The Nigerian Civil War, or Biafran War, 1967–1970, and its aftermath loom large in new and forthcoming speculative fiction from Nigerian authors and those of Nigerian descent. Other books covered here focus on the African diaspora and the legacy of slavery. Together, these titles mine themes of displacement, immigration, and assimilation.
Nnedi Okorafor’s graphic novel LaGuardia, for instance, is set in an alternate future and follows a Nigerian-American woman who returns to the U.S. from Lagos, where protestors wave “Keep Biafra pure” signs at assimilated extraterrestrials. (For PW’s q&a with Okorafor, see “Different Isn’t a Threat.”)
Tade Thompson, who was born in London to Yoruba parents and grew up in Nigeria, concludes his Clarke Award–winning Wormwood trilogy with The Rosewater Redemption (Orbit, Oct.). It takes place in the newly independent city-state of Rosewater, which Nigeria is fighting hard not to lose.
The YA fantasy epic Raybearer (Amulet, Mar. 2020, ages 12–up) is the debut novel from Jordan Ifueko, whose parents immigrated separately to the U.S. from Nigeria in the 1970s. “Oral tradition is a huge part of the world she built,” says Maggie Lehrman, editorial director, fiction, at Abrams. “There are people in this world who use drums and stories to codify the way the world works. She uses these very rhythmic monologues, and when you’re reading it, you feel the drumbeats. It’s really a performance.”
Nigeria-born Ben Okri came to England as a child and returned to Nigeria with his parents just as the Nigerian Civil War began, which he says has had an indelible impact on his work. As Okri told the Los Angeles Review of Books in May, the war was “the moment when I became first aware of myself as a being on whom conflicting narratives were written.”
Okri went on to craft his own narrative in works including the 1991 Booker Prize–winning The Famished Road and the forthcoming The Freedom Artist (Akashic, Feb. 2020). Other authors, too, are exploring the impact of imperialism through their fictional futures and imagined worlds.
“Science fiction is a colonialist genre,” says Ruoxi Chen, assistant editor at Tor.com Publishing. “It started out of boys’ adventure novels, these imperialist stories. And now the children of these formerly colonized nations have come to the U.S. or U.K., were drawn to the genre, and went in and reinvented it. As an immigrant, the first time you encounter alien characters, part of you is like, ‘Oh, I get that. This is speaking to my experience on some level.’ ”
Chen edited Riot Baby (Jan. 2020), the adult debut of Nigerian-American YA author Tochi Onyebuchi, a dystopian novel that tackles police brutality and institutionalized racism. Given the book’s subject matter, Chen says, it was important that both author and editor are first-generation immigrants and people of color.
Onyebuchi also has a YA novel this season: War Girls (Razorbill, Oct., ages 12–up), set in a future Nigeria and inspired by his mother’s story of growing up during the civil war there. PW’s starred review called it a “heart-wrenching and complex page-turner.”
Righting the Ship
Four hundred years after the first enslaved Africans landed in the English colony of Virginia, new SFF shines a light on a legacy that the U.S. is still reckoning with.
The Deep (Saga, Nov.), Rivers Solomon’s collaboration with Hamilton star Daveed Diggs and his hip-hop group, Clipping, imagines the lives of the fictional underwater descendants of enslaved pregnant women who were thrown overboard during the actual Middle Passage. (For PW’s q&a with Solomon, see “We Can Do More Together.”)
Rena Barron’s Kingdom of Souls (ages 13–up), a recent HarperTeen publication and the first in a planned trilogy, is based on the author’s experience growing up African-American in the South, where folk magic was spoken about in sinister ways. “Barron’s West Africa–inspired fantasy debut is a slow-burning, character-driven tale of vengeance, greed, sacrifice, and star-crossed romance,” PW’s review said.
The coming months also bring debut novels based on the history of the Underground Railroad. Nicole Glover’s The Conductors (HMH/Adams, July 2020) follows a former Underground Railroad conductor who saved her charges using magic, and who now must navigate the upheaval of Reconstruction.
In Remembrance (Forge, Jan. 2020), Rita Woods conjures a stop on the Underground Railroad route that’s protected by women with magical powers. The idea, says Diana Gill, executive editor at Tor/Forge, grew out of Woods’s time on her local library council, where she got “tired of telling people that the Underground Railroad wasn’t an actual train.”
Note: This article has been updated with new information from Abrams about Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko.