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One year ago during the Storymoja Festival, I launched my book, A Killing in the Sun, a collection of short speculative stories, featuring African science fiction, fantasy and horror. The reception of the book has been, surprisingly, warm, at times awed, and at times an outright 'oh wow! Unbelievable!' I did not expect this. I thought it would be only me sweating it out to sweet talk people into buying it, but somehow the book has marketed itself. To celebrate a year in print, here are a few of the reviews, some from renown African writers like Binyavanga Wainaina, Zukiswa Wanner, and Beverly Nambozo
"Memorable. Well plotted, well edited, with a cool Afro flavor in each story." Zukiswa Wanner
"Intriguing.... There is a lot of pretty rich writing... rich storyteling..." Sunday Recommendations: Books and Podcasts
"...as I read story after story, many times miserly-like, I kept being grateful that I hadn’t put it off any longer. It surpassed my expectations...... read A Killing in the Sun. You’ll be pleasantly surprised."
"A treat for readers."
Beverly Nambozo, in The Daily Monitor
"Enjoyable.... Dila has good material and can clearly write brilliant speculative fiction."
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"...something really special...." Binyavanga Wainaina
Am about halfway through Dilman Dila's collection of short stories, A Killing in the Sun. From the first page of the first one, felt that surge of anticipation of the possibility of something really special coming. With the best books, you sense it very early, and unconsciously. It is a kind of body-mind tingle, and then my buttocks shuffle about on the bench and I hunch forward to tunnel forward, and my eyes are now on eat, gobble, and eventually devour, and time disappears and I lift my eyes halfway through the book with a very familiar and rare fear (that it is going to end soon and life as I know it will be drab). For now, I have no grand things to say, except, fuck Facebook, I am diving back into the spell, only gently so I can draw it out. somehow.
|Me, at the Alan Paton museum.
I visited the great author of Cry the Beloved Country.
In 2008, I was naïve in travel, and did not make much use of that trip, apart from taking a few photos like a dumb tourist. Then this year, I got to go twice, and to live there for over a month. I thought, well, this is my chance to taste that famous drink, and other delicacies. The ‘smiley’, which is a sheep’s head, and so called because it seems to smile at you with all its teeth as it sits on the plate. A whole sheep’s head. Then there is the ‘walkie-talkie’, a combo of chicken legs and heads. Okay, these are not really strange in my part of the world. As a child, I remember eating a cock’s head – the eyes, the cheeks, the comb. Our houseboy roasted it for me, and he said it would make me intelligent (now you know how I got my brains :-o). In Tororo where I grew up, there are a people who are said to cook everything after slaughtering a chicken. The legs, the head, the intestines, everything. When I lived in Kirewa village as part of my first job (it was to arrest men who beat their wives, but I’ll tell you about that later), I found a man roasting chicken intestines. He had wrapped it around a stick. I wanted to ask for a bite, curious as I am about delicacies, but I couldn’t find my voice because he did not seem so clean and I wondered if he had washed those intestines properly. (Chicken intestines are called ‘ashy shoe laces’ in the South African townships, or so I hve just been told on Facebook).
|Bunnychow, a delicacy of Durban.
I didn’t know about it until I got there.
|What I instead ate in Johannesburg, seafood. Tasty! :-))|
I can’t say I am an authority in this matter, just stating my observation as someone who grew up on South African music, and who grew up curious about Zulus, and who wanted to satisfy this curiosity and didn’t find what I was expecting. Maybe if I stay for a longer period, I’ll get the full taste of South Africa, but for now, I’m only left with glimpses, with a hunger for more.
|A young man in a shop selling herbs and charms.
I wonder if he is a shaman, or has any such training at all.
|The herbal market, with Durban in the background.|
|Sweet things in uniform and lollipops, on 16th of June,
commemorating the 1976 Soweto uprisings.
|The beauty of Durban just after sunset,
but these signs below spoil the fun.
|Beautiful artwork at the beachside|
|Indians fishing while, below,
white men surf and Africans take selfies.
|A woman fills a bottle with sea water, for religious purposes|
African writers are traumatized. They forever have to defend their work. If it’s not someone questioning why they are not tackling the problems of their societies, it’s someone wondering why they only write about misery and gloom in the continent. When they discover that African writers are churning out stuff like speculative fiction, they say ‘copycat’. Or something worse. The something worse happened to me. Shortly after my book came out, a Ugandan living in the UK asked; ‘Are you really Ugandan?’ I said yes, and she said, ‘But your names….’ And I said Is your name Margaret (anonymised) more Ugandan than mine (Dilman is Asian, Dila is Luo/Nilotic)? And her next question, ‘But surely, you didn’t grow up in Uganda. No one who grew up in Uganda can write such stories.’ I stopped responding.
|A muti market in Durban, South Africa, where you can buy any charm.|
In recent years, there has been a burst of activity with regard to SFF in Africa. Some liken it to Afrofuturism, but I don’t like that idea, for African Americans (our children :-D) operate in a slightly different world. I’d prefer the term AfroSF/Horror/Fantasy, etc, or African SFF, so as to market products that are from the within continent. African Americans, and Africans in the diaspora, though disadvantaged compared to their siblings from the other mother (whites), enjoy a richer pool of resources and opportunities compared to us who work and live in the continent. (See? The Caine Prize is often dominated by people in the diaspora)
|A genetically modified karoli (marabou stork),
maybe created to clean up man’s garbage,
graces the cover of the recent issue of Lawino Magazine
|The first issue of Omenana|
|How to go up into the Sky.
