Earlier this year, I was in Moscow for Roscon, the Russian national science fiction convention, and on a panel Nick Perumov asked an extremely good question, one that forced me to think about something I'd never considered before. He asked whether the proliferation of science fiction around the world and in Africa in particular wasn't promoting globalization and the weakening of indigenous cultures by forcing people to write in a manner and in a literary tradition that was not their own.
(He wasn't saying that it did, I should make clear. But he wanted us to take sides and defend our positions.)
Unfortunately, because everything anybody said had to be translated, we came to the end of our time slot before I could give my answer. Which was: "No. Globalization is already happening. Science fiction is a set of concepts and literary tools that people anywhere can pick up and use to fight back."
Now, over at Tor.com Geoff Ryman has posted part one of an essay titled 100 African Writers of SFF -- and it's an eye opener. As it turns out, there are many, many writers employing fantasy & science fiction in Africa for exactly that reason: To stake a claim to their part of the future, to establish their own voices, and to pass their own judgements on what's happening now and slated to happen in the years to come.
And of course they've been doing this for years.
Ryman's article sketches out complex situations, innovate creators, and a complicated relationship with Western culture. There are writers who grew up rarely speaking their native language because English is much more prestigious in the business world. Others have lived in the United States, but chose to return home. (At least one is moving to China to find work.) Several, when asked to cite their influences list books that are classics in the West. Everyone profiled is smart and perceptive. Only a few have their works excerpted, but when that happens, the prose is convincing. Here's an example from a story by Alexander Ikawa:
Night was the best time to visit Quadrant 7 if you were looking for mem-bits from the 21st. Old men too poor to afford to make money any other way, sold priceless memories for as little as 100 EA$. They sold to me cheaply because I bought memories nobody else wanted. Love, pain, laughter, and happiness, but mostly I bought history. I paid extra for memories of childhood in the late 21st; before the water and energy rations, even before ZEOS itself. I had a modest website where I uploaded them for free, and it was getting quite well known. I wasn’t the only one looking for the feelings we had lost. The vicious gangs that ran the quadrant did it differently though. They almost exclusively bought sexual memories, and then violence, thrills, and intoxication in that order. And if you owed them for food or a place to sleep as most of the old men did, they paid you nothing. They preferred to rip them for quality, erasing the memory from its donor’s mind completely. Gaps in the mind drove you crazy after a while, and the quadrant streets were full of people who had sold too much, wandering the streets trying to relearn things they had known all their lives.
You can -- and, if you're interested in science fiction and fantasy, I think you should -- read the entire first half of the article here.
I look forward to the second half with glad anticipation.
Above: Geoff writes, "You will hear a lot about Kwani? ('Why?' in Swahili) in this series. When Binyavanga Wainaina won the Caine Prize in 2003 he set up the company with the Prize money. The company publishes regular, book-like anthologies, individual novels and collections, runs the monthly Kwani? Open Mic nights and sponsors the Kwani? MS Award, which resulted in the first publication of Nansubaga Makumbi’s and also of Nikhil Singh’s . Kwani? was one of the sponsors of the workshop that resulted in the foundation of the Jalada collective."