The long wait is over. Ever since Issue #1 came out late last year, I've been eagerly awaiting the second issue. And here it is! And it's even bigger than the first, with a rather robust selection of mostly magic realism stories but with some other stuff thrown in there too. It makes the wait well worth it to have so much to read now. So without further ado, here we go!
"Look At Me Now" by Sarah Norman (3764 words)
This story follows a woman who finds that she can turn invisible when she is upset. It evokes (and quite consciously) Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man, but instead of the invisibility being merely figurative, it's a literal fact here. The woman, Tendi, at first doesn't know what to do with her power. She watches superhero movies and tries to hide what she is, and then slowly she begins to use her invisibility to make her life easier. She steals, she gets into places she shouldn't be (like one humorous episode in the Queen's room). But even as she enjoys what her invisibility brings, helping her get a boyfriend and designer clothes, she has a growing sense of obligation to do something about the situation in her home country. Because while she can use her power to help herself, she gets caught by the superhero mantra of "with great power comes great responsibility." I loved the voice of the story, the humor that went along with the transformation and the way that Tendi goes about using her powers. The way she sees the landscape of superpowers is just so refreshing, like she looks at Spiderman and rolls her eyes. As she says, she doesn't like the movies, perhaps because while they deal with powers they are all already powerful, secure in their positions in society, even Peter Parker who is so often cited as unfortunate. And when she does decide to act, it's to assassinate a man back in her home country. And by taking that step, by using her powers to kill a man, she gains back her visibility, becomes someone who has done something. "They would see." That's how the story ends and it's fitting and strong. Nice work.
"Shadows, Mirrors and Flames" by Sanya Noel (4836 words)
This story follows a girl, Jane, whose father was executed because of his involvement in a coup. Her father, abusive and a soldier who did terrible things during his career, had driven away Jane's mother and sister. But Jane searches for her mother, finds her in her own reflection. It's a strange device, but one that works quite well, a girl seeking something tangible of her family that has all left her behind. She starts seeing her mother, and not as merely a reflection, but as someone who talks to her, to command her. It's a rather creepy setup, because her mother tells her to hurt things, to kill things. And then Jane starts seeing her father as well, and her sister. And things get...strange, as all of them start fighting and Jane is caught between them all, all their legacies. It's a complex story and a rather dark one, showing how Jane's life and family have shaped her, damaged her, and how she's dealing with that. Dark and unsettling, the story is worth reading.
"The Monkey House" by Tade Thompson (2326 words)
Lanre, who works in an office as a Special Assistant, starts to notice some strange vents that he swears were never there before in this story. Lanre's job is rather interesting, a sort of nebulous place where he's paid on time and where he doesn't really do anything. He doesn't know what he does, but he doesn't ask questions because he gets paid and needs the money. But the grates bother him, to the point where he looks in one, and sees inside the face of a monkey, something that reminds him of a story he had heard about a greedy monkey cast from heaven and imprisoned in a cage. The sight of the monkey deeply disturbs him, but his company gives him something to deal with it, though it wears off fairly quickly, leaving him to have to deal with the knowledge of the monkey. If he lets on that he knows, he will be dealt with more severely. So he keeps going to work. I liked the idea that this place is his cage, that he doesn't really know if he's being trapped. Because in some ways the story of the monkey is like his. He is allowed a safe place, a job, and doesn't really care for anyone else. He rises, but his job becomes a prison of sorts, one that haunts him. Those last lines really pulled that idea together, and I quite enjoyed it.
"You are in the city" by Liam Kruger (3341 words)
This story is told in second person and takes place in a bar where gods and other creatures go to forget. Basically, people, gods, creatures all enter into the bar and drink some of the water from the land of the dead, and when they do their memories are mostly erased. But they can't forget their names, so those they have to hide in order to avoid their fates. Two gods, destined to kill each other and destroy the world, have a good time, caught in a loop of actions that bring them back to the bar again and again, never free of each other but at least able to avoid killing each other for a time. And the you of the story is also there, watching, and holds some similarly dark fate that must be avoided, so you hide your name in a story, in the story that you are reading. It's a rather neat little twist, that breaking of the wall between author and reader and the drawing of that idea that to be what you are is a terrible thing. While not the heaviest of stories, it's a solid scene and an interesting premise, and everything is pulled off well. As with most of the stories in this issue, there is a nice voice, and a humor that underscore everything, only here the darkness isn't quite so obvious or present. This is a lighter story, well placed to balance some of the darker tales.
