REVIEW: “Convergence in Chorus Architecture” by Dare Segun Falowo

Review of Dare Segun Falowo, “Convergence in Chorus Architecture”, 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 by far the longest story in the collection — more a novellette or almost a novella in length.

One hesitation I had when accepting the invitation to review this anthology was the fact that I am a pretty pasty white westerner who is not really the right voice to be making value judgements on this type of literature: Who am I to say what “works” and what doesn’t?

These worries nipped at my heels as I read this story, so deeply infused with Nigerian religion and history that I am so entirely ignorant of. It would be easy to read this as a straight-up fantasy story, with a panoply of made-up deities and powers, strong world-building, a detailed religion — things I would praise in a story where all of these were in fact made-up by the author! But it doesn’t seem right to call “fantasy” a story that incorporates actual historic beliefs and real-world cultures — not unless we’re also perfectly well prepared to call a story whose only claim to the label “speculative fiction” is a thorough-going foundation in Christianity (though tbh, I’ve often thought that Christianity makes a lot more sense if you think of it was a massively awesomely built fantasy-world religion).

So, is this a fantasy story? I’m not sure. Did it push me to read more and learn more about Ilé-Ifẹ̀ and the founding myths of the Yoruba? Yes. Did it take a long time before I had any idea what the title was in reference to? Yes. Was it a good story? Absolutely!

REVIEW: “A Mastery of German” by Marian Denise Moore

Review of Marian Denise Moore, “A Mastery of German”, 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).

When one of her colleagues goes on maternity leave, Candace Toil takes over her role as project manager of project “Engram” — with explicit instructions to either bring the project to conclusion or kill it. The project notes are scanty, and when Candace meets the lead scientist, Dr. Walker, both she and the reader are plunged into details of genetics and memory and inheritance, all feeding into the research that Dr. Walker and his team are doing.

I have no idea if any of the science in the story holds up: But I don’t care. It has enough of that ring of truth that any good SF story needs to have to be convincing, and to leave me wondering “but what if this were really possible…” I’m glad when Candace asks whether there’s a company ethicisti involved, and I both laugh and shiver with discomfort when Dr. Walker replies, “QND was not set up like a normal pharmaceutical company, but I’m certain that we have lawyers.” That’s not an answer to her question…

And yet, despite all the possibilities for misuse and damage that Candace and Dr. Walker’s project has, the story ended with an unexpectedly happy and optimistic outlook. All in all, I found this one very satisfying.

REVIEW: “The Unclean” by Nuzo Onoh

Review of Nuzo Onoh, “The Unclean”, 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: Death, torture, physical and verbal abuse, rape, death of a child.

Onoh’s story begins at the end: Desdemona, the narrator, is keeping watch over her dead husband’s body for three days beneath the great Iroko tree, the Tree of Truth that is “the righteous judge and jury that condemns and sentences with ruthless efficiency”. In the morning, Desee will find out what judgement the tree has in store for her; but before that, we first learn of her history and how she came to be tried and condemned in this way.

Desee’s story starts out remarkably prosaically (despite her literary name!) — growing up in the 1950s, eldest daughter in a family that prizes sons of above, educated beyond necessity, and sold in marriage to a man twice her age.

The remainder of the story then alternates between her story now and her story up to now, as Onoh gradually feeds us bits so that we can piece together what her crime was and how she came to commit it.

Dark, intense, gruesome, not at all pleasant, and masterfully put together.

(First published in Unhallowed Graves, 2015.)

REVIEW: “A Maji Maji Chronicle” by Eugen Bacon

Review of Eugen Bacon, “A Maji Maji Chronicle”, 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).

I, to my embarrassment, did not know of the Maji Maji rebellion before reading this story; I am glad I read up on it (thanks, wikipedia…) before reading this story as it gave me a sense of place and context for it.

What I thought I was going to get was a story about the rebellion, and I did, if only tangentially. What it was primarily was the story of two time-travellers, Zhorr the grand magician of the Diaspora and his son Pickle, and how Zhorr’s actions rewrote the history that we know (as always happens when magicians time-traveller injudiciously!).

To be honest, I expected a story of Ngoni triumph over German; I did not expect how Zhorr’s interference caused the installation of an Ngoni emperor, or the critical eye that Bacon took to the alternate history he created: “Different historical outcomes are not necessarily better than the ones that eventuated them”.

A thought-provoking, unexpected story.

(Originally published in Backstory Magazine 1, no. 1, 2016.)

REVIEW: “Red_Bati” by Dilman Dila

Review of Dilman Dila, “Red_Bati”, 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).

