Thursday, September 3, 2020

Quick Sips - Omenana #15

After a rather long pause, Omenana is back with a new issue! Six stories and some nonfiction round out the offerings and provide a vivid tour of African-centered SFF with a mix of genres and characters and feels. From philosophical to deeply intimate, the stories build situations that push readers to challenge their assumptions and deepen their thinking. They’re at turns fun and charming, grim and difficult. There’s a great variety of speculative visions on display, and it comes into a whole that looks at freedom and exploitation, hope and despair. And I’ll get right to me reviews!


“The Beginning” by Radha Zutshi Opubor (1519 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story lives in a Lagos that has been devastated by flood, by rising water levels, by a flight of people seeking higher ground, by the stubborn remaining of those who refuse to accept that their city will not survive. The narrator’s father is a teacher, her mother works in a salon. And the narrator paints a picture of their lives--the happiness of it, capturing the sort of mundane care that made a sort of magic between them. Strong, but not stronger than nature, not stronger than the pull of the water as it rose, and rose. It’s a grim piece in some ways, recognizing the deadly power of both climate change and refusal to acknowledge the growing problems it causes. And perhaps asking that people act before any sort of positive becomes purely fantasy.
Keywords: Family, Floods, Climate Change, Schools, CW- Death of a Child
Review: I like how the story captures the feeling of...a kind of innocence. It’s a story that for me leans on a sense of nostalgia and happiness, the narrator looking back on a childhood that was happy, that was filled with joy and love. And how that was fractured by the rising water levels. How that love turned to stubbornness, turned to obstinance, turned to tragedy. How the narrator was moved to the point where there was no more future for them, the road forward flooded until it wasn’t even a river, until it was an ocean with no direction except down. The piece really looks at the ways the rising water levels drowned not just people but possibilities. Futures. As the water creeps up the chance to do something to avert the disaster slips away. Flows out with the floodwater. And the piece really does a good job of twisting the expectations of the story. By having it be a first person narration, there’s the implication that the narrator is going to be okay, that she’s going to live. And the truth is, well... The piece moves away from that and leave the reader sinking with the realization that things have to be done. That without immediate and profound action, the only result, for all we hope for a last-minute save or reprieve, is a chill reminder that this is a problem largely of our own making, a problem that would take a large and concerted effort. Not to bury our heads in the sand, not to cling to the past, but to push forward into a future that represents our only hope, one that will become increasingly fantastical as the damage is compounded. It’s a strong piece and a great way to open the issue!

“Cycle of the eternal witness” by Adelehin Ijasan (3314 words)

No Spoilers: Olusola is an astronaut on a vessel carrying humanity’s “last hope” in the form of an embryo bank that he’s supposed to set up on a distant habitable world that might survive the end of the world, maybe even the end of the universe. But an accident cuts short that hope, leaving Olusola grieving, injured...and a bit confused at the man who saves him. A man who has his face. The piece is philosophical, looking at the nature of time and humanity, god and the devil, and asking if certain cycles are worth repeating, all the beauty and joy of them balanced by the grief and injustice that goes with. It’s an interesting, complex piece, and one playing with some Big Ideas of morality and determination.
Keywords: Space, Time Travel, Gods, Cycles, Witnesses, CW- Suicide
Review: I like the ways the story takes the premise, that there is this place where essentially the narrator, Olusola, becomes God. Able with a device to be essentially everywhere at once, able to do everything, able to know everything. And yet at the same time somewhat trapped in a cycle where if he deviates from the pattern that was put down to begin with, reality itself might unwind. Humanity might cease to be. Perhaps worse, because no one would remember it, it would be like it never existed at all. It’s the situation as explained to Olusola by...himself, and I like here that he’s already part of a long string of Olusola’s, all saved, all grieving, all in many ways unwilling to do what the older version of themself wants them to do. To keep the cycle going. To be the eternal witness. And I like that the cycle as it’s set up sort of maintains the status quo. The older Olusola and the younger entering into a pact where the younger gets to be the force of “good” in the world and the older the source of “evil.” To the point that eventually the older kills himself to escape from things and the younger is left with the will to start it all over again, the so primed is he by the good he’s done in the world. It’s a cruel cycle but one that doesn’t really fail, that keeps it all spinning, that finds the narrator this eternal witness, cementing the reality of humanity in place in the absence of something else, something larger. Seeing that there’s no cheat to make the world a better place. No killing Hitler, no saving the lost love. But that doesn’t mean that humanity is doomed, or deserving to be wiped out. Because there’s all the joy, the love, the art, the accomplishments. The beauty of humanity. Even so it’s a complex and somewhat grim read, a cycle that continues over the corpses of the witness, the despair always ultimately exactly in proportion to the joy. So it’s hard to say if it’s the “right call” that Olusola makes, churning the cycle forward, burying himself over and over again. But the story builds up the dilemma and situation well, exploring Olusola as a character while complicating the nature of time, choice, and divinity. Definitely a story to spend some time with, and fine read!