"Location 22" by Chad Rossouw (213 words)
This bit of micro-fiction is very short but accompanied by a piece of art depicting a strange house, stone and medieval-looking. The text describes some person being taken as prisoner across the country-side in a van, fed bread and watching the landscape pass by. It's a peek into the future, at a building project of Edwardian houses and a Franciscan Friary. It's a bit difficult to tell what's exactly going on except the buildings seem to show vast wealth and waste, having chimneys when fires inside homes are forbidden. What's happening with the person being held prisoner, though, is never revealed, is left a mystery that lingers and offers no real answers. Given that it takes so little investment to give it a look, I'd say it's well worth it.
"Afrinewsia" by Yazeed Dezele (2694 words)
This continues the science fictional trend from the last micro and brings it to further realization. In the story, a man, Daye, has to decide whether or not to give up his mother to euthanasia in order to secure funds from a united African government to help his family. The Africa in this story is very concerned with green economics, and the choice to have his mother killed is seen as a form of recycling, a way of concentrating resources to make Africa a superpower. Along with this is a parallel story about this united Africa sending men to the moon, and in the middle of it all is Daye, who doesn't want to have his mother taken away but whose family makes it rather impossible to refuse. In the end he caves, and goes through with it, and it's like it solves all his problems, makes him rich, and yet the cost of it drives him a little made, and in a manic episode he destroys his screen and flees naked out into dangerous heat. There's a great idea of balancing life in this story, present life against future life, the young against the old, comfort against prosperity. Daye is a great character, afraid and bullied by his family and, ultimately, unable to face the life ahead of him. Another story that walks the line well between comedy and tragedy.
"The Horse of War" by Mame Bougouma Diene (5642 words)
Neila is a war orphan living in Haiti in this blend of magic and science fiction. After a great war broke out in the Caribbean, Neila's family all died, and in the aftermath Neila gets on as best she can in a city filled with desperate people. Taking refuge underground during a bombardment, she meets a strange woman who turns out to be more than she seems. She's granted a favor, and from the favor manages to kill the horse of war, and in so doing kind-of end the war that had destroyed her home. But nothing is without price or consequence. And her action, made perhaps to end war, was still accomplished with human sacrifice and greed, with no thought of what was to happen, and the cost was that the world would end, that the gods would fade and that she would have to make up for that, becoming war. Which fits, in many ways, hammering home the idea that war cannot be ended with wanton death, with murder. That the answer to war is not more killing. And it leaves her as that which she was trying to prevent, as the embodiment of war itself. It's a rather brutal story but one that uses that brutality well, ending with the complete failure of the main character, something that's not done too often and I think works for this story.
"Story, Story: A tale of mothers and daughters" by Chikodili Emelumadu (3686 words)
Wow. This story is about a woman without a name exactly. Or rather, with a changing name. The story is told as a fable, or a parable, the flow very much like a myth come real, set in the modern day. In it, a woman who is brilliant and successful finds that for all her success she cannot win the admiration of those important to her. Instead of reveling in her successes, her parents and family all look to what she hasn't done, how she hasn't conformed to their expectations. And so their disappointment infects her, and she tries to please them, but no matter how she tries she cannot. They want her to settle down, have kids, and so she tries, and gets a husband, but cannot have a child. So her husband leaves and in her grief she somehow makes a child all her own. And she tries to shelter this child from all the pain she knew, but in doing so becomes just as rigid as her own parents, just as blind. The cycle of tragedy keeps rolling, keeps grinding these women under its weight. Because this is a dark story. Dark for all that it's also incredibly funny. Numerous times I laughed out loud at the lines, at the descriptions, at how easily and simply characters are captured. But the ending is sad, is dark and hits like a hammer to the heart. This really is a generational story, how sometimes we can become what we're trying to avoid by seeing children as property or as an extension of the parents' will and expectations. An excellent story!
"Academia and the Advance of African Science Fiction" by Nick Wood
This looks mostly at the landscape of African science fiction, it's roots and it's importance, and lists some key links to how African science fiction has gained as a movement and an idea in more recent years. It doesn't go too in depth, instead giving the reader a number of avenues to pursue and making the focus be that this isn't some new thing, that it has a history and context that shouldn't be overlooked. And it's a resource for readers wanting to know where to look next for things to read. Which is always good. Indeed!