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The adventures of writer Nnedi Okorafor and her daughter Anyaugo Okorafor. Companion to the nnedi.com website.
Updated: 1 hour 58 min ago

Interview with Nigerian Newspaper, the Daily Trust

Sat, 09/24/2016 - 15:45
I don't normally do things like this, but I am this time.
I did an interview with Nigerian newspaper called Daily Trust and the questions were great and really pushed me to think. I worked hard on answering them. However, when the print edition of the story was run, instead of using the photo I sent, they used two photos pulled from the internet and these two photos happened to be the two I seriously detest. The online edition only had one photo but it was one of those two photos. 
I laugh because in my private life, I regularly rant about how these two photos won’t go away and keep getting used (one of them is close to six years old and was taken after an hour and half of signing books when I didn’t even KNOW my photo was being taken). Ask my daughter. When I showed her this print edition, she laughed really hard then laughed some more. She’s usually the one who has to hear my ranting. I have a LOT of photos on the net, why those two horrid ones? I don’t know. It’s both really funny and irritating, but more funny than irritating...kinda.
Anyway, here is the interview, sans horrid photos and with the photo I sent.
Originally published in the Daily Trust Nnedi Okorafor:  Nigerian writers shouldn’t focus on fame, money

Yeah, so, that headline is not exactly what I said.



Bookshelf: You recently won the 2016 Hugo Award in the Best Novella category. How did you learn you had won? 
Nnedi Okorafor: It was when I came out of the movie theatre and looked at my phone. I had gone with my daughter to see the film ‘Pets’. I knew the ceremony was happening that night and it was hard to concentrate. I needed a fun distraction. The only reason I wasn’t at the award ceremony at the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, Missouri was because, in two days, I had to drive nine hours back to Buffalo, NY, where I’m a professor at the University, for the beginning of the semester.
Bookshelf: How did you feel?
Okorafor: I felt elated, shocked and relieved. I felt the relief because whether I won or not, I finally knew the outcome. With all the political ‘wahala’ circulating around the Hugo Awards, the whole situation was nerve-wracking for me and I just wanted to get it over with.
Bookshelf: You won for your novella, ‘Binti’. What inspired the story?
Okorafor: Binti is about a sixteen-year-old African-Namibian Himba math prodigy who, in secret, leaves her beloved family to attend the finest university in the galaxy and the nightmare that happens on her ship. There were several inspirations. The central one was that I had just left my family in Chicago to take up a professorship at the University at Buffalo, NY. My family didn’t like much the idea of me leaving and I had to deal with that reality and my own self-doubt and fear. The central themes of the story are fear, change, identity and the fact that the truly rooted family will always live within.
Bookshelf: Did you foresee ‘Binti’ winning any award?
Okorafor: Not at all. It was all out of my hands, how could I?
Bookshelf: How challenging was it writing the novella?
Okorafor: I’m terrified of space and I had never written a space opera, so I was venturing into new territory in many ways. But once I started, it flowed easily. Plus, I wrote it under no pressure. I had no idea what I was writing when I wrote it. I didn’t know if it was a short story, novellette, novella or a novel and this didn’t bother me. I had no editors or agents expecting it. Only I knew about it. I was just having fun, storytelling.
Bookshelf: Was there any reason why you chose the science fiction genre for the story?
Okorafor: No. The story came as what it was because it was what it was. I don’t choose a genre when I write. Even when I first started writing, I didn’t set out to write anything fantastical. I was just recounting an incident that happened in Nigeria and because of the natural way I see the world, the mystical elements materialized in my storytelling. When it’s done, people can call it whatever they see fit. Sometimes what I write can be placed easily into a genre, like Binti. Most of the time for me that fit is not so easy. Look at ‘Lagoon’, ‘Who Fears Death’, and ‘The Book of Phoenix’. Those don’t fit comfortably anywhere. Labels are an afterthought for me. Let me stress the ‘after’ in the word ‘afterthought’. They do not dictate what I actually write.
Bookshelf: You are also known for writing fantasy novels. Is there any particular reason for that preference?
Okorafor: I’m known for writing speculative fiction novels. This includes science fiction, fantasy and magical realism. These are just labels created by others. Labels I sometimes feel as really reductive. Is my aliens-come-to-Lagos-novel ‘Lagoon’ just science fiction? I think it can also be categorized as African Literature. I write what comes to me and that can be whatever it’ll be. Which do I prefer? From what I’ve written, I prefer them all.
Bookshelf: You have won several other awards in the past. Which will you say had the most impact on you?
Okorafor: They are all special to me. For example, the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature was the first big prize that I won; an enormous honor that came from Nigeria. It was like a warm hug from home. It was presented to me by Wole Soyinka himself, an individual I have idolized for ages. The award ceremony brought me back to Nigeria where I got to see relatives. It was the first time I travelled back to Nigeria without my parents. That award was what made my relatives in Nigeria and abroad finally see me as a writer. It was really special to me as a writer. I have little unique stories like this for every single award I have won.
Bookshelf: You live in the United States, yet write as if you are in Nigeria. How do you do it?
Okorafor: I was born and raised in the US, but my parents who raised me were born and raised in Nigeria and are proud of it. From the moment the Biafran Civil War ended and they were able to reconnect with family, they began taking my siblings and me back to Nigeria at a young age to meet family and connect. These trips to Nigeria had a very strong impression on all of us. So strong that the very first story I ever wrote was set in Nigeria. It was about an autobiographical incident in Nigeria during one of our visits. Writing stories set in Nigeria and in other parts of Africa was not a conscious decision. It was organic. And I have never questioned it. I write where the energy is, I follow my muse and my muse is definitely from my father’s hometown of Arondizuogu, Nigeria.

