark, heavily veined hands to something on his screen, “…I already asked Agatha to check for alternate landing zones for the explorer and she found two that are perfectly safe. We can either head for the Conamara Chaos, which Agatha assures me isn’t as bad as it sounds, or we can descend onto the Rima Lenticle which was our original landing zone before Houston redirected us anyway.”
“Agatha,” You call out into the small empty space around you.
“Yes, captain,” The AI responds.
“Which of the landing zones is preferable, given the current and projected conditions over a seventy-two hour cycle?”
“Both have landing safety factors between zero point eight and zero point nine.”
“I already checked, captain,” Ivor says, his face and greying hair illuminated by his display screen. “Basically, once you factor in the uncertainty window, there’s no significant advantage going either way in terms of safety, so it’s really up to you. Where do you feel like going?”
You reach for your own display screen to check the explorer’s metrics and the picture you are carrying in your pocket slips out, drifting away from you and spinning so that in one moment you see yourself and your family, in the next, white emptiness. You freeze and find yourself struck by a kind of clarity. You see yourself for what you are – an aggregation of the choices and decisions of all that have come before you stretching back into infinity and beyond. All of these choices, uncertain and fearful and hopeful as the people who made them were, all conspired with each other to bring you to this place, to this point, to now. Choices, not unlike the one you are about to make. This clarity gives you a comfort you did not know you needed but you are grateful for.
You reach for the picture, take it and smile.
“Right,” you say. “Let’s head for the Lenticle.”
“Aye captain,” Ivor is smiling too. You suspect he already knew your decision before you made it, but he asked anyway.
You swipe away your personal display screens, float to the main control panel and strap yourselves into your chairs. The translucent input surface before you beckons. You key in the landing initialization sequence and begin to descend, rightwards, to Jupiter’s sixth moon, with the fortitude of an eternity of humanity behind you.
African SF used to be pretty thin on the ground, although this may be partly down to narrow Western definitions of what exactly SF is – whether it was referring to science fiction or to the broader, more encompassing label of speculative fiction. Certainly, as Nnedi Okorafor (2014) put it in one of her online essays: “African science fiction is still alien.”
Dr. Okorafor’s (2014) essay mentions two important considerations: 1. Africans are (generally) absent from the creative process of global imagining that advances technology through stories. 2. Africans are not yet capitalizing on this literary tool, which is practically made to redress political and social issues. Or as editor Ivor Hartmann phrases it in AfroSF (2012), the first SF anthology by African writers: “If you can’t see and relay an understandable vision of the future, your future will be co-opted by someone else’s vision, one that will not necessarily have your best interests at heart. Thus, Science Fiction by African writers is of paramount importance in the development and future of our continent (p.7: emphasis mine).”
However, when academia starts to collate and analyse it, there is a feeling that a ‘movement’ is perhaps starting to make ground. Such a collation took place with the 25th volume publication of the journal Paradoxa, which focused on African SF (2013). The journal, edited by Mark Bould, starts with a historical overview of the origins and current emergence of African SF – although – given that Africa is indeed a lot more than a country – it may well be that there will be multiple and differing representations of such a huge, geographically rooted form of this genre. The introduction from Paradoxa has been generously made available online and is well worth a read. However, for those unwilling or unable to wade through the online introduction to Africa SF, I will give a summary of contents as – more or less and with paraphrasing apologies – represented by the editor.
Paradoxa 25 covers a sweeping range of topics addressing both stories and issues from authors within Africa and across the Diaspora. Initially, Mark Bould analyses North African texts, such as Mohammed Dib’s Who Remembers the Sea; Sony Labou Tansi’s Life and a Half and Ahmed Towfik’s Utopia, within colonial, neo and post-colonial discourses. (Cheryl Morgan has an interview with Ahmed Towfik on The World SF Blog.)
Lisa Yaszek then “rethinks” portrayals of the apocalypse arguing that in some short African SF stories, the ‘apocalypse is re-contextualised, rewritten – and refused’ (p.12). Melissa Kurtz analyses Lauren Beukes’ first two books, arguing for the enduring legacy of apartheid, transmuted into futuristic cyberpunk representations of capitalism. Marleen Barr situates Zoo City within systems of power and difference – and then focuses on species connections, represented by a common ancestor and the novel’s animal “familiars.”
Noah Tsika reassesses the first Nollywood SF movie, Kajola, with other movies such as Pumzi and District 9 pointing to the gradual emergence of an African SF cinema.
The second half of the book focuses on Afro-Diasporic authors, including an interview with Minister Faust, looking at variations of Afrofuturism. Andrea Hairston is also interviewed and emphasises a wider (and indigenised) conceptualisation of science, including Afrofuturism, as needed to reboot the world from a cataclysmic post-European colonial patriarchy. Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death is examined by Lisa Dowdall as a brave critical feminist dystopia, looking for new and better ways of being. Ian McDonald’s African-set Chaga saga is evaluated by Neil Easterbrook, focusing on postcolonial themes. De Witt Douglas Kilgore assesses the first black superhero in mainstream comics – T’Challa/Black Panther from Marvel’s Fantastic Four 52 (1966). Three major Afrofuturists are then focused on: Sun Ra, Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson. Nick Mamatas and Andrew Butler overview recent work by Samuel Delany. Finally, Nisi Shawl reviews AfroSF and Zahrah Nesbit-Ahmed (aka Bookshy) reviews Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls (2013).