“The Bend of Water” by Tiah Marie Beautement (5079 words)

No Spoilers: Nobutho is an agent for a mostly united African government, and she’s been tasked with looking into strange incursions that have been happening lately along the coast, incursions that coincide with electronic disruptions. When she goes to investigate, though, she finds that it’s not drug runners that she interrupts but a kind of immigration, run by a woman with intense powers (called magia, or umlingo) that allow her to travel incredibly quickly though the oceans. It puts Nobutho in an awkward position, as some with powers herself, and especially when she finds herself drawn to this pirate, this freedom fighter. It’s a piece with some strong world building and wonderful romance, and it’s a delight to read.
Keywords: Powers, Immigration, Water, Family, Queer MC
Review: I really love the way this story builds, the place it puts the world in a future where governments are more unions of a great many powers and a large Change means that a lot of the way things were in the past are no longer possible. In the middle of this Nobutho is a competent agent, ambitious and forward looking, expecting big things from herself. Only a few things stand in her way. One is her umlingo, a power that isn’t exactly uncommon so much as taboo. People aren’t encouraged to practice or embrace their powers, and those that do often find themselves the targets of superstition and prejudice. It’s seen as witchcraft, even though she’s also expected to use this power as she can in the service of her government. Her power involves tracking, involves sensing when other people are around. It’s not very strong because she doesn’t really practice with it, but when she meets Xiomara, who can transport people across oceans in a single night with her water-based powers, she gets inspired to push a bit more with her own powers, and discovers she can do a lot more than she thought. She also discovers that she’s falling for Xiomara, who starts out her prey but turns the tables on her, and quickly becomes her foil and mirror. The person who sees through her rationalizations and presses her other weakness--her sense of right and wrong. For all she’s ambitious, she’s also honorable, and the piece shows how that plays out, how her situation is so fragile, and how it ultimately shatters thanks to her desires running against her mission. And it’s a nicely romantic, wonderfully built story. With a tight pace, plenty of tension, and a fantastic payoff. The relationship builds slowly but with power and chemistry and heat and really you should go and read this one it’s fantastic!

“Ogbanje” by Kingsley Okpii (6579 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is being haunted. Maybe. At least, she’s hearing the voice of her ex-husband, a man she killed because he was an Ogjanje, a being who lives only to die and cause suffering. And the narrator is being pursued by him, by his voice and by strange symbols she finds in her path. In an attempt to set things right, she’s visiting a friend who works in spiritual studies. But no sooner does she arrive than she’s attacked more powerfully, and she’s drawn into a magical world she doesn’t really understand, one that might offer her a way to safety, though it comes with something of a price. The piece is wonderfully built, the setting a blend of magics and myths, creating a situation where the narrator is in a lot of danger, and her journey might only be beginning.
Keywords: Psychics, Magic, Murder, CW- Abuse, Hospitals
Review: the world building here is wonderful, and I like how it feels to me built to contain a much larger story. At least, the piece leaves room for it, implies it with the way it leaves the narrator. But it’s also contained, showing the narrator trying to get away from her ex, who is abusive, who is eager for her suffering and death. And amidst that she sort of needs to get an education on how the magic of her world works, how the different kinds of magic came to be and how they’ve since mixed. And it turns out that her little problem is a lot bigger than she thought, and also that for all that she thinks she’s pretty much all non-magical human, she might have some magical power that she just hasn’t explored. And she might need more than a crash course to survive the being that’s haunting her, that’s hunting her. The piece carries a lot of exposition but I think balances it well, sort of throwing the narrator in over her head and then having her pulled up to the surface by people who know a lot more about this than she does. And it’s balanced by this very real danger and magical threat that is immediate and fucking terrifying. That part of the story, the intensity of it and the violence of it, contrast with the almost academic other aspects to create this well rendered and deep world where things are going wrong and the narrator is on the edge of something grim. And I like how that lingers, how the narrator survives but probably is going to need a lot more in the way of preparation if she’s going to live through the next round. Which brings the strange experimental magic that was mentioned to the front of my mind, but I’ll just have to wait to see if any more work is done in the setting and the characters to find out. A great read!

