Omenana, a bimonthly speculative fiction magazine edited by Mazi Nwonwu and Chinelo Onwualu, includes short fiction, essays, and art by and about people from the African continent. Its debut issue appeared on November 30, and the stories within work very well together. Two are more traditional narratives, while two are more experimental; there are contemporary settings and futures near and far, nods to Nigeria’s literary legacy, and a love letter to Lagos. The essays are powerful and the art is lovely. The tl;dr of this column is that you should alter your weekend plans as necessary to read the first issue.
Two of these stories fall within the fantasy spectrum. “The 4:15 Appointment” by Rafeeat Aliyu is a dark fantasy story with spas, clothes, and a whole lot of weirdness. Taiye’s new massage client turns out to be more than she’d bargained for — thus begins the adventure. In Saratu Abiola’s “A Winter in Lagos,” the protagonist of the story is the city itself. Residents both virtuous and nefarious attempt to cope as a freak weather event gradually plunges Lagos into freezing temperatures. The description of the city and how its people refuse to leave it is touching; Lagos is described as
full of people from somewhere else. It was a place where you belonged to simply because you were not from there, could not ever be from there. Lagos was not home and because of that, Lagos felt more like home than anywhere else. So, even in the event of impending disaster, most Lagosians stayed.
This is more of a vignette than a traditional narrative, but what a vision of a setting as character.
“Hostbods” by Tendai Huchu is sort of far future cyberpunk, a subgenre I would ordinarily happily drop-kick into a volcano; this story is saved from my own personal fate for others in its category by its wicked cool narration, which uses capitalization and other sorts of grammarly things as narrative signposts. Oluwole Talabi’s “Crocodile Ark” takes place on a space station orbiting Mars with some of the last remnants of human civilization — and what a hierarchical civilization it is. This story of a corrupt revolutionary is my favorite of the issue; it threads together folklore of the past with the mythology of the present and future. Through the vision of a tyrant establishing himself as some sort of godhead, we see the danger perhaps inherent in the creation of a mythos. This is a fresh, futuristic take on a story as old as humanity itself.
Then there’s Chinelo Onwualu’s profoundly resonant essay, “The Unbearable Solitude of Being an African Fan Girl,” for which I have no adequate words. So here are a few of hers:
…And in the quiet of early morning, you write your own stories. Worlds browner than the ones on screen, filled with women just like you who are torn between two identities.
You know you are not alone. There are thousands of women just like you all over the continent…
So you call to them.
I have read this essay at least half a dozen times now, and it brings tears to my eyes with each reading for both the ways I can easily relate and the ways in which I am constrained to my imagination.
One of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately, and that Omenana really drove home for me, is how we talk a lot about the importance of diversity in speculative fiction, but we don’t talk enough about how reading diversely is its own reward. We don’t talk enough about how the greater the variety of perspectives, the richer the literature. In Nwonwu’s editorial, he describes how the first planned African speculative fiction anthology, Lagos 2060, published just a wee handful of years ago, could find only a dozen some-odd contributors, and now hundreds of Nigerian writers are trying their hand at SFF. The vibrancy and energy found in projects like Omenana keep the genre reaching toward the future…
And we all absolutely depend on that.
Editor’s Note: According to the magazine’s website, “Omenana” comes from the Igbo word for divinity and also loosely translates as culture.