Paradoxa represents (perhaps) the start of a considerable emerging academic coverage of African SF, which in itself appears to be gathering significant momentum. Mark Bould (2015) has updated this overview with a blog posting ‘African Science Fiction 101’ (link below)
2015 has thus already seen Jalada’s online African speculative fiction anthology Afrofutures launched on January 14th. The anthology has a prelude piece from Binyavanga Wainana as a lead in, written late last year. Linked in to Jalada’s anthology is a podcast panel debate on Afrofuturism between Nnedi Okorafor and Sofia Samatar et al at the University of Texas, recorded during their Symposium for African Writers in December last year (2014).
With AfroSF (Vol 2) due to build on the successful launch of AfroSF by publishing African writers’ speculative fiction novellas, as well as Short Story Day Africa’s Terra Incognita anthology – featuring nineteen new African spec-fic stories and headed up by Diane Awerbuck – – African speculative fiction in 2015 is now gaining some serious momentum. Other recent notable books is a collection of short stories by Dilman Dila A Killing in the Sun, Deji Olokotun’s Nigerians in Space and Tendai Huchu’s The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician. (Incidentally, the March-April 2015 issue of Interzone will also feature Tendai’s story The Worshipful Company of Milliners.). Also due out this year is Tade Thompson’s. ’Making Wolf’ and Afro Cyberpunk’s Jonathan Dotse continues to drive forward Accra 2057.
Add to this heady mix ongoing work by a number of other established writers including Sarah Lotz, Nisi Shawl, Karen Lord and Sofia Samatar, as well as the launch of this magazine (Omenana) in December 2014 – and the future of African SF looks both bright and imminent.
In fact, I’d say African SF is already here – and is getting ready to take over the planet!
Wood, N (2014b) SF in SA (23) African SF Rec List from Nine Worldshttp://nickwood.frogwrite.co.nz/?p=1093 (An already out of date list of African SF generated after August 2014 ‘Nine Worlds Con’; – panel on African SF)
I was perhaps eight or nine years old when my father told us the story of his encounter with a mythical being. What people in my part of Enugu State, Nigeria, call Oku Ikpa. The word Oku Ikpa translates loosely as ‘wild fire’ and the creature would correlate somewhat with the phoenix of European mythology. I don’t know why, but that story, told to me when we lived in the northern city of Kaduna — thousands of miles away from the place of incidence and on an afternoon of telling ghost stories — stuck with me.
I don’t know if my father’s encounter was true or if he was just making things up, but I don’t need to close my eyes to see him bowed before that ball of fire on a lonely hill road, emptying his pockets to find something that would appease it, his RoadMaster motorcycle forgotten where it lay. Perhaps I was fascinated by the mystery: What exactly is the Oku Ikpa? Where does it go to when day breaks? Why, when a hunter once fired at it (as the stories say), did pieces of broken clay and calabash cutlery appear at the spot he shot?
I am not sure these questions led me to science fiction, horror and fantasy, but I recall thinking that many of the supposedly strange stories I read from JRR Tolkien, Anne Rice, Stephen King or Philip Jose Farmer didn’t appear at all otherworldly. I soon recognised that a copious amount of material for fantasy and science fiction existed around me. It was then that the urge to take a pen and put to paper stories about the fabled dwarfs who are supposed to grant wealth, or about Ananmuo where spirits travel from when they come to rule the night. I yearned to weave fables set in unfamiliar and unheard of scenes and to have an Emeka walk across the Martian pole. These yearnings, in time, became too great to bear.
I think it was in early 2010 that I came across a call for entries for a science fiction writing workshop in Lagos. I was elated, for at that time I had already written some fantasy and science fiction shorts and was itching to get some training to help me with my writing. I can’t recall what story I sent in as an entry, but I was over the moon when I got an email informing me I had qualified for the workshop. That workshop birthed what is Nigeria’s first science fiction anthology, Lagos 2060, edited by Ayo Arigbabu.
Lagos 2060 was supposed to be Africa’s first science fiction anthology but it lost that pride of place to Ivor Hartmann’s AfroSF because of publication delays. For it, I submitted a story titled ‘Annihilation’ that imagined what Lagos would be like 50 years into the future. Written in 2010, it was my second attempt at writing science fiction and, until last year, my longest short story.
Science fiction is still very new in Nigeria, but while we could barely find 10 people to contribute to the anthology in 2010, there are now hundreds of writers who will readily try their hand at the genre. Just as I did, more writers are recognising that we have a copious amount of material for speculative fiction here in Nigeria. That means we need platforms where these stories can be anchored. To help this along, Chinelo Onwualu and I present Omenana, a bimonthly speculative fiction e-publication.
Arrows in front of my eyes tell me where to go ↑ along a busy market street lined with immigrants selling cheap wares from makeshift stalls. It’s awash with colour, purple and blue saris and Kashmiri scarfs, red apples, green grapes, and the smells of freshly caught fish, cooked corn, herbs and spices – paprika, cumin, ground chilli – sold by the pound. Loud voices call out random prices and bargains as I (and I am still I) turn → into a narrow alleyway with puddles of water from last night’s rain, full up trash cans and cardboard stacks from the shops inside.
←. Sat-homing means I see where I’m going, feel the experience, but it’s more of a sleepwalk. It’s like doing something by instinct, the same way your leg kicks out when the doctor taps your knee with a plexor. My muscles move, I feel the ground beneath my feet, taste the salty air from the sea close by, and feel the chilly wind; I’m here and not here. ↑.
