|Art by Suleiman Gwadah|
It’s a special release from Strange Horizons to close out April, featuring two short stories and three poems celebrating Nigerian SFF. The works bring a fresh feel to fantasy that weaves magic and creation, persecution and resistance. It finds characters who just want to be free to live their lives being pulled into plots and intrigues that they want no part of but that threaten them all the same. And only through connecting to their power, their families, and the people they have chosen to surround themselves with can they fight back and perhaps fully embrace their potential. It’s a wonderful batch of short SFF, and a treat for readers hungry for more international SFF, so I’ll get right to the reviews!
“Where the Rain Mothers Are” by Rafeeat Aliyu (4050 words)
No Spoilers: Gherek is a Bakirshi, part of a people who are immortal, though they are also greatly outnumbered by humans, who distrust and fear them. Still, Gherek has lived among humans for centuries, enjoying her adventures and the company of those she lives with. After so long, she’s grown more comfortable, and in that state, more complacent. So when trouble comes she’s not exactly ready for it, and has to act quickly in a way that she’d not normally, weighed down by her hesitation to seek out her people again, afraid that the way she left them has left her without a home to return to. The world building is wonderful, the mix of technology and magic, of Gherek’s desire to travel among humans and her lingering hurt surrounding her family, something brought home rather powerfully when she a young girl in need of help. It’s tightly paced, vividly rendered, and fantastically imaginative!
Keywords: Immortals, Technology, Family, Queer MC, Fleeing
Review: I love how this story approaches the conflict within Gherek, her love of travel and her love of humans, and the danger she’s in because of that love, the sacrifice she’s made because of that love. She’s a person who has lost her home because she was unwilling to wait to be allowed out into the world, and it’s not really a decision that she regrets. That’s not to say, though, that it doesn’t cost her. I really like how the story explores that distance, the way that she embraces the life she lives, the humans who she lives it with, but how there is a part of herself that she left behind and is worried is gone forever. Around that, the piece involves a neatly-woven plot surrounding a young girl on the run from a very dangerous man. It’s filled with a quiet mystery and punctuated by moments of intense action and violence. And magic. The world building here is just so great, populated the background of the story with a conflict between humans and immortals, where technology is transforming the world even while much of it is still locked away. And it creates this tension, this danger that humans seeking magic and technology for their own greed will stop at nothing in their pursuit of power and people to exploit. And standing in the way of that is Gherek, who wants to see the world and embrace it, who wants to break the rules, who doesn’t want living forever to stop her from living. Which infuses the piece with this great flavor and spice, seeing the world through the eyes of someone who has been around a long, long time and still isn’t tired of it. It’s refreshing and fun even as the shadows creep along the edges, threatening to strike at any moment. For me, though, the piece is about excitement and experience and compassion, about healing and hope and the power of faith in the world and its people. A wonderful read!
“The Storm Painter” by Ayodele Olofintuade (3982 words)
No Spoilers: Adé is an artist living a life as close to her ideal as she can get it—peace on the beach with her sister Nkem and a chance to paint. Though she doesn’t much care for having to actually sell her work, especially when it means putting up with the party full of guests she’s expected to entertain and engaged with. The inconvenience becomes something much more dangerous when a figure from her past arrives uninvited, and everything Adé thought she knew is shaken to its core. The piece is alive with magic concealed as mundane, with people going about their lives but harboring deep secrets. And with Adé, a seemingly feckless young woman who just wants to paint and avoid the drama of her magical family and past. An option she very much isn’t given.
Keywords: Merpeople, Orisha, Painting, Betrayal, Family
Review: Adé is such a real character to me, just wanting a break from the hardships she’s experienced and witnessed. People have died around her, and the trauma has pushed her to flee from the world of magic and monsters, into the relative safety of her paintings, where she can be the one in control. As the granddaughter of a powerful Orisha, though, her birthright is much more than a talent for painting. It’s life and water and the ability to warp reality itself. Not that she wants to use it. Not that she wants to get involved in things. But being who she is puts a target on her back, and one she can’t really ignore once things start getting really bad. And I love just how much happens here, how much the story embraces the sort of godly melodrama of the world, the very thing that Adé doesn’t really want to be a part of. Betrayals and family secrets and monsters coming for her in the shape of art critics is just wonderful, and it shows in some ways just how justifiably pissed she is to have to be dealing with all of it. At the same time, the story does linger on how she can power, has gifts, and how there is a sort of obligation that comes along with that. Where she does have to deal with the drama because that’s the hand she was delt, and she wouldn’t trade away the bad if it meant giving up the good. If it meant not having her art and expression. And so she does what she can to make the situation hers, to bring her own style and flare to the proceedings, and to refuse to be consumed and made into something she’s not. It’s a freeing story tinged with tragedy, as Adé fights for her right to be her own person, and it’s a lively and captivating read!