Bookshelf: When and how did your writing career begin?
Okorafor: ‘Career’ is an interesting word. My first story was published in 2000, I think. It was a short story called ‘Uche’ and it was published in a small literary magazine. I guess that would be the start. I wrote my first piece of fiction in 1993 in a creative writing class.

Interview with Nigerian Newspaper, the Daily Trust

Sat, 09/24/2016 - 15:45
I don't normally do things like this, but I am this time.
I did an interview with Nigerian newspaper called Daily Trust and the questions were great and really pushed me to think. I worked hard on answering them. However, when the print edition of the story was run, instead of using the photo I sent, they used two photos pulled from the internet and these two photos happened to be the two I seriously detest. The online edition only had one photo but it was one of those two photos. 
I laugh because in my private life, I regularly rant about how these two photos won’t go away and keep getting used (one of them is close to six years old and was taken after an hour and half of signing books when I didn’t even KNOW my photo was being taken). Ask my daughter. When I showed her this print edition, she laughed really hard then laughed some more. She’s usually the one who has to hear my ranting. I have a LOT of photos on the net, why those two horrid ones? I don’t know. It’s both really funny and irritating, but more funny than irritating...kinda.
Anyway, here is the interview, sans horrid photos and with the photo I sent.
Originally published in the Daily Trust Nnedi Okorafor:  Nigerian writers shouldn’t focus on fame, money


Yeah, so, that headline is not exactly what I said



Bookshelf: You recently won the 2016 Hugo Award in the Best Novella category. How did you learn you had won? 
Nnedi Okorafor: It was when I came out of the movie theatre and looked at my phone. I had gone with my daughter to see the film ‘Pets’. I knew the ceremony was happening that night and it was hard to concentrate. I needed a fun distraction. The only reason I wasn’t at the award ceremony at the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, Missouri was because, in two days, I had to drive nine hours back to Buffalo, NY, where I’m a professor at the University, for the beginning of the semester.
Bookshelf: How did you feel?
Okorafor: I felt elated, shocked and relieved. I felt the relief because whether I won or not, I finally knew the outcome. With all the political ‘wahala’ circulating around the Hugo Awards, the whole situation was nerve-wracking for me and I just wanted to get it over with.
Bookshelf: You won for your novella, ‘Binti’. What inspired the story?
Okorafor: Binti is about a sixteen-year-old African-Namibian Himba math prodigy who, in secret, leaves her beloved family to attend the finest university in the galaxy and the nightmare that happens on her ship. There were several inspirations. The central one was that I had just left my family in Chicago to take up a professorship at the University at Buffalo, NY. My family didn’t like much the idea of me leaving and I had to deal with that reality and my own self-doubt and fear. The central themes of the story are fear, change, identity and the fact that the truly rooted family will always live within.
Bookshelf: Did you foresee ‘Binti’ winning any award?
Okorafor: Not at all. It was all out of my hands, how could I?
Bookshelf: How challenging was it writing the novella?
Okorafor: I’m terrified of space and I had never written a space opera, so I was venturing into new territory in many ways. But once I started, it flowed easily. Plus, I wrote it under no pressure. I had no idea what I was writing when I wrote it. I didn’t know if it was a short story, novellette, novella or a novel and this didn’t bother me. I had no editors or agents expecting it. Only I knew about it. I was just having fun, storytelling.
Bookshelf: Was there any reason why you chose the science fiction genre for the story?
Okorafor: No. The story came as what it was because it was what it was. I don’t choose a genre when I write. Even when I first started writing, I didn’t set out to write anything fantastical. I was just recounting an incident that happened in Nigeria and because of the natural way I see the world, the mystical elements materialized in my storytelling. When it’s done, people can call it whatever they see fit. Sometimes what I write can be placed easily into a genre, like Binti. Most of the time for me that fit is not so easy. Look at ‘Lagoon’, ‘Who Fears Death’, and ‘The Book of Phoenix’. Those don’t fit comfortably anywhere. Labels are an afterthought for me. Let me stress the ‘after’ in the word ‘afterthought’. They do not dictate what I actually write.
Bookshelf: You are also known for writing fantasy novels. Is there any particular reason for that preference?
Okorafor: I’m known for writing speculative fiction novels. This includes science fiction, fantasy and magical realism. These are just labels created by others. Labels I sometimes feel as really reductive. Is my aliens-come-to-Lagos-novel ‘Lagoon’ just science fiction? I think it can also be categorized as African Literature. I write what comes to me and that can be whatever it’ll be. Which do I prefer? From what I’ve written, I prefer them all.
Bookshelf: You have won several other awards in the past. Which will you say had the most impact on you?
Okorafor: They are all special to me. For example, the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature was the first big prize that I won; an enormous honor that came from Nigeria. It was like a warm hug from home. It was presented to me by Wole Soyinka himself, an individual I have idolized for ages. The award ceremony brought me back to Nigeria where I got to see relatives. It was the first time I travelled back to Nigeria without my parents. That award was what made my relatives in Nigeria and abroad finally see me as a writer. It was really special to me as a writer. I have little unique stories like this for every single award I have won.
Bookshelf: You live in the United States, yet write as if you are in Nigeria. How do you do it?
Okorafor: I was born and raised in the US, but my parents who raised me were born and raised in Nigeria and are proud of it. From the moment the Biafran Civil War ended and they were able to reconnect with family, they began taking my siblings and me back to Nigeria at a young age to meet family and connect. These trips to Nigeria had a very strong impression on all of us. So strong that the very first story I ever wrote was set in Nigeria. It was about an autobiographical incident in Nigeria during one of our visits. Writing stories set in Nigeria and in other parts of Africa was not a conscious decision. It was organic. And I have never questioned it. I write where the energy is, I follow my muse and my muse is definitely from my father’s hometown of Arondizuogu, Nigeria.