Status Green: Y/N – Y
Prepare For Symbiosis
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
A ton of force presses down the top of my head, crushing me. Everything from the top of my cranium moves down like my skull is travelling down my neck into my oesophagus. It feels like I’m eating my own head, swallowing it down to my gut, can’t breathe, a wave of nausea overcomes me and I’d gag if a big lump wasn’t obstructing my throat. It’s like being ripped out of your skin and having everything shredded and crushed, leaving only that, the largest organ in your body, hollow, while a new skeleton ent…
i’m at the beach again, look at it, so beautiful. If only the sky wasn’t covered by those grey clouds. Never mind. Best birthday present ever! Is that? – no, it can’t be.
‘Hey dad, you in there?’ Holy crap.
‘Joe, is it really you?’ i ask. ‘i can’t believe it.’
‘We’re all here for you,’ he replies and sweeps his hand to show the rest of the family behind him.
my sister Ethel’s in a blue frock, covered up with a cardigan. Her hair is so grey, all those wrinkles on her face, the moustache on her lip. i hug her tightly, haven’t seen that face in over ten years; not since my eyes gave out. Joe’s wife, Natalie, holds a big box with bright pink ribbons on it, the smile on her face warms me up. We embrace, just like we did on their wedding day. Happiest day of my life. The grandkids, the tall one must be Darren and the little one, blonde hair, Craig. On the beach with my family again, it’s a miracle.
‘That’s not Grandpa,’ says Craig, taking a step back behind his brother.
‘Craig, what did I tell you? Don’t spoil this for everyone,’ Joe replies curtly.
‘It’s me, don’t be afraid. It really is me.’ i go over to the boy, pick him up and tickle his belly like i used to, he squirms and pulls away.
‘You’re not Grandpa,’ he says, and walks off towards the white pier in the distance. i make to follow, but Joe grabs my arm.
‘Let him go, we’ve only got an hour. He’ll be alright.’
A woman in a yellow mini walks past with her dog and i feel a yearning inside me i haven’t felt for years. This isn’t the time. It’s family time. There are strollers in beach shorts, a couple having breakfast on a towel near the changing rooms, sanitation workers taking away litter from the car park up ahead. And the wind is just glorious, i close my eyes and try to inhale every atom of air i can.
i hit Darren on the shoulder – ‘Tag you’re it’ – and begin to run on the beach. That’s right, I’m running, the sand underneath me, giving way and crunching as I go, seaweed washed ashore, and, boy, am i running like a pro-athlete. i slow down to allow Darren to tag me and off i go after him. My grandson can run like a gazelle, but it only takes a few strides, i catch up, grab him by the waist and lift him high in the air. Joe and Natalie laugh, Ethel laughs, we’re all so happy. Best birthday ever.
We walk on the sand, checking out sailing boats in the distance. A few folks stare at us for a bit, but i suppose that’s normal given the circumstances. i’ve not felt this strong in years. Even as we walk, i’m holding back because i just want to run. It was on this very beach that i proposed to Lenore fifty years ago. Wish she was still here with us to hear the seagulls circling above, squawking.
Joe calls Craig over and we sit round a table. It’s a bit nippy, but we order ice-cream anyway. The taste of it is just divine, so sweet, so sharp, like every nerve ending in my body is awake and it’s every bit as great as I remember from the rations during the war. Vivid flavours explode in my mouth.
i feel an overwhelming sense of sorrow and loss at the thought of leaving all this behind. It’s like being given the power of a god for a day and having it taken away the same way Phaethon was hurled off Apollo’s chariot by Zeus’ thunderbolt.
‘i suppose it’s time for me to say goodbye again,’ i mumble.
‘I’m sorry, if we’d had more money, we could have bought more time,’ Natalie says, her eyes welling up. ‘Maybe we could…I’ve heard of charities that buy time for people in special circumstances.’
‘Don’t bother yourself; you have kids to look after. i’ll remember this day forever. It’s been wonderful.’
i get up to hug them, each in turn, and this time Craig lets me. He feels like dough in my arms, soft, yeasty, full of goodness and potential, young and invincible, as though I’m touching the future right now. There’s a joy in my heart that can’t be compared to…
Prepare To Disengage From HostBod
SyncCorp Hopes You Had A Pleasant Experience
Please Come Again
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
I arrive at a warehouse in Mullhill, the east side of the city, near the industrial zone. There’s no sign on the diamond fence around the perimeter. HGV trucks laden with goods from the factories around run up and down the road towards the city and beyond. The noise of the mills is a sonnet to the plumes of smoke that pour from the coal powered station in the centre of the perfect grid of intersecting streets. The air is acrid and full of unknowable particulates. Men in overalls and hard hats walk in rows carrying little backpacks to their various factories.
There’s no guard as I walk past the boom gate into a desolate car park. I take a deep breath and follow the arrows. I have no choice. Some bods have been used in criminal enterprises before and it’s a growing problem. But not with SyncCorp, the leading bod provider in the western hemisphere.
A HostBod walks towards me. Hard sculpted cheeks, fair lips, flat east Baltic head, another immigrant. His blue t-shirt tells me he’s from RentaBod, cheap eastern European bods usually. He’s in Sat-homing and manages to turn his head a fraction to acknowledge me with his dead blue eyes. I blink, a moment of brotherhood that lasts a microsecond.
I walk into the bare warehouse and my Sat-homing is deactivated. I’m in loiter mode until the uplink command is sent. The warehouse is a bare shell, high windows, floors caked in pigeon droppings. At the far end is a red door which I walk through, into a waiting area in which two other bods sit in injection moulded chairs.
‘What’s this about?’ I say taking the seat nearest the exit.
‘I don’t know,’ replies the bod opposite me in a South American, maybe Brazilian accent. He’s caramel skinned and bald headed. Every bod has their head shaved for the implants.
