REVIEW: “Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of the Imadeyunuagbon” by Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald

Review of Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, “Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of the Imadeyunuagbon”, in Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, ed., Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, (Aurelia Leo, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content note: Nuclear warfare, possible rape, nonconsensual sex, death, suicide.

The “sacred charge of Obatala” is that all the men and women of Ife-Iyoku be useful, whether through the cultivation of special gifts as see-ers or healers or light weavers, or through the application of themselves to general tasks such as hunting and cooking and childrearing. While all the rest of Afrika has been destroyed by nuclear fall out, Ife-Iyoku stands behind a protective shield, and it is the duty of those who live there to make their community as strong as possible, that they might survive until Obatala returns to save all of Afrika.

But these roles come with definite gender restrictions, with women coming out far the worse. When Ooni Olori receives a message from beyond the shield, life in Ife-Iyoku is threatened by invasion. Those who live there must question the patriarchal structures that have bound their lives and face a future radically different from any they have ever known. I enjoyed watching Imade, one of the main characters, fight back against the gender roles that have constricted her her whole life, and by the end of the story was deeply invested in her and her outcome. A strong and powerful story.

REVIEW: “Thresher of Men” by Michael Boatman

Review of Michael Boatman, “Thresher of Men”, in Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, ed., Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, (Aurelia Leo, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content warning: Transphobic and ableist language; death; shooting of Black people by cops; murder; structural racism; rape.

Oooh, this was one uncomfortable story to read, with plenty of places in the first few pages that had me squirming in my seat. The focus of the opening scene is Officer Greg Fitzsimmons, member of Lincolnville P.D. and white. He embodies a lot of what I dislike in contemporary American culture — the ambient level of unconcern for people who are not like him is just gross. This story illustrates the power that a story’s author has over it: If this story had been written by a white person, reading it would have been a very different experience. As it is, what would have looked like callousness and ignorance looks instead like a very incisive criticism of contemporary American society and racial structures. There’s a reason I should feel so damn uncomfortable: Boatman’s depiction of how white people view Black people is not wrong.

But it wasn’t all uncomfortable squirming: At the end of the opening, vengeance in the form of the goddess Kisazi slams into the scene and lights the story up — figuratively and literally — and all the white bastards get the comeuppance they deserve. Thoroughly satisfying.

REVIEW: “Clanfall: Death of Kings” by Odida Nyabundi

Review of Odida Nyabundi, “Clanfall: Death of Kings”, in Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, ed., Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, (Aurelia Leo, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This was a glorious, brilliant, wild ride of a story, of warring clans (the Fisi, the Simba, the Chui, the Kobe), of futuristic tech, and of a warrior heroine to shout and cheer on. There’s a lot thrust upon the reader right at the beginning — different names, different people, different types of equipment — and the lines between robot, battlegear, alien, and human are often blurred. But the story is long enough that the onslaught of unknown at the beginning eventually tapers off and the pieces start becoming clearer and fitting together.

I would have liked to see more of Shibuor, heroine and princess of the Simba Clan — she was the one who caught my attention and aroused my sympathy. In the end, it felt like she was primarily a foil for the male characters in the story, robbed of a full chance to exercise her agency, which was disappointing considering how strong and active she started out.

This is only a moderate complaint, though: I still enjoyed this one quite a bit.

REVIEW: “The Many Lives of an Abiku” by Tobi Ogundiran

Review of Tobi Ogundiran, “The Many Lives of an Abiku”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 309 (July 30, 2020). Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

In this story of birth and rebirth, the narrator manifests physically as a young girl named Sola. However, she is actually an abiku, a spirit child untethered to the real world except through the assistance of a mystic named Baba Seyi. “You have come to your mother three times before and have died before your seventh year. You relish her pain and suffering,” Baba Seyi tells her. Though Sola denies this initially, much of the story involves Sola’s need to choose between her spirit family and her flesh and blood family. There is also a battle (both physical and in spirit form) with another spirit child named Rewa who wants to kill Sola and insinuate herself within Sola’s family (and who looks enough like Sola to be able to do it). The story ends differently than I expected, and a bit ambiguously, but it’s definitely worth reading. 

REVIEW: “Mars, the Dumping Ground of the Solar System” by Andrew Kozma

Review of Andrew Kozma, “Mars, the Dumping Ground of the Solar System”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August (2020): 100–105 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Once a thriving colony, now Mars is nothing but a slum for poor people and unwanted genetically engineered humans. Jonquil is a government worker in charge of managing the different communities on Mars. One day, a Mercurian (a human genetically engineered to survive the harsh environment of Mercury) comes to his office and asks him for help to find her missing daughter. The Mercurian is worried that amid growing “anti-engineered” sentiments on Mars, her daughter might be in grave danger.