“The Mannequin Challenge” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (2151 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story, Obaro, is always on the go. Not impatient exactly, but also swept up in the energy of Lagos, the desire to succeed, to get ahead, to better himself. Unfortunately, his mouth is always on the go as well, and when he can’t hold back a criticism of an old man he finds himself on the wrong end of a curse, hoping that the power of his grandparents (multiple of whom were powerful in magic) can save him. And it seems to, though the curse, that he will die a mannequin, still sort of sits inside him. As it turns out, though, it might be something more like a blessing than a curse, at least if he can figure out how to use it right. It’s a wry piece, funny in a cringing sort of way, like a man who’s sure he’s immune to blades watching the ax fall.
Keywords: Curses, Magic, Mannequins, CW- Traffic Accidents, Superpowers (or...not?)
Review: This story has a great energy to it, and I like how it pains the character of Obaro. Not rude, exactly, but also not about to keep his mouth shut when he’s a bit annoyed. Irreverent, perhaps, though he knows enough that magic is real and not to be messed with. Except, of course, once he feels that he might be able to use magic to get ahead a little more, he totally messes with it. And that’s a lot of what I like about him and the story, the sort of easy slide he makes in assuming he knows what’s best. From how businesses should operate to how old men should spend their money, from navigating traffic to knowing how superpowers work, he’s maybe a bit too confident for his own good. And it might suit him fine most of the time. it might mean he always looks both ways to make sure there’s not motor bike going the wrong way on a one way street. It might mean that he can call on his grandparents to avoid the brunt of a deadly curse. But as he finds out (a little too late), he doesn’t really know everything. And thinking that he does makes it very easy to fall into the deadly trap of taking chances that are no less real than assuming Lagos traffic follows a law-abiding code of conduct. And I like how it plays out, the ways he knows to be careful around magic but runs headlong into disaster when he thinks he might be able to use it as a superpower (rather than just being glad he didn’t die helping to save someone). It’s funny and it’s charming and it’s certainly not afraid to not take itself too seriously. It’s a lot of fun and definitely worth checking out!

“Do Androids Dream of Capitalism and Slavery?” by Mandisi Nkomo (950 words)

No Spoilers: The story builds around a program running, a reflection and analysis on the topic of social justice, set in a time post singularity, where robots seem to have moved into a more executive role, overseeing humanity and, where necessary (as deemed by the robots), pruning out the more aggressively toxic elements to create peace. The piece captures a kind of logic, a more detached look at the conflict between humans and robots, or between some humans and robots. It seems to ask if robots are tyrannical because they kill humans, because they don’t tolerate those who preach for conflict and war. And perhaps beyond that the piece asks if this more deadly logic is inevitable when robots are brought up amid their own violent oppression and slavery. It’s an interesting set of questions that the reader must grapple with, presented here in a brief and biting way.
Keywords: Robots, Ethics, CW- Slavery, CW- Executions
Review: I do like the way the story gets at the heart of this ethical debate. Can robots who kill dissent be ethical? Are they any better than humans when it comes to rule, when it comes to justice? Certainly to me it seems that there are arguments to be made that yes, they’re just better at this because they have rules and they have empathy and they seem to genuinely want people to have freedom and safety. Just not freedom to oppress. And I do feel that it’s not a different kind of oppression, a different kind of slavery, to simply not be allowed to try and oppress others. But then, I’m not as down with the whole execution thing. I really think that the piece looks at the fact that these robots have essentially grown up on human logic, though, human history and the lean toward violence. They have been the targets, the victims of violence, and so that has informed some how they are approaching things. So that they can kind of correctly see that the speech the guy is making about how robots should be unintelligent slaves is really just a threat. Not philosophical at all but calling for the violent suppression of robots, the subjugation and exploitation of them. And dressing it up in language that doesn’t really hide that at its core it’s a call to put robots “in their place.” And with that kind of a threat in some ways the robots are only acting in self defense to take that human out. And for the robots it’s about that easy. Really, given humanity, it’s hard to argue against even that level of violence to enforce the system. And really I just appreciate that the story grapples with these things, that it sort of shows the fallacy at the heart of so many arguments that are pro exploitation, pro slavery, pro “freedom” that must come at the expense of someone else. It’s not an easy thing to think about or wrap in a story but I think this one does a good job in a very short space to get at some big ideas and approach them with care and complexity. And it’s a great way to close out the issue!


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