Guest Blog Entry: On South African Speculative Fiction (August 2013)

I'm happy to have another guest blog entry, this time about South African Science Fiction, from Nick Wood.

South African speculative fiction is a rapidly growing and perhaps localized interpretation of wider, mainly Western led genre fiction, broadly covering fantasy and science fiction. There is a tendency to call African fantastical tales 'magical realism' (e.g. Brenda Cooper's 'Magical Realism in West African Fiction') – however, there also no doubt exists a modern overlap with all forms of 'fantastika' — as the Canadian critic John Clute calls it.


Zakes Mda has commented that Gabriel Marcia Marquez attributed some of his 'magical realist' leanings to overhearing orally conveyed African fantasy tales – certainly there was a significant African slave trade to South America as well, and African influences exist not just in their music, but no doubt in Latin American literary forms as well. Zakes Mda himself is one of the best (South) African practitioners of compelling fiction that straddles the fantastic and the mundane. Two classic examples of his 'speculative' fiction are the novels 'The Heart of Redness' and 'The Whale caller.' He is Professor at Ohio University's Department of English, but is South African through and through, with a riveting biography entitled 'Sometimes There is a Void.' 


For those interested in a socio-political history of the speculative fiction genre in South Africa, please see my article from Locus Magazine in 2009, reprinted on The World Science Fiction BlogAlong with Sarah Lotz and Tanya Barben, I updated the news around South African spec-fic, to cover 2010-11. And currently, the local South African SF/F scene is burgeoning – with writers such as Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz, Nerine Dorman, Charlie Human and Cat Hellisen just the tip of a powerful literary ice-berg, even in these recessionary and global warming climes.


For those of you specifically interested in black South African speculative fiction, apart from Zakes Mda, there is the sole novel by a sharp and entertaining Phaswane Mpe, sadly a victim of an early death from illness, with his 'Welcome to My Hillbrow'. In addition, Kgebetli Moele has written an enterprising if dark book, in which the second half is narrated by the HIV virus, aptly called 'The Book of the Dead.' Speculative fiction lends itself well to post-colonial subversions, particularly within a country relatively recently liberated – only in 1994 were the first truly democratic elections in South Africa.


And, for a more global African take on speculative fiction, I wrote up a perspective based on a November 2012 London literary event here: For any readers interested in online news, a website worth following for African updates and events – sometimes bordering on the bizarre – is the excellent and ironically titled 'Africa is a Country.' 

So much diverse and interesting speculative fiction to read, then, from a huge Continent, both rich in diversity and wakening to its own potential. I am proud to be an African, no matter where I may live.


Nick Wood (c) 2013 –

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