Kozma’s story has a couple of things going for it. The author delivers a fair amount of world-building in an effective and concise way, without overloading the prose with tiresome info-dumps. Unfortunately, the details of said world-building appear very poorly thought out. Aside from the scientific implausibility of terraforming Jupiter or, even worse, genetically engineering humans to survive on it, I find it impossible to believe that a humanity who’s able to colonize the entire solar system would treat the engineered so badly. The whole notion stinks of fabricated drama. Along similar lines, the plot of the missing girl builds up nicely throughout the story, but it concludes in a very anticlimactic way. The protagonist’s actions are irrelevant to the resolution, as things simply work out on their own.

Interesting in places, but overall this was a disappointing piece.

REVIEW: “The Satellite Charmer” by Mame Bougouma Diene

Review of Mame Bougouma Diene, “The Satellite Charmer”, in Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, ed., Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, (Aurelia Leo, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Ibrahima, by his own description, has many problems. Despite what his friends say, thinking he knows better is not one of them. No, his problems are the dreams that haunt his sleep, the way that sometimes “every muscle in his body contracted, and somewhere, deep in his mind, something opened up.” His problems are all connected to the beam boring down out of the sky, mining the earth for minerals: But what the connection is, and how it came about, and why he doesn’t know — and that’s another problem, one that must be solved.

The mining company that is destroying his homeland, and which is the source of the beam that he feels such an attraction to, is in the background for almost all of the story. And yet, there is no escaping it: Whether for Ibrahima or the reader.

This was another gorgeously long piece, full of meaty depths to sink your teeth into. I enjoyed the way I was able to slowly piece together Ibrahima’s history and the history of his country, and the deep sense of family and community bonds that pervaded his life — how those bonds were forge, and how they were broken.

REVIEW: “Sleep Papa, Sleep” by Suyi Okungbowa Davies

Review of Suyi Okungbowa Davies, “Sleep Papa, Sleep”, in Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, ed., Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, (Aurelia Leo, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content warning: Body parts, bodily harm, oblique references to murder.

This story falls under the category “well-written, but really not my type” for me — it’s just too much of a horror story, full of body parts and animate corpses and what for lack of a better word I’ll call haunting, for my preference. Parts were upsetting, parts were unsettling, parts were sordid, and some parts were just kind of gross.

All that being said, it was a tightly crafted story that was brought to a satisfying end with great skill; if you like bodily horror and corpses, then you’ll probably enjoy this! If those things aren’t your cup of tea, though, feel free to pass over it with impunity.

(First published in Lights Out, Resurrection, 2016).

REVIEW: “The Black-Eyed Goddess of Apple Trees and Farmers’ Wives” by Erin Eisenhour

Review of Erin Eisenhour, “The Black-Eyed Goddess of Apple Trees and Farmers’ Wives”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 308, (July 16, 2020): Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

In addition to a wonderfully evocative title, this story features and is narrated by a feisty peasant girl named Bi. She has the bad luck to be chosen to receive “the highest honor any young woman can hope to attain in a mortal life”: to cure the province’s plum pox “by praying, fasting, and letting the shamans tear out my heart and eat its ashes.” Naturally, Bi is not thrilled by the prospect and attempts to avoid the “honor” by pretending she is not a virgin and therefore not the kind of candidate the shamans would prefer. This doesn’t work and the rest of the story provides interesting glimpses into Bi’s relationship with various family members, particularly that of her much-loved but deceased sister and her orphaned child. And by story’s end, Bi’s ultimate fate is not quite what anyone–including Bi–expected.

REVIEW: “The Mad Cabbage” by Céline Malgen

Review of Céline Malgen, “The Mad Cabbage”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact July/August (2020): 81–85 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

One day, Nicole is stunned to find that the environment of her cabbage bacteria has gone incredibly acidic. She investigates and discovers that thanks to a childish prank by her lab mate Xavier, her bacteria have mutated in a way that could be very beneficial for her research.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to like in “The Mad Cabbage.” The author explores some neat ideas in microbiology, as well as giving an accurate – well, mostly accurate – portrayal of what graduate school life is like. However, the story suffers from bad writing, so much so that I’m a bit surprised it even made it in print. The prose is clunky and overly expository, full of infodumps and, in some cases, poor English. It’s hard to focus on the narrative when the prose constantly bombards you with unnecessary information.

The plot’s central mystery is mostly well-crafted, with an interesting, albeit scientifically questionable resolution. The character of Xavier, however, is so cartoony that he might as well have a thin mustache to twirl. As a graduate student, he’s simply too villainous to believe.

REVIEW: “To Say Nothing of Lost Figurines” by Rafeeat Aliyu

Review of Rafeeat Aliyu, “To Say Nothing of Lost Figurines”, in Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald, ed., Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, (Aurelia Leo, 2020) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

The esteemed mage Odun is creating portals across the universe in search of his missing ngunja, one of the five sources of his magical abilities. His travels bring him to Kur, where an exception is made to the laws barring the entry of humans — but only so long as he remains under the supervision of Aule, a Kurian official.

I thoroughly enjoyed Odun and Aule’s adventure through Kur to find and restore Odun’s lost ngunja. This story was full of humor and amusement and a lightness of tone that contrasted with some of the more portentous stories in the anthology. Lots of fun!