‘Some kind of test,’ says the other one sitting nearest the second door.
Their yellow t-shirts tell me they are both assets from PleasureBodInc, usually procured for the M2M industry. The florescent light above makes a slight humming noise. It flickers at intervals. The room seems to have been set up recently, with new fixtures that smell of plastic.
‘How long have you been in business?’ the Brazilian asks.
‘Four years, nine months,’ I reply.
‘Wow, without a burnout? Amazing! I’ve only been here six months.’
‘Good luck,’ is all I can say. And that’s what this game is, Russian roulette, you spin the barrel until you don’t hear the empty click of the chamber anymore.
He’s called in by a curly haired man wearing a white coat and holding a notepad. The scent of disinfectant wafts into the waiting room. The Brazilian follows him in and the door shuts behind him.
Half an hour later, the Brazilian walks out and I’m called in before the other PleasureBodInc bod. I get up and walk into the next room. The man in a white coat asks me to sit on what looks like a pink dentist’s plinth. I comply.
Status Green: Y/N – Y
Prepare For Symbiosis
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
‘What do you think of this one, Doctor Cranmer?’
‘Near the end of service which means it’s stable. It’s the oldest one we’ve got. As you know, they usually break down around the twenty-four month mark. Only a special few last this long.’
‘i don’t know. The features…’
‘Will take some getting used to, I admit. But race is the least of your worries, sir. Stability is all important.’
‘Let’s take it through its paces, shall we?’
I’m not supposed to be here, to see or hear any of this. It’s as if I’m a child hiding in a dark closet, looking into a room through a keyhole. HostBods are not supposed to be conscious during symbiosis and the Corp would reconfigure me if they knew. But I’ve been in this closet, hiding away for two years. The doctor instructs me/him to open my/his mouth, shines a light down my/his throat. Then he draws some blood, runs me/him through an x-ray machine – Doctor Cranmer can’t use the MRI because of the electrodes – but he takes my/his blood pressure, resting pulse and performs lung function tests. He puts me/him on a treadmill at high speed for three minutes and then repeats the test. I/he is moved to a large hanger where I/he does something that resembles a football fitness test, some sort of biomechanical assessment looking at endurance, speed, strength, agility and power. I watch it all from my closet, not daring to breathe or move.
‘How old is he, doc?’
‘Just coming up to 21. Prime specimen right here.’
‘I’m not sure about this.’
‘Look at these stats, he’s 99.25% compatible, that’s 5 percentage points over anything else we’ve got. He’s perfect.’
‘I need time to think it over.’
‘We’ve got a few more to look at, so don’t worry, but the sooner we make a move the better.’
Prepare To Disengage From HostBod
SyncCorp Hopes You Had A Pleasant Experience
Please Come Again
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
↑ ↑ → ←↑ ↑ ↑ ↓ ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ → ↑
Status Green: Y/N – Y
Prepare For Symbiosis
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
No rest for the fucking wicked. Stan calls me up, wants me to raise 40 mill for some shit-arsed indie flick. Who watches that crap? Must be shagging the director, that’s what. Still, who’s gonna pony up 40 mill for some piece of cunt? Okay, relax, chill out. Only get this shit one day a week. 40 mill. Forget it. Forget about work for two minutes. It’s her. Is this shit even legal?
There she is, look at that, fucking curves on that. Phwoar, even forget she nearly sixteen sometimes. Check out those blonde locks, how they bounce around on her head and those tits, dear God, those motherfucking tits. i ain’t doing badly for an old fart. i mean how many blokes my age actually get the balls to hit it with their daughter’s best mate, hehe. Pure fantasy shit. That’s why i gotta cover me tracks. Put her arse in a HostBod and shit’s supposedly legal – at least that’s what me lawyer tells me. Grey area, he calls it.
‘Ello darling, come ere to daddy.’
Feel those tits pressing against me chest as i hug her.
‘How’s school and everything?’ Gotta seem like the caring, reasonable old man, hehe.
‘It’s alright. I missed you,’ she says. Hear that – if me missus only said it once or twice a month i wouldn’t be up to no good. Swear it on me mother’s fucking grave.
‘i missed you too, darling. Give daddy a lil kiss.’
Feel those sweet teenage lips, wow. Wouldn’t be able to handle this sort of action if i was in me own body. Check out me lump, proper Mandingo going on here.
i push her back a mo just so I can check out the view, see the curves. i like that lil shade of brown pub that lingers just above them lil panties. Wow, wow, what the fuck? Who’s this? Fucking Chinese woman appears in front of me outta nowhere.
‘What’s wrong, daddy?’
‘You, you’ve fucking turned Chinese!’
‘You’re Chinese, honest to God. Look at you, all bald with some metal wire shit all over your head, the skin, everything. Oh, my fucking God!’
‘I think it’s like the visuals that’s gone bust on your bod, coz I can see you just fine.’
‘What the fuck am i supposed to do?’
“Call the company and have them fix it.’
And that’s how i spend the one afternoon of peace i get a week, down the phone speaking to some call centre trying to get this drone to remote patch me visuals. Little girl’s sitting on the bed, staring at me out of her fifty-something year old chinky fucking eyes. Total mindfuck coz she’s talking like her out of this bod and it’s doing me head in.
