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 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: “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!

REVIEW: “Emily” by Marian Denise Moore

Review of Marian Denise Moore, “Emily”, 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 piece is halfway between flash fic and poetry and tells, in sparse, beautiful language, the story of a seven-year-old girl who has runaway from being enslaved. Across two centuries, Moore reaches out to this girl and offers her hope of a better ending. Very touching.

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.)