We are pleased to welcome Eugen Bacon, whose latest speculative fiction collection, The Road to Woop Woop and Other Stories, just released, to talk about 5 of her top black spec fiction novels and collections. More about the author, her work, and her blog tour and a giveaway at the end of this article.
It’s promising to see many forebearers of titillating black speculative novels and collections, including Octavia Butler and her speculative fiction of change that empowered black heroine protagonists as in Fledgling (2005), a novel that stars a young black vampire girl; or Parable of the Sower (1993)—a dystopian novel set in an imagined future, Southern California in the 2020s.
You’ve probably read N. K. Jemisin’s genre-bending fiction that explores themes spanning cultural identity and ‘common’ heroes. In her debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (2010), where gods dwell among mortals, an outcast becomes a heroine. Pouring new wine into old skins, Jemisin borrows from mythologies of gods and mortals, and from character archetypes, like the trickster Sieh in the story, in a world of role reversal where the gods are enslaved.
Other powerful Black storytellers include Bernadine Evaristo in her Booker Prize winning Girl, Woman, Other (2019), and Nisi Shawl in her latest collection Exploring Dark Short Fiction #3: A Primer to Nisi Shawl (2018) that opens with an extraordinary story of a woman named Fulla Fulla and her visits to the marketplace of death. The primer introduces a highly imaginative mind proficient in conjuring, Shawl’s subversive text rich with girl empowerment and feminist ideology.
There are notable authors featured in the anthology Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (2000), edited by Sheree Renee Thomas and casting a spotlight on Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley, Nalo Hopkinson and Samuel R Delany…
But today, I want to talk about these five unforgettable books.
1. Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
Not many people will recognise the speculative elements in Toni Morrison’s literary novel Song of Solomon (1977), but it’s there if you look for it, and allow Morrison to yank the ground from your feet and take you soaring to the air with protagonist Milkman. The story contains rudiments of magical realism, lyrical passages exposing the apocalyptic and the spiritual. It culminates with Milkman’s leap, a surrender to the air so he could ride it.
In this writing, as in her other novels, Morrison’s distinct style carries beyond pivotal contestations around race—her radical and defining act of writing for black readers about black people; the subversive role of language in her body of works is a major signature.
2. Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift (2019)
This intelligent book sweeps across class, colour, generations with its deception, reflection, prejudice, imbalance, balance, devotion and hope. It’s a body of astonishments concealed in rebellious text that subverts the reader’s expectations with a comedic drama that’s integral to the story.
Namwali Serpell explores ideology, supremacy, disease, curiosity in relationships forged and lost. She casts a spotlight on the place of women in society, on the intolerable choices of mothers and their children, on the quest for identity, a search for belonging. You can see how it swept into recognition, including winning the 2020 Arthur C. Clarke Award.
3. Sheree Renée Thomas’s Nine Bar Blues (2020)
Sheree Renée Thomas showcases why she’s an award-winning writer, poet and editor in this mesmeric collection that is darkness and beauty, layered text filled with hum. Black heroines with names like Yera, Fele, Ava, Nelse, Marva, Old Mama Yaya and Aunt Dissy cavort you to curtains of pines and cypresses behind which something listens. As creatures hum with thrumming wings out of sink holes, chants bellowing in the air, the moon’s light through the window is both a sign and a symbol. What Sheree Renée Thomas offers are words that race together. These stories from an ancient future will embed in your memory, your feet still dancing.
4. Wole Talabi’s Incomplete Solutions (2019)
Incomplete Solutions is black speculative collection that offers a blend of fantasy and science fiction in poignant language that doesn’t alienate but rather embraces you. Wole Talabi writes with sensitivity and perception in a form that transforms you—whether you’re sipping cocktails in Lagos Lagoon or plummeting across stars and asteroids in the black, silent fabric of space.
You could be immersed in the dark convolutions of Wednesday’s story, or commiserating with an immigrant in a penal colony in Mars, perhaps plotting with radicals a metamorphic revolution that will transform the Ark. But one thing is certain: each story is a question or a curiosity, a possibility where an answer is irrelevant. What matters, what really matters, is the thought experiment that deconstructs the reader’s expectation.
5. Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora
Complete disclosure—yes! I have vested interest in this 2020 anthology that includes ‘A Maji Maji Chronicle’:
Maji! Maji! Myth or legend
Or a scheme of fads, ideas embedded
One battle, one struggle.
Painted features, glistened spears.
Maji! Maji! Myth or legend?
Sanctified water skims no bullet.
Grave, the lone stream bleeds scarlet.
This alternate history fiction is based on the Maji Maji rebellion in colonial Africa. Maji means water in Swahili. Germany invaded Africa in the 1800s to establish itself among other European powers, largely France and Britain. Germans used direct rule and exploited Africa. The conquest arrived with bloodshed, witnessed in the rebellion, where Africans revolted against German colonialists forcing the growth of cotton for export. Africans had limited weaponry and believed in a witchdoctor named Kinjeketile Ngwale, who promised sacred would protect black people from white man’s bullets. It didn’t. The war that lasted two years from 1905 to 1907 saw an estimated 180,000 to 300,000 people dead from fighting and hunger, some of it from the destruction of crops and farmland by the Germans. The Maji Maji war was one of the biggest wars against colonial powers in Africa.
Dominion has powerful stories reimagining Africa across realms, time and dimensions, with a strong cast of Black writers, including Nicole Givenus Kurtz, Nuzo Onoh (whose story ‘The Unclean’ will unsettle you for months), Suyi Davies Okungbowa and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald.
Support Black speculative fiction today—why not buy one or more of these spectacular offerings today?
THE ROAD TO WOOP WOOP AND OTHER STORIES by Eugen Bacon
GENRE: Collection / Speculative Fiction / Dark Fantasy
BOOK PAGE: https://www.meerkatpress.com/books/the-road/
Eugen Bacon’s work is cheeky with a fierce intelligence, in prose that’s resplendent, delicious, dark and evocative. NPR called her novel Claiming T-Mo ‘a confounding mysterious tour de force’. The Road to Woop Woop and Other Stories imbues the same lushness in a writerly language that is Bacon’s own. This peculiar hybrid of the untraditional, the extraordinary within, without and along the borders of normalcy will hypnotise and absorb the reader with tales that refuse to be labelled. The stories in this collection are dirges that cross genres in astounding ways. Over 20 provocative tales, with seven original to this collection, by an award-winning African Australian author.