A new issue of Omenana is officially up! It's been a little while since the last issue launched in October 2015 and this issue marks a return to the more regular format, with a mix of flash fiction and longer works and even a piece of nonfiction to chew on. The stories are vivid, expertly crafted, and carry with them a splash of humor even in some very dark circumstances. And amid the intolerance and the brutality that is sometimes present in the stories is a hope, a resistance, and a rebellion. A push to do better and to be better and to create a future worth living in. And I'm going to get to reviewing this fine issue!
"An Impossible Love" by Relme Divingu (539 words)
This story is short and rather straightforward in premise, but it strikes a deep chord with its depiction of a [SPOILERS BUT I CAN'T HELP IT] woman confessing to her parents her love for a robot. What I find so compelling about this story is not that it posits what is basically a slow cartwheel of intolerance but that it shows where the cartwheel begins and ends. With parents and children. The argument here, the situation of the young woman finding love with a robot, is well done, the emotions of everyone involved well conceived and executed. And the actual argument, the objection that the parents had, could be almost anything. That it's "robot" here is a fun twist but the story shows more that the real problem is parents not trusting their children, parents falling into the same traps their parents fell into. Growing up is in many ways about revolutions and rebellions. Ngentsa's parents in the story are supposed to be progressives, probably rebelled against their own parents' when they fell in love with each other. And yet they cannot see an echo of that struggle in this one. Instead they fall back on viewing their child (and especially their female child) as less than a full person, as not being able to make her own decisions. It's a fun scene with a great voice and a keen eye to how these cycles work and how they might work even in a world of flying bicycles and robots unless people figure out a way to view younger people as capable of making their own decisions and rightly choosing who they love. A fine way to kick off the issue!
"At the Speed of Life" by Alexis Teyie (882 words)
This is a bit of a strange story told in an informal, kinda disjointing, but absolutely enchanting voice. The plot of the story and the setting are clouded by the stylized future presented, one of extreme bureaucracy and efficiency, where people only eat once a week and are offered a sort of freedom, though there is a lingering feeling that there is something underneath that freedom that's unsettling. The voice of the story, though, makes things a bit…odd and uncertain, and I hesitate to claim what's "happening" in the story, but to me the story seems to be about small actions having large impacts. Small refusals. Not to wear a bra, not to conform to expectations, not to be placed into a box that you're not comfortable with. The main character makes such a decision, something small that leads to more, that leads to more. That in some ways they tap into something, some common yearning, in their appreciation of something like a daffodil, in their desire for something so simple and complete. Something not driven by efficiency or speed or weighed metrics but a simple beauty. So in some ways I have no idea what to make of this story aside from the strange way it hits me and in some ways I think that it might be making a statement on priorities and on resistance, a will for actual individual expression that isn't classed in with a movement or a epoch or a demographic, that can be as individual as one person, as numerous as there are people in the world. Maybe (I might be a little insecure about this review). But really it's a story with a fun feel and great humor and a fine vision. Definitely one to check out.
"Dream-Hunter" by Nick Wood (4097 words)
This is a rather intense and almost disturbing story about dreams and justice and violence. Male violence against women, specifically, and how it happens and how it plays out and how it needs to be faced. The main character of the story, Peter, is a Dream-Hunter, a person tasked with entering into a person's dreams to find evidence that they committed a crime. Only, when tasked to perform as he has numerous times before, there comes a dreamer who surprises him. Who shows him a measure of remorse and…well, who teaches him something about violence, I guess. It's a rather disturbing story, filled with dream imagery and violations. The violence that the dreamer inflicts on his wife but also the violence that Peter inflicts on the dreamer. The idea of vengeance and justice are questioned, complicated in a very nice way, and it was interesting to see Peter react to the idea that he's not the one in control, have to face that he's not exactly innocent himself and that there are things to atone for. That he's been caught up in this version of good and bad where he could pretend to be different but when his own dreams are compromised and he's brought into the realm of the world beneath the dreams he can't hide, can't deny his own part in the violence he has caused. It's nicely done and a neat premise, with some sharp imagery and a strong world building. It's a bit uncomfortable in a way in that it centers the man's feelings in a story about violence inflicted on women, but I think it does so with a necessary awareness. It's not necessarily a bad thing to have a story about an abusive man as long as, in the end, things aren't just brushed away and the man remains the good guy. In many ways, this is just the beginning of Peter's story, and I would be interested to see where this journey takes him. A fine read.
