Monday, March 07, 2022

Omenana 20 (2021)

Omenana: Speculative Fiction Magazine, ed. Mazi Nwonwu, Chinelo Onwualu, Iquo DianaAbasi & Godson ChukwuEmeka Okeiyi. Issue #20 (December 2021). Online at

Reviewed by M.L. Clark

Omenana, the now-quarterly bilingual publication (English and French) of African and African diaspora SFF is still going strong with issue 20. The name of the publication is Igbo for both divinity and culture, and speaks to the speculative that permeates African histories, folklore, spirituality, and future-dreaming. As continental African writers show up more in Western SFF, it’s easy to overlook the key role of local African publications, especially as incubators for experimentation and new voices—but it matters immensely. The four-person editorial team of Omenana is Nigerian, with one member living in Canadian diaspora, and although they can only offer token payments for now, you can invest in their Patreon to help them grow the outlet. Issue 20 offers ten stories, eight in English and two in French, which span a wide range of magical and science-fictional contexts.

Marycynthia Chinwe Okafor’s “Isimmiri” is a mer-realm fantasy that draws strongly from the magical-realist uncertainty of real life. Chimebuka has to be strong for her mother, because her father is gone and if not dead, then trapped in the Water realm. Her childhood friend Lotanna helps as she visits a dibia for deeper spiritual counsel than her own magical powers can provide, and they set out for Isimmiri—more or less “fountain” in Igbo, where “mmiri” serves in a range of watery capacities. What they find in its court of mer-people, though, is an explanation for her father’s disappearance as old as time: a hard truth behind all hope of magical recovery. But at least she and Lotanna have also found each other along the way.

Kristien Potgieter’s “Curing” imagines a world so parched by climate change that even scavenger-birds have become rare, having run out of food as well. Bontle runs a South African maize farm her father bought from a white man, but the hard work is disrupted one day by a vulture, which leads her to a springhare’s remains, and with them, a mystery as to the predator. Can a world brought to ruin really come back in sudden spurts? Bontle’s about to find out.

In “The Dogs Save the Day” by Fagbamiye Wuraola a child’s gift has extreme consequences. When Titi’s parents find out that she can understand and communicate with dogs, they assume demonic possession and allow the local priest to go to brutal extremes to try to heal her, before sending the family dog, Lulu, away. But when Titi’s father gets sick, it’s Titi’s gift that will help them find the diagnosis (which relates to another pandemic that’s still raging wherever water and sewage systems are not secure) and save the day.

Tanatswa Makara’s “The Revolving Mountain” brings us our first science-fiction tale, which is also a work of horror and folklore. On another world, in a labyrinth of a mountain, lies a mausoleum and a body of secrets between a now-deceased grandmother and the grandchild who had left the planet long before. The mind can play tricks on a person, which is why this story is being relayed to a (hopefully sympathetic) doctor, but the act of neglecting family after death can have serious consequences—no matter what planet and sun you call home.

In “The Walls of Benin City,” M.H. Ayinde brings us a tender tale of a human about to die in the desert, and a bronze garden statue (an automaton of sorts) that has taken to the work of search and rescue. The tale unfolds in the wake of an apocalyptic invasion scenario; the rescued human desperately wants to reach the widely acclaimed utopia of Benin City, but also carries immense survivor’s guilt for all the children lost, and the cruelties inflicted upon others, just to get to this point. Is there really room for broken wretches in so hopeful a new home?

Lazarus Panashe Nyagwambo’s “The Water Dweller” gives us a spirit of the type that appears around a traditional Shona ritual—or used to, at least, when Chenura was more often carried out. But with the rise of Christianity, a lot of the dead don’t get their acquittal ceremony, a year or so out from death—so what does that mean for all the ancestral spirits who are supposed to be welcomed into a greater state of being, or given license to speak and act openly among their living families again? Well, this one gets up to some mischief in the interim, that’s for sure—and though this spirit didn’t really mean to cause problems, its attempt to spin a bit of magic for a bullied younger brother in a group of four friends only creates more tragedy. A good incentive to make sure your family spirits get their proper send-offs and visitation times, no?

“Time Says No” by Praise Osawaru is a time-travel story between two men, driven by the rape (vividly described) of one man’s sister. But putting aside that the use of this plot device and POV is no longer well-received, there’s a real and pressing set of traumas underpinning our protagonist’s experience. In many parts of the world, women are subject to war crimes and everyday mass violence—and the men around them are absolutely going to feel helpless and ache for more options than the real world provides. Enter fiction. Because if you were given the opportunity to reverse history for a loved one, you’d do it, right? No matter what the cost?

Kwasi Adi-Dako’s “Dust” is another well-traveled story type, but with an excellent spin. In this interview between an old-timer and a young man, we learn about the world before the “Dust,” a huge change in climate that has made water-abundance a thing of the past. But while the young interviewer clearly wants to learn more about the good old days before this relentless dryness, Mr. Owusu’s stories of life on a moister planet illustrate a much more mature take on the continuity of hardship than these sorts of tales usually provide. It’s a gentle reminder that struggle will always be with us—as will the need for us to be allies to one another in it.

And then we get to the French language stories, Makan Fofana’s “Le livre de Qaloun et de la Lune—L’Ascension Nocturne” (The Book of Qaloun and the Moon: The Nocturnal Ascension) and Dounia Charaf’s “Étoile Sombre” (Dark Star). These works could not be more different, but they are both among the strongest in this issue.

Fofana’s is an incredibly playful delight. It imagines a far-flung future where Wikipedia outlives us all—or at least, something like it does, because the whole work has been crafted as a Wiki article about an art installation created somewhen between 2005 and 2134, through a process of rewriting made possible via inventive block-chaining. The installation’s starting point is the 2005 French riots in the suburbs of Paris: a traumatic site of police brutality compounding systemic injustice. Our fabricated Wiki article describes the historical, philosophical, and artistic elements fused in this art piece to re-envision—and perhaps remake—the past.

Lastly, Charaf’s “Étoile Sombre” starts us out in a rich market scene, where a boy is experiencing so many wonders of this world while plans around him are made for voyages to the stars. His father and aunt (along with his sister, who plays a smaller role in this tale) are on a precarious path to a better life. His father is torn about leaving his children in this big new city, to study as astronauts for the day when he’ll have made enough to buy them all a ship to the stars. Worse still, the father also knows that, once he goes up on a mining mission to an asteroid, he’ll be in the hands of a shady corporation with shady, off-Earth practices. So maybe he won’t survive the job—maybe he’s lying to his son about reuniting down the line. But does he really have a choice, either way?

Collectively, these stories weave a great many current African crises, quotidian and extreme alike, into visions of urban magic, folkloric consequence, and far-flung future healing. They draw upon the importance of connection in all our lives, and the pain of any absences therein.

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