“ELEGIAC: UNFINISHED DRAFT OF HAUWA LIMAN’S HUMANITARIAN WORK” by Ojo Taiye
This poem speaks to me of a deep frustration, a gnawing anger and grief at loss. At death. At a person killed because of their convictions to help, to try and make a place better. The piece speaks in elegy for the dead, for Hauwa Liman specifically but also it seems for many more people than that. For a whole situation. For a future where people could be safe and could be helped. A future killed with every aid worker abducted and executed. Killed with every child taken and brainwashed. And it’s a beautifully revealed poem, two stanzas that are like paragraphs, that are like bricks. And I love poems that take the chance on building these dense blocks of type, because they do seem like such solid things. This is not a poem that meanders or winds. It is direct, and it is difficult. Bricks are weapons in some ways, and these stanzas are certainly thrown at the edifice of violence and corruption and terror that is seeking to take control of people. That wants to dominate and rule. I think the piece is also using these bricks to build, though. To show that even amid the violence and uncertainty and fear, the act of building, the act of trying to protect, to help, to look to the future, is powerful and necessary. Here the poem speaks to the legacy of a person killed for trying to help. The murder is an act of terror, meant to cow people into accepting that helping others is impossible, dangerous, not worth the risk. But the more powerful act is to reach out in kindness and compassion to those who have been hurt. To those who have known loss. And to try and bring them up so that everyone can stand together against the bullies and the killers, against those who would make fear their weapon. It’s a powerful and beautiful piece that you should definitely check out!
“A Different Farming Tale” by Okwudili Nebeolisa
This piece speaks to me of growth, of hope, and of hardship. The narrator describes their planting, their world where all that seems to grow is death, where they have to hold within them the fact that women are being murdered because people need an outlet for their blame, for their anger. The piece itself is laid out with a bit of space between every line, in a way that looks almost like planted rows. Like the words themselves are the plants that the narrator has put into the ground and willed into life. The piece carries a kind of burden to me, a harshness that is almost muted. Or...maybe what I mean is that there is a sort of sun blasted feel to things for me, where the environment is unrelenting because it’s been damaged. And that damage works its way into the people, into the situation. The farming tale here is not one that feels romantic or incredibly hopeful. Instead it seems to reveal people just holding on, trying to depend on a land that is slipping away from them. A land that is pulling back into itself because it’s being hurt. And so the piece might be about the loss of the natural world, the intrusion of farming as an attempt to draw more out only to find that there’s not much more to give. Just ash and heat. For me, there’s a quiet need here, and a tired kind of hope. Faint and perhaps aware that this will not be enough but still doing it because there doesn’t seem to be another choice, Because they have to do something. And it’s definitely a piece to spend some time with!
“Made of Gadget” by Onyendozi Samson Aja
This is a strange poem that seems to me to speak to longing, to a kind of denial and culpability. The piece opens and closes on the same claim, that it wasn’t the narrator, even though the accusation, what they are meant to have done, is never explicitly stated. And the title here for me begins to imply a number of things. For me it seems to speak perhaps to a person made of technology, their identity and their life woven with their devices, working through the power of their digital thumbprint. But there’s this conflict there, where the narrator is both there and not, responsible for their actions and not. It wasn’t them, but all the ways they claim that also imply that it must have been them. It was their smile, but they disown it. It was their hand, their finger, but not all of them. Like those parts were operating of their own will, each of them independent of the direct will of the narrator. Now, it might also be (and I kind of suspect) that there is something to this that I’m missing, some other definition of gadget that I just don’t have. I do like the feel of the piece, though, how it seems like the narrator is almost in conflict with themself. That they are caught in longing for this person they are trying to say they didn’t act against. It wasn’t them, but how much we as readers believe that is up in the air. Have they acted? Was it them? And if it was, what was “it”? It’s a mystery of a poem, strange and compelling and very much worth sitting with and seeing what kinds of conclusions you can draw. So check it out and see what you get!