Bookshelf: When and how did your writing career begin?
Okorafor: ‘Career’ is an interesting word. My first story was published in 2000, I think. It was a short story called ‘Uche’ and it was published in a small literary magazine. I guess that would be the start. I wrote my first piece of fiction in 1993 in a creative writing class.

Interview with Nigerian Newspaper, the Daily Trust

Sat, 09/24/2016 - 15:45
I don't normally do things like this, but I am this time.
I did an interview with Nigerian newspaper called Daily Trust and the questions were great and really pushed me to think. I worked hard on answering them. However, when the print edition of the story was run, instead of using the photo I sent, they used two photos pulled from the internet and these two photos happened to be the two I seriously detest. The online edition only had one photo but it was one of those two photos. 
I laugh because in my private life, I regularly rant about how these two photos won’t go away and keep getting used (one of them is close to six years old and was taken after an hour and half of signing books when I didn’t even KNOW my photo was being taken). Ask my daughter. When I showed her this print edition, she laughed really hard then laughed some more. She’s usually the one who has to hear my ranting. I have a LOT of photos on the net, why those two horrid ones? I don’t know. It’s both really funny and irritating, but more funny than irritating...kinda.
Anyway, here is the interview, sans horrid photos and with the photo I sent.
Originally published in the Daily Trust Nnedi Okorafor:  Nigerian writers shouldn’t focus on fame, money



