In 500 Words or Less: THE YEAR’S BEST AFRICAN SPECULATIVE FICTION, VOLUME ONE, ed. by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

In 500 Words or Less: THE YEAR’S BEST AFRICAN SPECULATIVE FICTION, VOLUME ONE, ed. by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction
edited by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki
Cover design by Maria Spada
Jembefola Press (358 pages, $6.99 eBook, Sept 28, 2021)

So… it’s about freaking time we have one of these, right?

Having already demonstrated impressive editing chops with Dominion (co-edited with Zelda Knight), Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki has created an even greater anthology with this Year’s Best, distilling twenty-nine stories into one of the most cohesive anthologies I’ve ever read. Common threads make this feel like so much more than just a “here’s who we think are the top authors” sort of Year’s Best. We’re being shown part of what African SF is saying right now, and honestly, we should feel lucky to be given this insight.

There are too many stories in here I loved, so I’m going try to focus on some of these common threads. For example, the relationship and disconnect between generations shows up a lot. In Moustapha Mbacke Diop’s “A Curse at Midnight,” a new mom realizes her mother’s warnings about the arcane aren’t nonsense, after her child is replaced by a changeling. There’s this lovely moment in “Egoli” by T.L. Huchu where an old matriarch, seemingly abandoned in her village as children and grandchildren seek fortune elsewhere, pulls out her smartphone to check on a grandson leaving for Mars. That story was particularly brilliant in its straightforward look at the ways generations stay connected, if the will is there. (I called my grandparents right after reading it.)

I can’t rave enough about “A Love Song for Herkinal as Composed by Ashkernas Amid the Ruins of New Haven,” by Chinelo Onwualu. It reminded me a lot of Coyote and Crow, with this post-collapse world where humans and spirits co-exist, featuring characters that stand out so vividly from start to finish. Another that looks at the complex relationship between human and non-human is another of my favorites: Tamara Jeree’s “The Future in Saltwater,” featuring octopus gods(!), tests of faith, and climate fiction in a delightfully touching package.

The ephemeral stories in here are some of the most magical, too. “The Friendship Bench” by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu places generational trauma under the lens of “there’s a gizmo for that!” with a totally unexpected, even darker twist at the very end. “Penultimate” by ZZ Claybourne shows what happens when someone discovers a pen that can alter the world. And Sheree Renee Thomas’s “The Parts That Make Us Monsters” seems to chronicle slave experiences and colonization from the perspective of beings worried about their own status as monsters, in a hauntingly lyrical story I couldn’t help but reread as soon as I finished.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg for this anthology, which includes past favorites of mine by C.L. Clark and Marian Denise Moore, among a host of other amazing fiction. It took far too long for a volume like this to exist, but it has staked its claim among the industry’s Best Of anthologies and set a new bar for others to reach.


An Ottawa teacher by day, Brandon has been published in On SpecPulp Literature, THIS Magazine, and elsewhere. His latest story “Soulmark” (about selling your soul and rock ‘n’ roll) appears in issue #7 of Fusion Fragment and he recently appeared at Word on the Street talking Fan Fiction. You can follow Brandon at brandoncrilly.wordpress.com or on Twitter: @B_Crilly.

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