‘Don’t tell me you’ve fixed the fucking visuals because all i can see in front of me is a fucking Chinese bird, alright? i pay top dollar for this shit, i expect service. You even know what that word means?’ i’m screaming down the fucking phone, would have had a heart attack by now if i was in me own body. ‘Fine, i’ll take a full refund and a free session next week, sounds freaking fine by me. i should be suing your incompetent arses.’
i hang up and turn back to the girl:
‘Looks like this week’s fucked. We’ll hook up next time, okay love? Come here, give daddy a kiss… on second thoughts, don’t.’
I’m back in Sat-homing mode. I’m not supposed to know the last assignment was a complete dud, that I’m, in effect, malfunctioning. Visuals need to get reset. I’ve been sent back to base early, my next assignments have been cancelled. So I’m free – sort of.
Funny thing happens when I sync up, I seem to store some of their memories in me. This isn’t supposed to happen, none of the other bods report anything similar, but it’s like I know stuff I’m not even supposed to know.
Passing by City Square, the giant advertorial screens above, the Coke-red next to the Pepsi-blue, the giant golden arc, Papa Chicks, Massa Space outfits, people walking around, bodies pressed against each other, sub 20Hz speakers blaring out subliminal advertising, shops spraying lab manufactured pheromones to lure consumers. I adjust my hoodie, doing my best to cover my temples even though this is one of the safer parts of the city for a bod to pass. The poorer and rougher western neighbourhoods like Westlea and Pilmerton are a different matter altogether. I walk by The Stock Xchange. When I first came here I didn’t understand any of it, the arrows going up and down, the numbers sprinting across the top and bottom of the screen. But a few sessions synced with Brad Madison, and I know it all as well as any broker. Viviset stocks have been fluctuating, but they’re still overpriced, best time to sell and get out before it comes crashing down. I’d buy Tanganda now and sell it next week. ↑ Can’t stop to look at the rest in this mode, but I’ll check out the markets online when I get back to base.
Silver space blanket puffs seem to be the fashion of the week for ladies under 30. Then again, when you’ve been synced with a famous fashion designer… Wish they’d get me on the underground for the journey back. My feet are killing me. That’s the problem with Corp, they’ll squeeze every penny in savings if they can. Truth be told, knowing what I know now, that’s the same thing I’d do especially when staff turnover isn’t a factor.
Base is a huge building which used to be a budget hotel in the east side, near the space&airport. You can see planes and shuttles taking off and landing, going to exotic destinations around the world or to orbit. It’s noisy as hell, but it’s home. Our conditions here, I hear, are much better than the dormitory set-up other bods get elsewhere. Retinal scanner lets me in.
‘You’re home early 4401,’ says Marlon on the security desk.
‘Malfunction,’ I reply.
‘You’ll be seeing Dr Song then,’ he replies. ‘Go up to your room. I’ll call you when it’s time.’
‘Thanks Marlon,’ I say and then I remember, ‘hey, is it okay for me to call home?’
‘I’ll give you access. ten minutes max per day.’
‘Come on Marlon,’ I say in my best whinny voice.
‘Fifteen, and that’s the best I can do. Now get outta here before I change my mind.’
‘You’re a legend,’ I say and give him the thumbs up.
The door to my room is unlocked. We have a toilet cubicle to the left, a bunk bed on either side of the wall, and a desk with a small computer/TV at the far wall. There are no mirrors in any of the rooms. Raj6623 is asleep or in hibernation mode. He usually starts up at 22:00 and returns the next afternoon. He’s a fightbod and gets a full eight hours’ sleep plus practice time. For most bods it’s 20 hours work with four hours sleep as standard.
‘4401 authorised call to rec-number Harare,’ I say to the computer.
It kicks up with a whirr and then I hear a dial tone. Half a minute later mama’s face appears on screen. A sad smile cracks on her mouth like a running fissure when she sees me. At the right angle, all she can see is my face, bald head and the two electrodes implanted through my temples into my frontal lobe. They’re titanium and shiny, but at least she can’t see the full device. The other implants are at the back of my skull and are drilled into the amygdala, so the sync takes place in the oldest and newest brain, the primitive and the conscious part for full immersiveness. We talk about home, my little brother with Westhuizen’s Syndrome, which is the reason I’m here. The money I make goes straight towards his medication. I’ll get a bonus after completion and after that, I’ll have to either sign up again – no one’s ever done that – or find a new way to make money for his drugs. Either way, this job is the only thing keeping him alive. He pops up on screen, nine years old, handsome as a teddy bear, braces in his mouth, and smiles. I wave. He tells me about school, his friends, games, all the things any nine year old should be doing. This makes it worthwhile. Mama’s just sitting there, slightly off screen, watching her boys. I’m sure she’s proud. I get a beep, time’s nearly up, say, ‘Good-bye, I love you guys so much,’ blow a kiss and log off.
I’ve just slid into my lower bunk when Marlon buzzes via the computer and tells me to go see the doc. I get up and leave Raj6623 snoozing, go into the corridor and squirt some alcohol gel on my hands and round my temples. The corridor is bare, just blue vinyl flooring, perfect white walls, directional signs every couple of meters and a purple strip that runs in the middle of the wall as a sort of decoration. I go round a few turns and into the infirmary, just in time to see a new bod leave. I nod my head and stroll in.
Doctor Song is a small Korean man, barely reaches my chest even with the Cuban heels he wears to give himself an extra inch or so. He’s typing notes into his computer and points to a chair. The keys go tap, tap, tap under his furious little fingers.
‘4401, why you tell Marlon you have malfunction? How did you know?’ he says. I should have known better.
‘My assignment ended early, you called me home and cancelled the rest of my day, that can only mean one thing,’ I reply coolly.
‘You doctor now?’
‘You’re the doctor, Doctor Song.’
