The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction (2021) ed Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (@penprince_) from @JembefolaPress #BookReview #Fantasy #Scifi

The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction (2021) ed Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

Jembefola Press, ebook, £5,16

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

In 2020, I had the opportunity to review Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora (find my review here) and loved it. The stories immersed me in a different culture to the mainstream we’re surrounded by every day. So when Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki offered me a review copy of The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction (2021), I jumped at the chance. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Recently, I have read several short story collections. Some gathered together stories on a specific theme from authors invited to contribute, while others were compiled of reprints of the best short stories on a particular theme. This is one of the second types of collections, which elevated it above other anthologies, in my opinion. The stories in The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction are reprints, so another publication has already singled them out from all the submissions received for publishing. This means the quality of the stories is high, and I enjoyed most of them. Anthologies are often hit and miss; after all, you can’t please everyone, so any collection where I enjoy 75% of them is really good.

Some I recognised from Dominion, and others were completely new from me. Of the new ones, the ones that really stood out to me were Things Boys Do by Pemi Aguda in Nightmare, Scar Tissue by Tobias S. Buckell, first published in SLATE, and Love Hangover by Sheree Renée Thomas in Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire.

Things Boys Do is a dark story about past sins catching up to three men when they become fathers. Haunted by cruel acts committed as children, they find fatherhood is not the joyous experience it should be. Aguda leaves much to our imagination which successfully builds tension, and it remained with me after I had finished the collection.

Sheree Renée Thomas plays with the concept of sirens and vampires in Love Hangover, combining the two mythical monsters into something fresh and seductive. I appreciated the way Sheree Renée Thomas wove music terminology through her story, building atmosphere and using specific songs to demonstrate the passage of time.

My favourite, though, is Tobias S. Buckell’s Scar Tissue. Told in the second-person, present tense, we follow the emotional journey of a man who is fostering newly manufactured robots, so he can regrow his missing arm rather than using a mechanical prosthetic. As with Things Boy Do, fatherhood has an interesting impact on the central character’s outlook on life, as they struggle with their own upbringing, masculinity and adapting to care for another being. Scar Tissue is reaffirming and sensitive, beautifully written and well-thought-out.

I enjoyed this collection, full of imagery from another culture that we don’t see represented enough in Western culture. Many of the stories had a musical quality, almost like poetry rather than prose, and each one deserved reprinting. Highly recommended.