Bookshelf: You recently won the 2016 Hugo Award in the Best Novella category. How did you learn you had won? 
Nnedi Okorafor: It was when I came out of the movie theatre and looked at my phone. I had gone with my daughter to see the film ‘Pets’. I knew the ceremony was happening that night and it was hard to concentrate. I needed a fun distraction. The only reason I wasn’t at the award ceremony at the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, Missouri was because, in two days, I had to drive nine hours back to Buffalo, NY, where I’m a professor at the University, for the beginning of the semester.
Bookshelf: How did you feel?
Okorafor: I felt elated, shocked and relieved. I felt the relief because whether I won or not, I finally knew the outcome. With all the political ‘wahala’ circulating around the Hugo Awards, the whole situation was nerve-wracking for me and I just wanted to get it over with.
Bookshelf: You won for your novella, ‘Binti’. What inspired the story?
Okorafor: Binti is about a sixteen-year-old African-Namibian Himba math prodigy who, in secret, leaves her beloved family to attend the finest university in the galaxy and the nightmare that happens on her ship. There were several inspirations. The central one was that I had just left my family in Chicago to take up a professorship at the University at Buffalo, NY. My family didn’t like much the idea of me leaving and I had to deal with that reality and my own self-doubt and fear. The central themes of the story are fear, change, identity and the fact that the truly rooted family will always live within.
Bookshelf: Did you foresee ‘Binti’ winning any award?
Okorafor: Not at all. It was all out of my hands, how could I?
Bookshelf: How challenging was it writing the novella?
Okorafor: I’m terrified of space and I had never written a space opera, so I was venturing into new territory in many ways. But once I started, it flowed easily. Plus, I wrote it under no pressure. I had no idea what I was writing when I wrote it. I didn’t know if it was a short story, novellette, novella or a novel and this didn’t bother me. I had no editors or agents expecting it. Only I knew about it. I was just having fun, storytelling.
Bookshelf: Was there any reason why you chose the science fiction genre for the story?
Okorafor: No. The story came as what it was because it was what it was. I don’t choose a genre when I write. Even when I first started writing, I didn’t set out to write anything fantastical. I was just recounting an incident that happened in Nigeria and because of the natural way I see the world, the mystical elements materialized in my storytelling. When it’s done, people can call it whatever they see fit. Sometimes what I write can be placed easily into a genre, like Binti. Most of the time for me that fit is not so easy. Look at ‘Lagoon’, ‘Who Fears Death’, and ‘The Book of Phoenix’. Those don’t fit comfortably anywhere. Labels are an afterthought for me. Let me stress the ‘after’ in the word ‘afterthought’. They do not dictate what I actually write.
Bookshelf: You are also known for writing fantasy novels. Is there any particular reason for that preference?
Okorafor: I’m known for writing speculative fiction novels. This includes science fiction, fantasy and magical realism. These are just labels created by others. Labels I sometimes feel as really reductive. Is my aliens-come-to-Lagos-novel ‘Lagoon’ just science fiction? I think it can also be categorized as African Literature. I write what comes to me and that can be whatever it’ll be. Which do I prefer? From what I’ve written, I prefer them all.
Bookshelf: You have won several other awards in the past. Which will you say had the most impact on you?
Okorafor: They are all special to me. For example, the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature was the first big prize that I won; an enormous honor that came from Nigeria. It was like a warm hug from home. It was presented to me by Wole Soyinka himself, an individual I have idolized for ages. The award ceremony brought me back to Nigeria where I got to see relatives. It was the first time I travelled back to Nigeria without my parents. That award was what made my relatives in Nigeria and abroad finally see me as a writer. It was really special to me as a writer. I have little unique stories like this for every single award I have won.
Bookshelf: You live in the United States, yet write as if you are in Nigeria. How do you do it?
Okorafor: I was born and raised in the US, but my parents who raised me were born and raised in Nigeria and are proud of it. From the moment the Biafran Civil War ended and they were able to reconnect with family, they began taking my siblings and me back to Nigeria at a young age to meet family and connect. These trips to Nigeria had a very strong impression on all of us. So strong that the very first story I ever wrote was set in Nigeria. It was about an autobiographical incident in Nigeria during one of our visits. Writing stories set in Nigeria and in other parts of Africa was not a conscious decision. It was organic. And I have never questioned it. I write where the energy is, I follow my muse and my muse is definitely from my father’s hometown of Arondizuogu, Nigeria.

Bookshelf: When and how did your writing career begin?
Okorafor: ‘Career’ is an interesting word. My first story was published in 2000, I think. It was a short story called ‘Uche’ and it was published in a small literary magazine. I guess that would be the start. I wrote my first piece of fiction in 1993 in a creative writing class.

On that Rabid Puppies thing and my Hugo Award-winning novella Binti

Wed, 08/24/2016 - 09:49
Himba women 


So my novella Binti, which won a Nebula earlier this summer for Best Novella (two days after I drove from Buffalo, NY to Chicago), won the Hugo for Best Novella (and I drove from Chicago to Buffalo, NY two days later). Wow, wow, just wow. 


Because I had to get back to Buffalo to start the semester (I'm a professor  at the University at Buffalo), I couldn't be at the ceremony at WorldCon in Kansas City, Missouri. Here is my acceptance speech:

I started writing science fiction because I wasn’t seeing stories featuring the Nigeria that I knew…to broaden it, the Africa I knew.
 My father was a heart surgeon and borderline atheist who grew up in a household where there was a shrine in the backyard dedicated to powerful Igbo deities. Complexities and an organic blending of the traditional with the futuristic are what I know. Binti is a product of all this and I’m utterly ecstatic that you all loved it enough to gift it with a Hugo. That’s so beautiful.

 I’d like to thank the Ancestors for pushing me to look to the sky and channel my anxious energy into a story.
 Thanks to the blue jellyfish in Sharjah’s Khalid Lagoon. A hearty thanks to the Himba people of Namibia whose strength and audacity continue to be an inspiration. Thanks to futuristic ancient lands of the United Arab Emirates, the inspiration for the setting and title of Binti.
 Thanks to my daughter Anya for telling me what she thought should happen next in the story. Thank you to my family for being my family. Thanks to my agent Don Maass for knowing the perfect place to send Binti and my editor Lee Harris for being there to receive and love it. And a grinning thank you to Binti’s readers for their openness, curiosity and love of things.
The look on my face (and my daughter Anya's) when I found out I'd won:


I don't really have much time to waste on certain kinds of subjects. However, I responded to these questions for an article in Salon.com and because I was driving 9 hours from Illinois to Indiana to Ohio to Pennsylvania to New York, I could only answer them by the next day. By then, it was too late for the article. 
That said, I'm going to post them here. Especially since the Grand Wizard of the Rabid Puppies Movement Vox Day (whose name is actually Theodore Robert Beale) spoke directly to me (as expected, he didn't say, "Hello", he was rude and spoke at me about my race/gender).
1) How do you feel about the Puppy factions trying to game the Hugo awards?