‘Uplink scan has been showing spikes in your wave function post sync.’ I blink like I don’t understand what he’s saying. Doc likes that sort of thing, but I know what he’s going to say next before he even says it. ‘Don’t worry it’s not the most reliable instrument anyway.’
That’s code for I’mtoolazytofollowupandyourcontract’snearlydonesoIdon’tcare. I nod along like an ignoramus.
‘You’ve been taking your antibiotics?’ he asks.
‘On time, every time,’ I reply. We have to take long term, prophylactic, broad-spectrum antibiotics because of the risk of infection at the insertion points. You don’t wanna mess with meningitis or encephalitis.
‘Corp has new job for you. Contract nearly over so easy work. You go Hillside in North, single user for last three months. Congratulations,’ he says, looking at me for once.
‘Thanks Doctor Song,’ I reply with a smile, though every instinct in my body is screaming out, alarm bells ringing, spider senses tingling.
‘Good. Go into next room. I test and remodulate vis configuration,’ he says and grabs a white helmet with flashing green and blue lights at the fore. It’s the user’s uplink device. It works by reading the wearers brainwaves and transmitting low level radiation to tune the user into the HostBod. Nowhere near as invasive as the electrodes bods must wear because their own consciousness must be suppressed in sync, which can only be done surgically. The electrodes not only transmit electric impulses but also carry neurotransmitters direct into the brain structure. I got this off syncing with Doctor Song himself and he doesn’t even know that.
We can’t be in the same room during sync because of the infinity loop problem which tech has failed to overcome. That’s why, for safety reasons, user and HostBod only interface via remote transmission. He marches me back and forth, I squat, pinch myself, stick my tongue out, and do a dozen other psychomotor and spatial awareness exercises before he signs me off.
I walk back to my room and find Raj6623 standing at the door.
‘They came to get your gear. Looks like you’re shipping out,’ he says. The scar that runs across his face moves as he speaks.
‘I got lucky,’ I say.
‘Stay alive,’ he replies and crushes me with a bear hug. 12 months we’ve been here together and this is the most intimate we’ve been.
‘Say bye to the others for me,’ I say, knowing full well he won’t bother.
A woman with vibrant red hair, the sort that can only come from a bottle, stands at the reception desk next to a guy in a chauffer’s outfit with a bag at his side. She has milky white skin, almost matching the shade of the walls, and from a distance all I see is hair, eyebrows and blood red lipstick where her mouth is. She wears a retro ivory silk slip covering one shoulder, revealing a large ruby choker around her neck. It’s like she’s ephemeral, a wisp of an image from another dimension.
‘So this is father’s new toy,’ she purrs.
‘That’s him, Ms Stubbs,’ says Marlon ingratiatingly. ‘Here’s your papers, 4401. Follow this lady and the gentleman. Good luck.’
I shake his hand and follow my new employer into a black limousine waiting in the car park. The chauffer opens the door, she walks in. I wait to be invited. She beckons me with her index finger. The chauffer closes the door as I sit with my back to the driver, facing her. The cabin smells of freshly polished leather. She pours a glass of champagne for herself and a finger of whisky in another, which she slowly hands to me.
‘We’re not allowed,’ I say.
‘Don’t be a pussy, drink it,’ she replies, rolling her eyes melodramatically. I take the drink and hold it. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Your real name, idiot.’
‘That’s what I thought. I saw you in those hospital garments you call clothes and said to myself, there’s a Simon alright.’ The lady is a little tipsy, but not drunk, the intoxication of someone who’s used to consuming a lot of alcohol all hours of the day.
The Limo cruises onto the 105 which takes us past Marlborough and Bury, skirting round the rough neighbourhoods. We go past gleaming skyscrapers, the glass reflecting the orange glow of the setting sun, images of clouds cast on windows, the city glistening like a thousand orange diamonds. She says nothing to me for the rest of the journey, only eyeing me like a predator stalking her prey. A lump sits at the top of my throat; I swallow hard.
Initiating Protocol Transfer To
Username: Howard J Stubbs
SyncCorp Wishes You A Happy And
0% – – – – – – – – – – – – 100%
That’s me wired up to the Stubbs’ MF now, which means they own me, which means I wasn’t hired but they bought out the rest of my contract. It happens from time to time, bods get passed around between different companies, usually traded down. Stubbs must be pretty loaded to afford this. No shit, Sherlock, is that your deduction or it’s the 200 year old southern plantation style mansion in front you? Kind of looks like a wanna be White House, only bigger. The wheels of the limo crunch on the gravel driveway. A Roman style fountain with mirthful nymphs squirts water high into the air. So much woodland around; it feels like we’re in the country. Light pouring out of every window in the mansion illuminates the lawn as we park near the front door.
‘Come on, I’m sure Father is just dying to meet you,’ she says, dragging out the word dying.
‘We don’t usually meet users.’
‘Things are different here,’ she replies as we walk into the mansion.
There’s a vulgar mix of paintings lining the walls. Expensive paintings: a Picasso here, a Van Gogh there, Pollock next to Gauguin with a Palin underneath. It’s clear that this is a nouveau riche acquisition with little acquiescence to aesthetics. I find this somewhat disturbing as I walk on the dark hardwood flooring polished to within an inch of its life.
Ms Stubbs leads me up a winding staircase to the bedrooms. An oak drawer along the wall has a Chinese vase (I reckon Qing but can’t be sure) on top with geometric patterns in bright shades of blue and a bunch of chrysanthemums set inside. I can’t help but smile behind her back. We enter a large bedroom in the centre of which is a poster bed. An old man sits underneath layers of quilts with his back propped up by a bunch of pillows. The oxygen tank on his left hisses away.
