Rating: 5 out of 5
Ivor W. Hartmann has collected five novellas in AfroSFv2, the sequel to the short story collection AfroSF Science Fiction by African Writers [review]. The novellas are substantial enough that they each deserve their own brief review, so this review will be a bit long!
The Last Pantheon, by Tade Thompson and Nick Wood
This is the story of two men who currently go by the names “the Pan-African” and “Black-Power.” They’re like brothers, but they always seem to come down on opposite sides of the issues. They each want to help the people of Africa in their own ways, but they clash on how it should be done. This sometimes brings them into conflict. And given how powerful each man is, that can be devastating to those around them. This story works in a lot of African history here and there, in ways that don’t at all get boring or feel like a straight history lesson. It’s always done through the lens of what these two were up to at the time. The characters are wonderful, the explanation of where they got their powers is intriguing, and the contrast between them is fun to watch. There are a few other characters who help to add depth and dimension to the tale, and they’re all written very well. I loved this novella.
Hell Freezes Over, by Mame Bougouma Diene
This tale takes place sometime far in the future, when all the cities of Earth are under water. Humanity is divided into castes: Fish, Ants, Bees, Moles, Beasts, and Priests. The Fish police the others; they also scavenge the cities beneath the seas for needed technology. Moles used to be slaves, and now they work on the Divine Undertaking: the deadly winter is coming, and the Moles are the ones boring deep into the rock so the human race will have a place to live.
In the first part, we see that the Fish suffer from a strange sort of madness that causes them to go into fugues, and eventually surrender themselves to the ocean. One last late mission is set up, entirely too close to the time when the ocean will be too cold for the Fish to survive in it. It’s the Mole councilor who seems to be setting them up for failure and death. As we follow Ari’s experiences as a Fish, it’s hard to understand why the Moles would so desperately want them dead.
In the second part we follow Rina, a Mole–and oh boy do we come to understand why the Moles want the Fish dead. Rina’s brother is leading a rebellion, and Rina, when she’s determined to be barren, is taken in as a “comfort girl” by a system that has very few uses for Mole women. Eventually her brother saves her from that life, but is he really bringing her to anything better?
The Flying Man of Stone, by Dilman Dila
Forces have rolled into Kera’s village. They’re slaughtering many, and “recruiting” young men at gunpoint. Kera and his father Baba Chuma survive and hide, but they stumble into a cave with a terrifying creature in it. Kera gets away, but Baba Chuma does not. Once Kera returns to the village with the remaining villagers, Baba Chuma returns–changed. He starts building mysterious devices using equally mysterious rocks. Kera’s brother Karama has been taken by the army, and Baba Chuma creates two things to help Kera get him back: a flying machine, and a weapon, even though he knows full well he should not use this technology to provide weapons. He’s sure he can convince Kera to give the weapon back when the time comes. Unfortunately, there’s a growing divide in the town between the white Christian priest and Teacher, who wants to see a return to worship of the ancestors. This divide is about to grow violent. This is a powerful story.
VIII, by Andrew Dakalira
An American spaceship alters course on its return to Earth and crashes in an African lake. Somehow it has four astronauts in it rather than the three who went up–and three of them are dead with “VIII” branded into their foreheads. Both President Moto and the American President Wayne Barry are keeping in touch over this situation, and similar killings start happening in both of their countries. One killer is caught, but that doesn’t stop the deaths, and she promises the detective who managed to stop her that she will enjoy hunting him. Earth’s only hope may rest in the hands of a man who knew this was coming and exactly what it means.
The worldbuilding in this one is really cool. I can’t get into details, because it’ll ruin the surprise of why these killings are happening, which is a surprise worth waiting for.
An Indigo Song for Paradise, by Efe Tokunbo Okogu
This is the weirdest of the stories, in that it gets a bit surreal, particularly toward the end. Quite some time ago the last emperor left Terra in a spaceship with his court, scientists, athletes, and all the best technologies. Soon all that was left was one city–Paradise City (the PC, Amerika)–outside of which was a barren, blasted land occupied by mysterious xombies. TerraCorp operates with a lot of freedom, only occasionally getting caught when they screw with people. The elite “vampires” (white people, pretty much) live behind a forcefield.
Ecila is transported from his village to Paradise City by means of a strange structure unearthed in a storm. Babylove Brown is a renowned gunslinger, and she and her gang just stole a very odd device from TerraCorp. Unfortunately for her, one of the pieces of that tech went missing during the heist. Obram is a TerraCorp mecha operator and security officer, and he’s sent out with his team to go after the thieves. In a bit of perfect timing for Babylove and her people, a protest is currently marching against TerraCorp, providing the perfect cover as they look for the final piece of the device. Legs is the “businessman” who offered to pay Babylove’s group for the device, but he won’t come through until they find the final piece. This device is… unique. The phrase “reality displacement” was found in the room it was stolen from, and one person who comes across it believes it could be older than the universe.
The story winds from heists and chases and shoot-outs into a long, bizarre talk by a Guru about… uh, enlightenment, maybe? It was kept from being boring by the fact that it was very much done in an in-character voice, which could be amusing at times. But it was still an odd change to the pacing of the book.
Ultimately, this entire book was fascinating, original, and inspiring.
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