It's unfortunate, but nothing I haven't seen before. When I was playing semi-pro tennis, I saw behavior like this affect the draw for tournaments my two sisters and I played in. Usually, my sisters and I were the only people of color in these tournaments. Officials would manipulate things from within because they didn't like the presence of three black girls who were beating everyone and collecting all the trophies. It didn't work back then and it's not working now. 
There are better ways to voice one's concerns and opinions. And there are better concerns and opinions, but that's beside the point. 


2) The Puppies argue that a lot of books and stories win Hugos not because they are good, but because they are politically correct (or some variation therein). How do you respond to that argument? 


That argument is all about the great mind-killer known as fear- fear of losing power/privilege/the center, fear of the unknown, fear of stories. One day this group of irate individuals will realize no one is coming to erase them, and that all stories are richer and more enjoyable when there are more of them (more stories, I mean).



[And like some Himba women, I will do what I do and be who I am, regardless.
]



3) Tell me some about your award-winning novella, Binti. What inspired you to write this story? 
It's a story set in the future about an African math prodigy named Binti (which means "girl" in Kiswahili) who runs away from a very traditional home to attend and excellent university...which happens to be on another planet. 
My own situation inspired the plot- I left my rather close-knitted Nigerian American family in Chicago to go teach at the University at Buffalo, NY. It was a contentious departure. Writing Binti was a way of exploring my own fears of making the wrong choice (which it wasn't). I'd also never written a story set in space because space scares me. Facing and conquering fear seems to be at the heart of the novella's inspiration (funny, the Rabid Puppies are more about being consumed by it). Also, I have always loved the Himba people of Namibia, so I knew I wanted to write about them at some point. And lastly, for some reason, I was inspired to write murderous aliens when I saw a sweet little blue jellyfish in a lagoon while in the strange awesome country of the United Arab Emirates.

The Binti's story continues...
January 2017











The Book of Phoenix: An Excerpt

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 18:01

THE BOOK OF PHOENIXAn Excerpt

Voyage through death, to life upon these shores.”- Robert Hayden, poet (Middle Passage)