‘Go to him,’ says Ms Stubbs.
I walk over and kneel beside the old man. From this close I can smell his decrepitude, malodours churning under the quilts and from the catheter that dangles at the bedside. I notice he has an electrode transference device just like mine, complete with implants boring through his skull into his brain. I’ve never heard of a user having to go through this before. The device looks like a giant tarantula resting on top of his skull. ‘Hello,’ I say. He reaches out with his left hand and touches my face. It feels bony and rough against my forehead and cheeks. He takes a deep breath and whispers in a raspy voice:
‘Make yourself at home, boy.’
I’m in my room in loiter mode. The chauffer left my bag with my few clothes and possessions which I unpack into the drawers. The window gives me a view down the hill past the silhouette of trees to the brightly lit city in the distance.
I go over to the bed, slide into the soft cotton sheets and for the first time in a year, I’m allowed to sleep for more than four hours even though the dreams I have are still not my own.
I wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Can’t believe I slept for so long. The sun pours into my room because I forgot to close the curtains. It’s been too long since I had a window in my room. I wash my face in the basin in the corner and spray alcohol gel around my implants. There are real clothes in the closet, just my size too, so I wear those instead of the Corp crap. I grab a red hoodie to cover my head in case I’m taken outside. I walk past Mr Stubbs bedroom and down the stairs into one of the rooms where a breakfast buffet is laid out. It smells great.
Ms Stubbs is at the opposite end of the table, listening to the news and eating toast. The day’s barely started and she looks stunning in a crimson gown, an eye mask on her forehead.
‘Morning,’ I say.
‘You can have anything you like,’ she replies.
I bring out my feeding pack of Soylent and pour myself a glass of water. This is how bods start the day, you can’t fill yourself up because a lot of users like to go out for meals, so it’s important to keep the stomach as empty as possible. I drink from my pack, it tastes like dough with grainy bits in it. After a while, you get used to it.
‘Can I call home?’ I ask.
‘Nope,’ she replies without even raising her head to look at me.
‘We had 30 minute privileges per day at Corp,’ I say.
‘Firstly, it was ten minutes and, secondly, this ain’t Corp.’
Status Green: Y/N – Y
Prepare For Symbiosis
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
‘Morning Lesley,’ i say. What is that weird taste in my mouth? Quick, grab a coffee to rinse it out.
‘Morning Father. You started the day early. Who was that?’ she replies, nonchalant. i wonder what she’s scheming.
‘Just the lawyer first thing before dawn and Doctor Cranmer should be here any minute now. Justin makes the finest coffee. He deserves a raise.’
‘What did you want with the lawyer?’
‘A bit of business, nothing you should worry your pretty little head about. i’m not a cabbage up there you know.’ i point to the second floor where the bedrooms are. She raises a single eyebrow and gets back to her food.
i leave her to it. So much to do, so little time. i could get used to this, yes. Stop beside the mirror, look at the face: bold, square jaw, angular, very manly. Yes, i could definitely get used to this. Cranmer is in the foyer already.
‘Good morning, doctor,’ i sound a little too jovial.
‘It’s too nice a day to talk indoors. Shall we go out into the grounds for a walk?’
‘I need to see the… the other body.’
‘You can do that later, come, let’s go outside.’ i take him by the elbow and lead him out. Sweet sunshine hits my face. ‘Nothing like the scent of freshly mowed grass.’
‘I came to check if you wanted to see this thing through. You must understand the tech is experimental. I’ve only done one other procedure so we don’t yet know what the long term effects are,’ Doctor Cranmer says.
‘Run it by me one more time.’
‘When user and bod are comparable, you can put them in sync and then transfer consciousness through the process of quantum entanglement. Essentially we are just reversing the quantum states in the brain, no matter is moved between A and B, so theoretically there’s a zero chance of post-op rejection. It’s not a brain transplant, it’s a consciousness transfer. Post-procedure we isolate the bod, who is now the user, to prevent attempts at reacquisition. That’s the long and short of it.’
‘Okay, first thing tomorrow morning. i have nothing to lose, but i only have one proviso, doctor.’ i stop near the gazebo and look him in the eye. ‘If the procedure fails, the bod dies too.’
‘That can be arranged.’
Loiter mode. Fuck me royally. I need to get out of here right now. Only getting out doesn’t solve the problem because I can be Sat-homed back easily. Gotta find the mainframe, disable it, no, destroy it completely. I’ll look around the house, nah, that’s crazy, who keeps a fucking mainframe in the family home? Swear to God, I’m going insane. This ain’t what I signed up for.
I need to call mama, my little brother. Won’t even get a chance to say good bye. Okay, think, for a minute, just think.
I once saw a bod who committed suicide in the most spectacular fashion. It was my first year with Corp and I was passing through the main reception area. This guy just stood cold staring at the guards. And then he casually brought his hands up to his electrodes and just started pulling. The guards were screaming ‘stop’ or something like that but this guy just goes on pulling and blood squirts out. Out came these grey chunks of brain matter. He just pulls the tarantula off the top of his head and leaks water, blood, brainy goo down his sides. He stood there for a minute or two before he keeled over. It was horrific.
I could fight my way out. Face it, the law frowns on bods anyway. A rich guy like Stubbs, forget it. I need to think.
I’m terrified, can’t sleep all night, my mind racing through different options, adrenalin and cortisol coursing through my blood stream at toxic levels. That drink from the limo would have come in handy right about now.
