Sci-fi short storie, especially Africa-related, for a reluctant reader
March 20, 2021 9:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm doing a heroic rescue with a student in my sophomore English class who has been floundering and is at risk of failing. We've been reading Purple Hibiscus, a novel set in Nigeria — beautiful, but subtle and literary and not working for him. He says he's "a huge sci-fi nerd." Help me find him some snack-sized short stories.

The platonic ideal would be sci-fi from a Nigerian/West African author. I've looked through a couple of anthologies (Dark Matter and Mothership, Octavia Butler's collection) and found a lot of stories that are more nightmarish/body horror than I'm willing to recommend in this context. I guess I'm thinking of something like the classic Asimov mode.

Of course short fiction from the whole African diaspora would be welcome. W.E.B. DuBois' "The Comet" is a possibility, although it's more Twilight Zone than hard sci-fi. (If I trample on the distinctions within sci-fi, my apologies; it generally isn't my bag.)

If you have any short stories in sci-fi that are just too great not to mention, let me know; I'm setting out a wide basket. Nothing novella-length, please; I have two weeks left before the quarter ends.
posted by argybarg to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The person who comes to mind immediately is Tade Thompson, who is a British writer with a Nigerian heritage. He's probably best known for Rosewater, which probably demands a more sophisticated reader than your kiddo, but he has some short fiction out.

You might also look through this Strange Horizons list of 100 African Writers of SFF and see if anyone jumps out at you.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:55 AM on March 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Nnedi Okorafor.
posted by jamjam at 10:02 AM on March 20, 2021 [29 favorites]

Seconding Nnedi Okorafor! Especially Binti.
posted by meese at 10:04 AM on March 20, 2021 [14 favorites]

This list contains good list of authors and their works:
posted by kschang at 10:06 AM on March 20, 2021

I highly recommend a recent anthology called "Africanfuturism" which has 8 stories that span a pretty wide range of styles/content and are all written by contemporary African authors. From your post I think you might enjoy Yat Madit by Dilman Dila (pages 16-29 in the link). The titular term for that collection was coined by Nnedi Okorafor who has been writing speculative fiction in that vein for a while. Her stories "Spider the Artist" and "Mother of Invention" may be helpful for you too.

I also have a soft spot for Leslie Nneka Arimah whose short story collection "What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky" is very good. You can read the title story here, though my favorite from her is "Light" which isn't super scifi.

On preview, thirding Nnedi Okorafor.
posted by crossswords at 10:06 AM on March 20, 2021 [10 favorites]

NK Jemisin is an African-American writer but you might look at How Long 'til Black Future Month? a collection of short stories by NK Jemisin. Being short stories might be an advantage for your reader. The Wikipedia listing gives a summary of the stories.
posted by metahawk at 10:33 AM on March 20, 2021 [11 favorites]

Came in to say Binti! It's awesome.
posted by woodvine at 11:03 AM on March 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nnedi Okorafor would also be my suggestion, Binti. There's a lot of really good storytelling and there's a lot of really realistic processing of trauma (nb: there is some trauma early on so worth making sure that's going to go okay) as well as some really good themes of family and school issues that are well-handled.
posted by jessamyn at 11:38 AM on March 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

NK Jemisin wrote a great short story called Emergency Skin that was part of an Amazon collection called Forward. It's free if you are a prime member.
posted by kimdog at 12:21 PM on March 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nnedi Okorafor' duology (?) Akata Witch and Akata Warrior are amazing YA books about young magic wielders in contemporary Lagos who discover they have magic, have to learn about the secret magical side of Lagos, and, naturally, have to band together and save the world. Too long for now, but maybe the can read them after the semester.
posted by foodmapper at 12:23 PM on March 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I probably can't assign a novella at this point, but I've started reading Okorafor's collection of short stories, Kabu Kabu, and they're good — kind of Stephen King-ish, with Igbo/Nigerian cultural bits substituted for the supernatural.
posted by argybarg at 12:23 PM on March 20, 2021

Came in to recommend Akata Witch books, as well. Novels, not short stories, but a brisk reads about a fully realized, engaging universe.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:37 PM on March 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

It might be worth glancing at the short lists of Nommo Awards for short stories. (The ones I've read and would recommend are mostly very Twilight Zone, but I don't know many of them. Biram Mboob's The Luminal Frontier is more like typical European hard(ish) SF in style, if I remember correctly, and very good.)
posted by eotvos at 1:08 PM on March 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

i am so pumped by the knowledgeable responses here. so much to explore!
posted by j_curiouser at 1:10 PM on March 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

For Nigerian writers I'd make a qualified suggestion for 'The Famished Road' by Ben Okri. It's a novel but in an episodic structure where any chapter could be excerpted for a short story. It's written in a kinda fantastic/magic-realism style. A young reader might like it, if they didn't think it was too weird? (I would've liked it at that age, but it could vary.)
posted by ovvl at 2:16 PM on March 20, 2021

Not Nigerian, but how about Samuel Delany? Fantastic black American science fiction writer who was very young when he wrote some of his best work and thus definitely appealed to me in high school. (Some short stories here: .)
posted by shadygrove at 2:33 PM on March 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

I know almost nothing about Samuel R. Delaney, other than that he was black. However, his story Driftglass discusses issues having to do with poverty and the choices you have to make when you're poor and uneducated, and desperately want to improve things. It's also, in my opinion, one of the best short SF stories, not because of the points it makes, but because it's a really wonderful story.
I'd recommend some of the older stuff - a lot of modern SF is half-hearted retelling of older themes.
And, as mentioned above, Octavia Butler is an amazing storyteller, but a lot of her stuff is horrific. I think I'm still scarred from Clay's Ark.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 2:35 PM on March 20, 2021

You could check out the podcast Levar Burton Reads, in which Levar Burton reads short stories. The majority are SF stories by authors of color, including Okorafor and Jemisin, though not all are. The loving care Burton puts into his narrations really adds a layer of enjoyment for me and I imagine would help a reluctant reader.
posted by Comet Bug at 3:12 PM on March 20, 2021 [6 favorites]

A good old weird one is Amos Tutola's The Palm Wine Drinkard.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 3:34 PM on March 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Maybe try P. Djeli Clark? - A Dead Djinn in Cairo is free online so you could check it out and see if it is suitable.
posted by gudrun at 4:56 PM on March 20, 2021

Nancy Farmer wrote some stories that fit the bill. She is is an American entomologist and chemical engineer living in Mozambique. Back in 1994 she wrote a Newbury Honor novel, "The Ear, The Eye and the Arm," that transplants a Zimbabwean folk story into the far future. I'd sell it to your student by saying that, while you know that there's not enough time to complete whatever (project or work) they can on a novel that is at a challenge level, you'd love them them to show you the same skills on a novel that is (if anything) way too easy (but also fun!). Depending on the student's level of need, you could even direct them to recorded readings on YouTube.
posted by mr. remy at 6:40 PM on March 20, 2021

i really enjoyed nisi shawl's slippernet (and some other writings). also see her short story collection "filter house." she is coeditor of delaney-tribute collection "stories for chip" and (octavia) butlerian anthology "strange matings," among other works. i would not describe what i have read of her work as asimovian in any sense.
posted by 20 year lurk at 10:25 PM on March 20, 2021

There's an Okorafor story in the Star Wars tribute anthology From a Certain Point of View, if you want REALLY classic sci fi.
posted by yarntheory at 9:38 AM on March 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

« Older Like Drunk History for scientific concepts likely...   |   Date maths, finding midpoints? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.