PrologueFound
Nobody really knows who wrote the Great Book.Oh, the religious always have answers to explain the unexplainable. Some of them like to say that the goddess Ani wrote the Great Book and made it so that ten men and women who loved stories would find copies of it at the same time. Some of them say a mere woman with ten children transcribed Ani’s words over ten years. Others say some illiterate half-witted farmer wrote it in one night after Ani blessed him. Most believe that the Great Book’s author was a mad yet holy, always always holy, prophet who’d taken refuge in a cave.            What I can tell you is that two hundred years, after it all went wrong, an old man named Sunuteel was out in the desert. This man was one of those who enjoyed being out there for weeks on end, close to the sun, sand, and desert creatures. The time away from his wife made their time together sweeter. Sunuteel and his wife agreed on this. They were old. They had wisdom.            “Go on,” his wife said with a smile. She took his old rough hand into her equally rough old hand. She was a beautiful woman and Sunuteel found it easy to look into her eyes. “It is good,” she said. “I need the solitude.”There had been an especially powerful Ungwa storm and the old nomadic couple had barely survived the dry thundery night of lightning. A bolt had struck near their sturdy tent, setting one of the three stunted palm trees they’d camped beside on fire. His wife had been peeking out of the tent when it happened. Thankfully, she’d blinked at precisely the right moment. She said the tree looked like a woman dancing in flames. Even as Sunuteel dragged her to the center of the tent where they huddled and prayed, his wife felt a presence. She was sure it was a premonition.             The old man was used to his superstitious wife and her odd intuitions. Therefore, he knew his wife would want to be alone to think and ponder and fret. When the storm passed and she gently encouraged him to take a few days to go out and see what was out there, he didn’t argue. He took the rolled up goatskin tent and satchel of supplies she handed him and kissed her on the cheek. He didn’t say goodbye because in his tribe “goodbyes” were a curse.“I leave my chi to keep you company,” he said. Each night he was away, along with her meals, she’d prepare a small plate of food for his personal god until he returned. Sunuteel clipped his portable to his hip, facing the tiny device inside his pocket. After one last, far more prolonged kiss, he walked away from his wife. Did she think an angel was coming to visit her? His wife’s descendants were from the Islamic portion of Old Naija. She said that her father used to tell her all sorts of stories about angels and djinn. She’d passed these magical stories on to their own children as they grew up.             Minutes after leaving, Sunuteel brought out his portable and laughing to himself, called up the virtual screen and typed, “Greet her for me when you see her, Hussaina.” Moments later, Hussaina’s reply popped up on the screen saying what she always said when Sunuteel went off, “And you make sure you bring me back a good story.”*            Two days later, Sunuteel came upon a cave full of computers. A tomb of old old technology from the Black Days, the Times of the Dark People, the Era of the Okeke. This was one of those caves into which panicked Okeke packed thousands of computers just before Ani turned her attention back to the earth.            “What am I seeing?” he whispered. “Can this be?”            He pressed a shaky hand to his chest, feeling the strong heartbeat of his strong heart. Standing here, he didn’t feel so old. No, not old at all. This place made him feel young as a babe. Sunuteel, who was Okeke and therefore a descendant of the evil that caused the goddess Ani to bring the deserts, knew of the poisonous Dark Ages and their most poisonous genius gadgetry. However, he had always wanted to see these ancient computers with his own eyes.            So, he went in.             The cave was cool and it smelled of dust, mineral oil, plastic, wires and metal. There were ghosts here and Sunuteel shivered from the thought of them. Still, he approached these old machines. This was a story to tell his wife. The third computer that he touched sparked with life. Terrified, he snatched his hand from the “on” pad he’d accidently brushed against and stumbled back. The grey hand-sized box, softly hummed. Then it spoke to the portable clipped inside the pocket of his dusty pants. The portable pinged softly as it wirelessly received a large file from the computer. Sunuteel blinked and then fled from the cave, sure a ghost had touched him.             When he made it back to his small goatskin tent beside a baobab tree, only then did he dare look at his portable. He held the coin-sized device in his palm and brought it to his face, for his eyesight was poor. He squinted at the tiny screen. Next to the file that contained messages from his wife was a black icon in the shape of a bird that seemed to be looking over its shoulder. He tapped it with the tip of his finger and a deep male voice began to speak in… English! It was an audio file. Sunuteel sat back in his tent, grinning with delight. My goodness, he thought. How strange. What are the chances?! He knew this dead language, albeit the accent was very odd, indeed. He brought up the virtual screen. The visual words that appeared as the audio file played were tinted red instead of the usual green. He put the portable on the blanket before him. Then he watched and listened.             