"The Dreams We Never Remember" by Denise Kavuma (4061 words)
This is a rather interesting story about not just the impact of a single person on a nearly infinite number of people, but also a single person's power and choice when faced with that perspective. Justine is the main character, abducted (after a fashion) by some other-worldly beings to try and get her to understand her own importance. Which in some ways is a classic setup, a variant on the Chosen One idea but with Justine a key figure that can do good for a lot of people or hurt a lot of people. Where I really think the story shines, though, is not simply showing how one person can effect a lot of people, but also how important self-care is. The sequence in the other-world space with Justine's two "guardian angels" is fascinating, playing on a lot of ideas that recur throughout SFF and narratives in general surrounding responsibility and confidence and potential. That Justine could be a force for good, that she could fit into a role that might help people. But that doing so in many ways would go against who she is. She questions the wisdom and the authority by which these creatures determine what she "should" do, and rightly so. [SPOILERS!] And when, in the end, she sort-of realizes and remembers what has happened, her first reaction is not to throw herself at hunky George in order to fulfill the prophecy of Jonathan and Doreen. No, instead she feels ill, wants to take a step back, and I thought that a very refreshing choice. Not that she doesn't deserve to be happy, and not that she shouldn't realize that she has the power to hurt and that she needs to look out for herself some, but that realizing that and then throwing it away in order to chase some "grand plan" is not exactly consistent. Instead she is uneasy about the intervention and seems more willing to trust herself, which is important, not diving headlong at a higher power, even one that offers to balm some hurts. At least, that's what I got from the story, which features very strong character work and a situation that seems part It's a Wonderful Life and part a lesson on gaslighting. A great read.
"The Marriage Plot" by Tendai Huchu (698 words)
Ah, there is something very refreshing about a story, especially a piece of flash, that just tells a good time travel story, bows, and gets off the stage. [SPOILERS PROBABLY] And this is one such story, told around a man continually approached by future versions of himself, all giving him conflicting advice. It is a nice commentary on how any action can seem the wrong one in hindsight, that it's easy to look back and find the one "reason" that things didn't work out the way that you wanted. That there is always this nagging feeling that you've done something wrong and if you could tell your past self how to be you'd somehow be happier, stronger, richer. It's something that is played with to excellent effect here, wrapped in a very funny tale about this guy who seems a bit like exactly the kind who would have that problem, easily convinced over and over again, not really willing to take any sort of stand, at least until the end. And in that his future selves do end up showing him something important, something rather vital. That he shouldn't be listening to future versions of him. That if he wants to escape his fate as a sad old man what he should do is stop looking back. Give up on the time machine and the ghosts of his future fade away into oblivion. It's a very fun story and everything about it works sharply with really no wasted space or effort. A tightly knit joking flash fiction with a dense core of wisdom. An excellent read!
"Why Africa Needs To Create More Science Fiction" by Wole Talabi
The issue closes on a piece of nonfiction that echoes part of the editorial from when Omenana first started in late 2014, which is to say that science fiction by and in many ways for Africans is incredibly important not just in a literary sense, but in a scientific and technological sense as well. That science fiction in some ways pushes the future forward, but that when the future that people take in is not their own and in many situations doesn't even include them (except maybe in some…less than super ways), the message that is consumed is not one of hope. And that science fiction coming out of any place helps to give young people and even adults a vision of what the future might be with them involved, with them making the world better. For them and for everyone. To have a sort of artistic independence, where instead of importing entertainment and art a place can create its own, an art that reflects its values and unique flavors and perspectives and innovations. It gives power to the people of that place and creates change, creates progress. And yes, I agree that science fiction helps that, that it inspires and provokes and challenges. And just like I believe that people in a place know best how to help themselves, how to allocate resources and prioritize needs, so too do I believe that, when empowered, people from a place know best how to inspire each other. Know what tech to pursue, what science to reinvent. It's a great article and a powerful way to close out the first issue of a new year. I'm hoping Omenana has many more in front of it!