Nigerian SF, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction

By Geoff King

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Have you dipped your toe into the weird and wonderful worlds of SF and Fantasy by authors from Nigeria and the diaspora? Multiple ethnic groups have given rise to a rich artistic and cultural heritage. The wellspring of myths and legends, spirits, witches, magic, mythological creatures, goddesses and gods, feeds multiple creative and imaginative streams that reflect the diversity prevalent in that country.

Here I will make some suggestions to get you started. It is by no means a comprehensive list, and if I have left anyone out it is not a judgement of quality but due to a lack of space (and/or my ignorance). I have tried to include some lesser-known writers and some books you may have heard of whilst unaware of the authors. Although I will be focussing on more recent publications, I have to mention the first Nigerian book to receive international recognition because it was a fantasy rooted in Yoruba tradition and folklore, The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), by Amos Tutuola.

 

Nigerian born Chio Zoe writes fantasies inspired by folk tales and culture from around the world. On her YouTube channel, she teaches writers, reviews books, and promotes the reading culture in Nigeria. Her young adult Memory of Stone (2020) series uses shifting viewpoints to lead the reader on an adventure through ‘a world of magic and buried secrets’ where ‘there is a thin line between normality and danger’. The second book in the series, Verity of Old (2021) is also available. Zoe says her main character came to her through dreams.

Suyi Davies Okungbowa became known after his first novel, David Mogo, Godhunter (2019), received the 2020 Nommo Award for Best Speculative Novel by an African. He writes science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction for adults and younger readers (under the shorter name, Suyi Davies). His works include an ongoing adult epic fantasy trilogy The Nameless Republic, beginning with Son of the Storm (2021), an official Minecraft novel, Minecraft: The Haven Trials (2021) and various shorter works. Many of you will have heard of the Netflix show, Stranger Things; Suyi Davies has written a novel in that series, Stranger Things: Lucas on the Line, which continues where season three left off and is due out this summer.

 

Born to an Indian Tamil mother and Igbo Nigerian father, non-binary transgender Akwaeke Emezi is an award-winning author of speculative fiction that draws from Igbo culture. With a protagonist born ‘with one foot on the other side’, their debut, Freshwater (2018), explores spirituality, gender and mental health. This powerful and dark novel won Emezi the Nommo Award in 2019. The tagline for their young adult book, Pet (2019), tantalises us, saying, ‘How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?’ With a selectively non-verbal, trans protagonist, a near-future utopian city, and a creature that emerges from a painting, this novel tackles themes such as identity, child sexual abuse, honesty and friendship, the meaning of justice, and how evil can thrive when unnoticed or ignored.

Tade Thompson was born in England to Yoruba parents. He moved to Nigeria in 1976 at the age of seven and returned to the UK in 1998. He is a psychiatrist who writes fantasy, horror and science fiction. Rosewater(2017), the first book in The Wormwood Trilogy set in Nigeria, won him the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2019 and the Nommo Award. The Murders of Molly Southbourne (2017) won the Nommo for best novella and the Prix Julia-Verlanger. Making Wolf (2015) won the Golden Tentacle Award. Screen rights have been sold for adaptation of several of his works, including the Molly Southbourne trilogy, a dark psychological story about a girl who, when she bleeds, creates duplicates identical to herself and bent on her extermination.

Born in the UK, Welsh-Nigerian Natasha Bowen has extensively researched African civilisations and mythological creatures such as Senegalese fairies, river monsters, giant vampire bats, and shapeshifters that can turn into Werehyenas. She is known for her young adult fantasy Skin of the Sea (2021), a New York Times bestseller, which draws from her Nigerian roots, Yoruba traditions, West African folklore and a passion for mermaids. Simi, the protagonist, defies the gods and must face strange beings in perilous domains to avert disaster. The sequel, Soul of the Deep, is due out September 2022.

Multi-award-winning Nigerian-American, Nnedi Okorafor writes African based science fiction and fantasy for adults and children. In addition to the celebrated space-based Binti series (2015-18), she has published several other novels and novellas. Okorafor has also written for Marvel, including the graphic novel series Black Panther: Long Live the King (2018), Wakanda Forever (2018), and the Shuri series [Black Panther’s sister] (2018-19). She writes for film too: her World Fantasy Award winning novel, Who Fears Death (2010), is currently being adapted as an HBO television series. Amongst her other honours are the prestigious Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards.

In a TED talk in 2017, Okorafor describes how her Nigerian heritage led her to write a ‘different type of science fiction’ from a distinct perspective, which she describes as ‘Africanfuturism’ and ‘Africanjujuism’. In her Binti novels, we see an African girl leave the Earth to seek education from extra-terrestrials, ‘carrying the blood of her people in her veins, adorned with the teachings, ways, even the land on her very skin’. Okorafor goes on to say, ‘I was inspired to write this story not because I was following a line of classic space opera narratives, but because of blood that runs deep, family, cultural conflict, and the need to see an African girl leave the planet on her own terms’.

Nigerian born Wole Talabi has travelled extensively and now lives in Malaysia. He says, ‘I have a fondness for science fiction and fantasy, and I am interested in a wide variety of assorted nonsenses.’ His collection, Incomplete Solutions (2019), published by Edinburgh based Luna Press, includes ‘Incompleteness Theories’, which won the Nommo Award for best novella in 2020. His fiction has been nominated for several further awards and translated into Norwegian, Chinese, Spanish and French.

As you can see, there is an eye-boggling variety of work from these authors, which reflects the multiple influences from amongst their diverse backgrounds. I feel I have merely glimpsed the surface of this sub-genre, so I have now convinced myself to plunge headfirst and immerse myself in a lengthier swim through these fascinating and enticing seas. If I have piqued your interest, I can suggest further talented authors to investigate, many of whom have won or been nominated for awards: Tochi Onyebuchi; Tomi Adeyemi; Micah Yongo; E.O. Odiase; Helen Oyeyemi; Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki; Chinelo Onwualu.

That should be enough to get you started. Dive in – you will not be disappointed.