The voice read a table of contents as it digitally projected the words on the virtual screen in front of him:“1. Mythology. 2. Legend. 3. Mechanics. 4. News...”He frowned as it read on and on. After a while, he decided to click on “38. Memory Extracts” because the phrase rung a distant bell from when he was a child. In school, the teacher had spoken about the dark times hundreds of years ago, when human beings were obsessed with the pursuit of immortality. They had even found a way to pull out and capture people’s memories right from their minds so they could preserve them forever. “Just like a capture station sucking condescension from the sky to make drinking water,” his schoolteacher had said.Sunuteel had been fascinated and quietly proud of just how far human beings had gotten in their technological pursuit. Nevertheless, his schoolteacher had discouraged him from further research. “Sunuteel,” she said. “This was what led us to receiving Ani’s wrath. And so the young Sunuteel turned away from the past and looked mostly toward the future. He loved language, words and stories. He’d gone on to become one of his village’s most valued recorders and reciters. He could recite the most beautiful poetry in five different dialects of flawless Okeke, but also in the language and various dialects of the majestic and mighty Nuru people and the common language of Sipo. And most amazingly, one of the prominent village elders had been able to teach him English, too. As far as Sunuteel knew, this elder, an old-timer in Sunuteel’s village who’d always been called The Seed, was the only person who knew the language. The Seed was also the only light-skinned person in his village who was not albino. This man refused to call himself Nuru, insisting that he was “Arab”, a term that had long become more an insult than an ethnic description of the Nuru people. The Seed preferred to live amongst the Okeke, the dark-skinned woolly-haired people. He’d built a house in front of one of the pyramids because it reminded him of home. When Sunuteel was a teen, The Seed looked no older than fifty, but Sunuteel’s mother said he was actually much older.“He looked the exact same when I was a little girl,” she’d told him. She was right. Even now that Sunuteel was an old old man, The Seed still looked no older than fifty. Sunuteel was of a people who understood that the world was full of mystery. Thus, a seemingly immortal man living in the village didn’t bother anyone. The Seed had an amazing command of the English language and though he was moody and reclusive at times, he turned out to be a wonderful teacher. Sunuteel went on to read the only two English texts in the entire region, both of which were owned by the Seed. One was an anthropology book titled Virulent Diseases of the Mars Colonies, the other a book about igneous rock sediments. Despite the dryness of the subjects, Sunuteel loved the rhythm of English. It was a liquid sounding language, due to the way the words ran together.             “Memory Extracts,” the voice announced in English. But then it began speaking another list and each item on it was in a different language, none of which he understood. Annoyed, Sunuteel listened for a while and was about go back to the main menu when the male voice clearly said, “Extract number 5, The Book of Phoenix” in English.            He clicked on it.At first there was a long pause and the bird icon popped on the screen. It rotated counter-clockwise. He counted thirteen rotations and when it kept going, he looked up at the sky. Blue. Clear. A large hawk-like bird flew overhead, soaring high in the sky, probably seeing him perfectly with its sharp eyes. I will return to Hussaina in two days, he thought. That’s enough alone time for her to stop thinking about premonitions and angels. He smiled to himself. She would excitedly cook him a spicy meal of doro wat when he told her he had “a big big tale to tell”. She loved a good story, and good stories were best told on a full stomach.Illustration from THE BOOK OF PHOENIX (DAW Books) by Eric Battle“Memory Extract Number 5,” the male voice suddenly announced, making Sunuteel jump. “Title: The Book of Phoenix. Location Number 578.”And then a woman began feverishly to speak. Her soft breathy voice was like a powerful incantation, for as she spoke, it seemed that the old man’s eyesight, which had dimmed more and more every year, began to brighten. His wife would have recognized what was happening. However, Sunuteel was a man less open to such things. Still, as he sat in his tent, gazing through the red virtual words before him and the open tent flap just beyond the words, outside into the desert, he realized he could see for miles and miles. Sweat prickled on his forehead and between the course hairs of his armpits. He listened. And the very first person to hear one of the many many entries from The Great Book was awed by the story he heard.            “There is no book about me,” the voice said. “Well, not yet. No matter. I shall create it myself; it’s better that way. To tell my tale, I will use the old African tools of story: Spoken words. They are worthier of my trust and they’ll last longer. And during shadowy times, spoken words carry farther than words typed, imaged, or written. My beginnings were in the dark. We all dwelled in the dark, mad scientist and specimen, alike. A dear friend of mine would say that this time was when ‘the goddess Ani still slept’. I call my story The Book of Phoenix. It is reliable and short, because it was accelerated…