Red_Bati is a robot dog that Akili has programmed to be a companion for his grandmother. In Dila’s tale, we experience Red_Bati’s world and story through his eyes, feeling the constant tug between the reminders that Red_Bati is a mere collection of mechanical parts and the fact that those parts have all come together to create “a human trapped in a pet robot”. (At least, that’s what Red_Bati thinks. The ghost of Granny that keeps him company as his battery slowly dies thinks otherwise; Red_Bati cannot be human, he has no spirit.) But whether human or not, Red_Bati has a plan and the capacity to implement it. All through the story, right up until the very end, I held out hope that Red_Bati would, in the end, be a Good Dog. And was he? I’ll let you read it and determine for yourself.

This was a delicious story, full of humor and pathos and a steady reminder that we must always question who, and what, we ascribe humanity to — and why.

REVIEW: “Trickin'” by Nicole Givens Kurtz

Review of Nicole Givens Kurtz, “Trickin'”, 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: Knife injury, blood, death.

Raoul awakes one rainy morning in the mouth of a cave, uncertain, at first, of his memories. It comes back to him slowly — today is Halloween, a day for treats, a day for trickin’.

In the city down below, they might not believe in the old gods any more, but he’s planning to change that — if they don’t give him treats, he’ll play tricks on them.

This was a gruesome, gleefully bloody story, part horror, part fantasy. A strong story to open the anthology on.

REVIEW: Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora edited by Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald

Review of 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.

When I received an invitation to review this anthology, my response was the email equivalent of grabby hands: Oh my, yes, please!!! This is exactly the sort of fiction I want to be reading, and exactly the sort of fiction I want to see more of being published and promoted — stories that introduce me to new worlds, stories that fill gaps in my knowledge of history, stories that bring me into the unknown. So buckle in, and join me on a tour of these thirteen wonderful, wonderful stories, ranging from poetry/flash fic all the way to nearly novella-length. They cover the entire spectrum of speculative fiction, some fantastic, some scientific, some lingering on the borders of horro. As usual, we will review them individually, and link the reviews back here when they are published.

The ARC I read unfortunately had a number of typos in it (as well as no pagination, so we have left page references out of the individual reviews); I hope they are all fixed before the final publication, as they would otherwise mar what is an excellent collection.

REVIEW: “Fargone” by J. S. Veter

Review of J. S. Veter, “Fargone”, Luna Station Quarterly 28 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

It only takes a couple of lines for me to viscerally dislike Kush Apbuscan — who does not know how to forgive somoene [at first I thought it was a woman, but when it turned out later on that I was mistaken, this didn’t exactly improve things] for rejecting him and who does not understand the concept of consent. It doesn’t take long for betrayal to be added to the list of reasons I dislike Kush, and from that point on, I have to admit, I struggled to finish this story. At every point when Kush is given the opportunity to fix things, he always ends up making it worse. There was a redemption arc for Kush, but I was frustrated by it, because I’m not sure he deserved one.

REVIEW: “Wedding Feast” by Jessica Lévai

Review of Jessica Lévai, “Wedding Feast”, Luna Station Quarterly 28 (2016): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

The story opens on an ordinary enough scene — Violet is at the bridal shop with her mother, her sister, and her maid of honor, waiting for the final fitting of her wedding dress. All four women gossip about wedding plans and who the wedding planner is and who else’s weddings they’ve done, and it all seems rather ordinary except there is this huge undercurrent of something that is making all of them uncomfortable. It’s not that Violet’s dress has had to be altered to accommodate her cane, or the implication that she might be missing more than just a leg (possibly also an arm?); it’s something bigger than that, something tied up in a costs she has to pay either for or by her wedding. Lévai builds the tension and uncertainty until I am fairly chomping at the bit: What is going on that I, the reader, don’t (yet) know about?!

I won’t spoil the resolution, other than to say — it was not at all what I expected, nothing like anything I ever would’ve expected, and though it slightly turned my stomach, it was also — pardon the pun — delicious.

REVIEW: “It is Not From Heaven” by Jonathan Edelstein

Review of Jonathan Edelstein, “It Is Not From Heaven”, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 308 (July 16, 2020). Read online. Reviewed by Richard Lohmeyer.

I’ve never read a story where a talking fish sparks religious controversy in a community, but there’s a first time for everything. Shemaiah is a fisherman on an island community who, as part of a morning’s catch, finds a fish in his nets that tells religious tales and repeatedly warns: “They are coming.” Who “they” are and whether the fish is accurately prophesying the future is unclear.  Shemaiah takes the fish to the Shevi’im, the theocratic Council of Seventy who govern the community. Instead of clear guidance, arguments and fistfights break out. As the story progresses, the situation escalates to the point where, during the annual Feast of the Sparing “the gathering looked less like a feast than an armed camp on the eve of war.” I won’t tell you how Shemaiah helps to resolve the situation but the title’s story gives a clear indication of his feelings about the fish. My feelings about the story itself, however, are mixed. There is clearly some fine writing here, but I never felt as emotionally caught up in the story as I would have hoped. Perhaps that’s a failing on my part; you be the judge.