Instructional text found in an old book about Uganda
For the first time in my life, I met a female cab driver. Women had driven me before, in their personal cars, and in an organization that I worked for once who insisted on hiring women for drivers, but I’d never met a female taxi driver before. She said her name was Nazira, and it’s a family business, her husband and their son are both taxi drivers. They mostly have corporate clients, which is how she came to be taking me to OR Tambo Airport that sunny Sunday morning in Joburg. Like many in conversations I had in Joburg, crime somehow crept up.
One time she was driving a mini-bus full of tourists. The fake cops pulled up beside her, and flashed their IDs, and gestured that she stop the vehicle. She instead stepped on the accelerator. They gave chase. She had never driven above speed limit before, but that day, what gave her courage was that there was a police station just a few kilometers ahead, and if she kept her cool, she could outrun the criminals. They would not dare to follow her to the station. She also knew that if they were real cops, she would be in trouble. But she stepped on it and after a brief persistence, the thugs vanished from her tail.
|Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho|
Now, other than write, he gives talks to minors in prison on how turn their lives around. Time of the Writer festival have writing programs for school children, one of which was run in a prison in Westville, by the beautiful xhosa writer Celiswa, who taught creative writing to jailed minors. I visited Westville with Given, to give inspirational talks to participants of this program.
|Police in Durban arrest a suspect.|
|Beaten for liking a fellow writer. Photo from bookslive.co.za|
I heard in the news recently that ISIS was recruiting in SA. I think that country is already struggling with a lot, to add fundamentalism and terrorism onto the headaches they already have might just break that beautiful country.
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|In Paris, reading the sci-fi story, Lights on Water|
|Felkin’s impression of the c-section he witnessed in pre-colonial Uganda|
Now, I know, that knowledge is all but lost, and I’m not advocating for a total return to nativity. I’m not even saying that we should abandon Western technologies completely. What I’m saying is that Africa lacks confidence in itself. It believes that there was nothing before the Europeans came, that we were backward, and that whatever we have came from Europe. And that is the tragedy of many African communities. Indigenous technologies cannot evolve because African scientists think such technologies are inferior. These scientists have ignored to investigate their own brands of physics and chemistry and mathematics, and instead imitate sciences from Europe. They need to believe in their past, in their abilities, they need to believe that things can come out of Africa without the input of richer nations, and that is where science fiction can play a key role.
|According to this presentation, you know an alien is good if it has blue eyes|
But that brings me to the second item that can boost science and technology in Africa. The president of Uganda is known to despise the arts, he is probably ignorant of role that literature, especially science fiction, has played in provoking scientific curiosity and research. There are plenty of examples of science fiction inspiring scientists in richer nations. There is the tale of Frankenstein which provoked research in the area of manufacturing of living things, and there is the Japanese Astro Boy who inspires scientists in robotics and artificial intelligence.
To end with the topic of my presentation, that is, can sci-fi lead to technological independence in Africa? I believe it can, but the stories that come out have to champion local histories, to glorify indigenous knowledge and technologies, so as to inspire scientists to look within their own communities for solutions to modern problems, rather than to import foreign solutions.
I stayed in a quiet suburb, Melville, one of the safest places in Jo’burg. I could move around with my camera without fear of being robbed. That first day, I forgot to change money at the airport. Big mistake. I took a tuktuk to a bank. I was indeed surprised to see these in South African. They tell me they are still new, and have not been rolled out to all cities, but I’m glad they had the service in Melville, for they are so much cheaper than taxis. My driver, a Nigerian who goes by the name BB, told me that all tuktuk drivers were foreigners. I could not understand why, though he tried to explain that South Africans don’t like doing the dirty work. He has lived in Jo’burg since 2001 and has suffered xenophobia and stereotyping, but he likes it there and he only goes back to Nigeria once every few years.
Experts don’t think that the caves were inhabited, because it is a steep drop into the ground. They cannot imagine that homonids might have used rope ladders to get in and out. There is a certain arrogance that modern man has. He thinks he is more intelligent than his ancestors. But if homonids could control fire, if they could make stone tools, then they could make rope ladders to descend into deep holes. Ha, archeologists have no imagination. Just because they have never found fossil rope ladders doesn’t mean there were no rope ladders two million years ago. I know, they use other clues to determine if a cave was inhabited, but there might have been a flood (or something) that wiped away all evidence. This is two million years ago, you know, and you need a lot of imagination to come up with what life was like in this cave. I think those guys lived in there, and had a hell of a great party.
There’s a lake in the caves. It has never been explored. They don’t know how deep it is. They once sent in divers, but the rope got cut, and the diver’s body surfaced sixteen days later. They do not say if the body was eaten, or if some creature in the water killed him, but I wonder, why would they stop exploring the lake just because of an accident? I think they don’t know what killed the diver, and I think they are afraid of what they will find in the water. Well, they claim there is nothing alive in the lake. But how can they be certain there are no living creatures in there if they don’t know how deep it is? They haven’t even visited all its shores, and the caves are endless. Every day, they find a new chamber. It’s an active site, with excavations going on alongside tourist visits. I think homonids still live in there, two million years later, maybe they have evolved into creatures who can only live in the dark caves (By the way, AfroSF 2 comes out soon, be sure to check out my story with pre-historic cave dwelling creatures). I say, archeologists have no imagination.
From Hillbrow, I went to Newtown. I passed scenes very similar to Kampala, bustling markets, colorful wares, music blaring from pick-up trucks in which people hawked DVDs and music CDs. It was very much Kampala without the bodabodas and striped taxis. Though just 6:30 pm, I passed a bar that was filled to capacity, with a lot of drunken people on the pavements, dancing. I wished I could take out my camera and capture it all, but my hosts had warned me not to flash expensive gadgets in the streets, for that is a sure way of attracting muggers.
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