Intelligent. Kenyan.

Published: 3 months ago

This Might be a Problem: A Review

When a journal makes a call for speculative fiction they are rarely expecting a single type of story.  This is to say if you ask minds to wander they are often going to wander in different directions from each other – even when they seem to be on similar paths. In short, a speculative fiction anthology is set to give you a diverse range of stories.

This is exactly what happened with Will This Be A Problem’s third anthology. The book features writing from 7 writers (6 of whom are male). It was made available for free download in the second week of January 2017.

What worlds are imagined by these stories? The following fragments peer into these worlds.

(i) Time

Time is, largely, unpredictable. And, because it is only revealed to us at a steady relentless pace we are often torn between grappling with the secrets of the past, the puzzles of the present or the mysteries of the future.

In Andrew Dakalira’s The Rise of the Akafula, aside from fact that it is in the future, time is also used in the protagonist’s character. How he patiently waited for the perfect moment. And what that wait entailed. This becomes most apparent in the opening scenes of the story. In this scene Tilinde (2nd in command) is talking to the leader:

Tilinde said nothing. He knew quite well what Africa’s council representatives were doing on the moon; making merry along with other continents’ representatives and the others who had managed to buy plots on the previously-uninhabitable satellite.

“Did they say anything else? Did you mention the disappearance of your kind?”

Your kind. Tilinde resented that, but he calmed himself. “They said it is our problem, that the nchewe have devoured them. They cannot spare anyone else.”

I find myself wondering how many times Tilinde bit his tongue in the years he was working for the leader. How bidding time, in a way, is allowing and opening yourself to a series of papercuts. Allowing yourself to stay in a situation that will constantly grate at you in many invisible ways.

Maybe the most definitive grasp that time has over us is that it is finite. We die. The Last History tries to strip time of this power  – if human’s can’t die, then is time consequential?

Time shows itself again in Mark Lelan’s Mortuary Man. This time as a teacher. Tao, an undertaker, is skeptical about the superstitions around death. But the longer he stays at his job the more he realizes that perhaps superstitions are not as silly as they seem.

(ii) Magic

With magic, James Kariuki’s The Real Deal, takes a practical approach:

“I gave them a potion to keep their husbands at home over the weekends. That was

the problem they wanted me to solve.”

“So it was a love potion?”

“It was something to give them diarrhoea.”

  • The Real Deal, James Kariuki

In The Mortuary Man we see an apparition.  Tao, the main character, even has a conversation with one. Throughout the story, though, magic stays in the realm of the unknown and unexplained. The apparition just is, without reason or logic.

But it’s Michelle Angwenyi’s What Happens when it Rains that brings us into the world of the magical. The story revolves around a ceremony that happens when it rains. It is at this ceremony that the protagonist discovers her destiny, how she is tied not only to this world but to a spirit world. It’s through her eyes that we see this ceremony, that we discover the magic for the first time. And the author is very deliberate about making sure that we see and feel the presence (and absence) of magic through her images:

The number of lizards skittering all over the ground steadily increased. I felt as though the shed would collapse from the intensity of their running movements and the rain outside. They ran in all directions, over each other, up the tables, down the tables, all over the benches. They did not climb over any of us, perfectly avoiding the outlines of our feet on the ground. They had eyes of red, yellow, blue and green that shone like jewels.

  • What happens when it rains, Michelle Angwenyi.

 (iii) Power

In the time of Fees Must Fall, Black Lives Matter and the general wave of a global fight for decolonization, it is only fitting that a book on speculative fiction has African nations as the centre of the global narrative. It’s a reversal that many are trying to see even now.

In The Last History, following some post apocalyptic cunning, East Africa finds itself as the only place in the world with rain and plants. Lausdeus Chiegboka makes an interesting decision with power in Future Long Since Passed. In a less dramatic change of power (away from stories of revolutions and catastrophes) he imagines the change of power pragmatically. In his future Nigeria has a better tax policy and governance. This, coupled with a medical start up solving some of medicine’s larger mysteries a company finds itself quickly at the top of the world and the founder finds himself grappling with trying to bring himself back from the space between life and death.

In The Rise of the Akafula, while Africa is still at the bottom of the totem pole, there is a narrative on power and oppressive histories. The story shows how, power can blind those who have it and how that blindness can lead to its own implosion.

For me, at least, what’s great about fantasy and science fiction is that you’re often literalizing things that people talk about in metaphoric terms. But those things are realities.”

Perhaps, then, the most interesting thing about this anthology is how stark a light it sheds on the world around us. Whether they are calling our attention to louder things like climate change, or quieter things like the sound of the rain or cuts on people’s arms – the stories in this anthology give context and new perspective to many old puzzles.

  1. By Reviewing the Problem | Omenana on April 18, 2017 at 11:43 am

    […] his review, Brainstorm’s Michael Onsando does this. He felt that time, magic and power were the fragmented, […]

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