The door opens, she walks in like a ghost floating through. Her white nightdress hangs off her frame and swoops as it follows her graceful movements. ‘Shhh.’ Her finger is on her lips as she crawls into my bed.
She moves like a python, slow, seductive, and sensuous, as if she hasn’t a single bone in her body. Her skin feels warm against mine. She straddles me, pulls my pants down with one hand and then all I feel is her wetness and heat on me. It’s the most exquisite feeling in the world.
‘Your dad’s going to kill me,’ I say.
This moment, I’m in her, it feels as though nothing else matters as she carries me like a leaf in the ocean and takes me to places I never knew…
Prepare For Symbiosis
‘Get off, your dad’s syncing with me,’ I call out in panic.
‘Oh, what a spoil sport,’ she says, pulling off and gliding out of the room
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Well, this feels a bit strange. i couldn’t sleep, can’t wait for the morning so i thought i’d sync up. Get up, out of bed, my bottom half naked and walk out of the bedroom. Lesley is in the corridor.
‘Have you been playing with my toy, Lesley?’
‘Hello Father, isn’t it a little too late for your old ass to be out and about?’ she replies. Has the same stubborn, bitchy traits her mum had. She’s up to something and must be stopped. You don’t get to where i got in life without the instincts of a croc. i grab her by the shoulders.
‘i think we should lock you in your room for a little while,’ i say. ‘For your own good.’
She struggles and squirms. The little bitch is strong, but i’m stronger. She breaks my grip and runs towards my bedroom. Now i know what she’s up to. Got to stop her.
‘Don’t be pathetic. You really think you can stop me, Lesley? Come here!’ i sprint after her. The floor is polished and slippery but in this bod i can do anything. i grab her flailing nightdress, pull her and slam her against the wall. ‘i’m not your enemy, i’m your father.’
She scratches my face, i slap her with the back of my hand which fells her to the floor. i bend over, pick her up and lift her in the air, feet dangling, her mouth wide open, a scream caught in her throat. i put her back down and slap her again. ‘You’re going to bed, young lady.’ i see a quick movement, a leg twitch, then i’m on the floor, both hands cupping my balls, they are on fire. It winds me for a moment and she runs into my room. Got to stop her. Ignore the pain in my groin and stagger after her. i burst into the room.
‘Stop it, Lesley.’
She’s covering my face with a pillow. The oxygen mask is on the floor, hissing away. i run to her, grab her around the neck, put her in a choke hold. i’m gonna kill this bitch. i lift her up, her head against my chest and squeeze. She gags, coughs, splatters, kicks, but I’m too strong. And then I look at me looking at me
me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at me looking at
Only takes a second to realise i’m trapped in an infinity loop. i should have stopped her before she came in here. my head feels like it’s cracking. The pain is blistering hot. i scream and grab my head in both hands to stop it from exploding. The scream is magnified and bounces around like a million echoes in the loop. Everything in here is a cave of infinity mirrors, reflecting everything back to itself. Only i am the image and the mirror and each iteration of both. Subject and object. i fall to the floor. Oh, the pain. As i convulse on the floor, i see, through the corner of my eye, Lesley cover my face with a pillow.
White hot supernova, synapses breaking, an explosion, the universe tearing apart.
I wake up and she’s beside me in bed, we’re both naked. My head feels like I have the mother of all hangovers, as if I drank all the tequilas in the world. She rests her head on my chest.
‘Did you sleep well?’ she asks as if nothing happened.
‘Have you got any Vicodin?’ I sit up and the world is spinning around me.
‘Get dressed and follow me.’
The world shatters into tiny pieces floating around my bed. I shake my head and tiny fractals swim in and out of focus. It takes a minute or two before the pictures coalesce into one coherent world. It feels good to be back. I’m so thirsty and I drink straight from the pitcher beside me.
I find her in the corridor and follow her to her father’s room. I can barely stay upright. Doctor Cranmer sits on the bed, a stethoscope around his neck. There’s a shiny aluminium suitcase on the floor before him. He looks at Ms Stubbs.
‘Morning doctor,’ she says.
‘It’s not a very good morning. It appears your father is dead,’ he replies in an even voice.
‘What a pity,’ she says with a shrug. ‘Old people, hey.’
‘I find it rather curious that his oxygen mask is on the floor.’
The doctor stands up and walks towards Ms Stubbs. He looks at her then at me. I pretend as though I don’t remember him from our first encounter. I act like a good little bod.
‘I suppose my services are no longer needed here,’ says Doctor Cranmer.
‘You served my father well. I don’t see any reason this association should end. Because of my gratitude, as his sole heir I will double your monthly retainer for life and hope to keep your services,’ she says, her face neutral and cold.
‘It is always a pleasure to serve the Stubbs. If you will excuse me, I have to record this death by natural causes.’ He bows slightly and walks to the door, dragging his aluminium case behind.
We’re left staring at her father’s body on the bed. His eyes are wide open in shock.
‘One more thing, doctor, since you work for me now,’ she says.
‘Anything,’ he replies.
‘This.’ She points to the electrode transference device on my head.
‘I can remove it straight away,’ Doctor Cranmer says, stepping back into the room.
‘On second thoughts, I think I’ll keep it. It looks rather nice, don’t you agree, Simon?’
The doctor sighs and turns to leave once more. It’s at this moment I realise that she owns me now. Certain secrets will come out, like how the old man changed his will yesterday to include HostBod4401 as the sole heir and beneficiary to his estate. Lesley doesn’t know it yet, but there’s going to be a battle for that money. For now, all I have to do is to stay alive.