Chapter 1Specimen
            I’d never known any other place. The 28th floor of Tower 7 was my home. Yesterday, I realized it was a prison, too. I probably should have suspected something. The two-hundred-year-old marble skyscraper had many dark sides to its existence and I knew most of them. There were 39 floors, and on almost every one was an abomination. I was an abomination. I’d read many books and this was clear to me. However, this building was still my home.
Illustration from THE BOOK OF PHOENIX (DAW Books) by Eric Battle

Home: a. One’s place of residence. Yes, it was my home.            They gave me all the 3D movies I could watch, but it was the plethora of books that did it for me. A year ago, they gave me an e-reader packed with 700,000 books of all kinds. No matter the topic, I consumed those books voraciously, working my way through over half of them. When it came to information, I was given access to anything I requested. That was part of their research. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now.             Research. This was what all The Towers were about. There were seven, all in American cities, yet they were not part of the American government. Not technically. If you dug for information, you would not find one governmental connection on file. I had access to information about all the towers, and I read extensively. However, Tower 7 was where I lived, so I studied this tower the most. They gave me many “top-secret” files on Tower 7. As I said, I was always given what I asked for; this was part of the research. But also, they did not see me as a threat, not to them. I was a perfectly contained classified “specimen”. And for a specimen, knowledge wasn’t power.Tower 7 was located in Times Square on the island of Manhattan, United States of America. Much of Manhattan was underwater, but geologists were sure this part of it stable was enough for Tower 7. It was in the perfect position for top surveillance and security. I’d read about each floor and some of the types of abominations found on them. I’d listened to audios of the spiritual tellings of long-dead African and Native American shamans, sorcerers and wizards. I’d read the Tanakh, the Bible, and the Koran. I studied the Buddha and meditated until I saw Krishna. And I read countless books on the sciences of the world. Carrying all this in my head, I understood abomination. I understood the purpose of Tower 7. Until yesterday.            Each towers had…specializations. In Tower 7, it was advanced and aggressive genetic manipulation and cloning. In Tower 7, people and creatures were invented, altered or both. Some were deformed, some were mentally ill, some were just plain dangerous, and none were flawless. Yes, some of us were dangerous. I was dangerous.            Then there was the tower’s lobby on the ground floor that projected a completely different picture. I’d never been down there but my books described it as an earthly wonderland, full of creeping vines covering the walls and small trees growing from artistically crafted holes in the floor. In the center was the main attraction. Here grew the thing that brought people from all over the world to see the famous Tower 7 Lobby (only the lobby; there were no tours of the rest of the building).            A hundred years ago, one of the landscapers planted a new tree in the lobby’s center. On a lark, some Tower 4 scientists who were there to visit the greenhouse on the ninth floor emptied an experimental solution into the tree’s pot of soil. The substance was for enhancing and speeding up arboreal growth. The tree grew and grew. In a place where people thought like normal human beings, they would have uprooted the amazing tree and placed it outdoors.However, this was Tower 7 where boundaries were both contained and pushed. The tree grew ravenously and in a matter of weeks it reached the lobby’s high ceiling. Tower 7 carpenters constructed a large hole so that it could grow through the second floor. They did the same for the third, fourth, fifth. The great tree eventually earned the name of “The Backbone” because it grew through all thirty-nine of Tower 7’s floors.*            My name is Phoenix. I was mixed, grown and finally birthed here on the 28th floor. One of my doctors said my name came from the birthplace of my egg’s donor. I’ve looked that up; Phoenix, Arizona is the full name of the place. There’s no tower there, so that’s good.However, from what I’ve read about the way they did things there, even the scientists who forced my existence don’t know the names of donors. So, I doubt this. I think they named me Phoenix because of something else.I was an “accelerated organism,” born two years ago. Yet I looked and physically felt like a forty-year-old woman. My doctors said the acceleration had stopped now that I was “matured.” I would always look about forty, even if lived to be five hundred. To them, I was like a plant they grew for the sake of harvesting.            Who do I mean by “them,” you must wonder? All of THEM, the “Big Eye”— the Tower 7 scientists, lab assistants, lab technicians, doctors, administrative workers, guards and police. We specimen of the tower called them “Big Eye” because they watched us. All the time, they watched us, though not closely enough to realize their great error and not closely enough to prevent the inevitable.            I could read a 500-page book in two minutes. My brain absorbed the information and stories like a sponge. Up until two weeks ago, aside from mealtimes, gazing out the window, running on my treadmill, and meetings with doctors, I spent my days with my e-reader. I’d sit in my room for hours consuming words upon words that became images upon images in my head. Now they gave me paper-made books, removing the books when I finished them. I liked the e-reader more. It took up less space, I could reread things when I wanted, there was a lot more to read and the e-pages didn’t smell so old and moldy.             I stared out the window watching the cars and trucks below and the other skyscrapers across from me as I touched a leaf of my hoya plant. They’d given the plant to me five days ago and already it was growing so wildly that it was creeping across my windowsill and had wrapped around the chair I’d put there. It had grown two feet overnight. I didn’t think they’d noticed. No one ever said anything about it. I was so naïve then. Of course, they’d noticed. The plant was not a gesture of kindness; it was just part of the research. They’d never cared about me. But Saeed cared about me.            Saeed is dead, Saeed is dead, Saeed is dead, I thought over and over, as I caressed one of my plant’s leaves. I yanked, breaking the leaf off. Saeed, my love, my only friend. I crumpled the leaf in my restless hand; its green earthy smell might as well have been blood.            Yesterday, Saeed had seen something terrible. Not long afterwards, he’d sat across from me during dinner-hour with eyes wide like boiled eggs, unable to eat. He couldn’t give me any details. He said no words could describe it. He’d only held my hand, pulling at his short dark brown beard with his other.             “What does your heart tell you about this place?” he’d earnestly asked.             I’d only shrugged, frustrated with him for not telling me what he’d seen that was so awful.            “Behiima hamagi. Xara,” he muttered, glaring at one of the Big Eye. He always spoke Arabic when he was angry. He leaned forward, lowering his voice. “You read all those books...why don’t you feel rebellion in your heart? Don’t you ever dream of getting out of here? Away from all the Big Eye?”            “Rebellion against whom?” I whispered, confused.            He laughed bitterly, touched my cheek and lightly kissed me, looking deep into my eyes. Then he sat back and said, “Eat your jallof rice, Phoenix.”            I tried to get him to eat his crushed glass. This was his favorite meal and it bothered me to see him push his plate away. But he wouldn’t touch it. “I can live without it,” he said, pushing the plate away.Before we returned to our separate quarters, he asked for my apple. I assumed he wanted to paint it; he always painted when he was depressed. I’d given it to him without a thought and he’d slipped it into his pocket. The Big Eye allowed it, though they frowned upon taking food from the dining hall, even if you didn’t plan to eat it.            His words didn’t touch me until nighttime when I lay in my bed. Yes, somewhere deep deep in my psyche I did wish to get out of the tower and see the world, be away from the Big Eye. I did want to see those things that I saw in all the books I read. “Rebellion,” I whispered to myself. And the word bloomed from my lips like a flower.*            They told me the news in the morning, during breakfast-hour. I’d been sitting alone looking around for Saeed. The others, the woman with the twisted spine who could turn her head around like an owl, the man with long-eyelashed expressive eyes who never spoke with his mouth but always had people speaking to him, the three women who all looked and sounded alike, the green-eyed baboon who spoke using complex sign language, the woman whose sweater did not hide her four large breasts, the two men joined at the hip who were always randomly laughing, the woman with the lion claws and teeth, these people spoke to each other and never to me. Only Saeed, the one who was not of African descent (aside from the lion lady, who was Caucasian), spoke to me. Well, even the lion lady was part-African because her genes had been combined with those of a lion.             One of my doctors slid into the seat facing me. The African-looking one who wore the shiny black wig made of synthetic hair, Bumi. They always had her deal with me when I had to experience physical pain, so I guess it made sense for them to send her to break upsetting news to me, too. My entire body tightened. She touched my hand and I pulled it away. Then she smiled sympathetically and told me a terrible thing. Saeed hadn’t drawn the apple. He’d eaten it. And it killed him. My mind went to one of my books. The Bible. I was Eve and he was Adam.            I could not eat. I could not drink. I would not cry. Not in the dining hall.*            Hours later, I was in my room lying on my bed, eyes wet, mind reeling. Saeed was dead. I had skipped lunch and dinner, but I still wasn’t hungry. I was hot. The scanner on my wall would start to beep soon. Then they would come get me. For tests. I shut my eyes, squeezing out tears. They evaporated as they rolled down my hot cheeks, leaving the skin itchy with salt. “Oh God,” I moaned. The pain of losing him burned in my chest. “Saeed. What did you see?”*            Saeed was human. More human than I. I’d met him the first day they allowed me into the dining hall with the others. I was one year old; I must have looked twenty. He was sitting alone and about to do something insane. There were many others in the room who caught my eye. The two conjoined men were laughing hard at the sight of me. The baboon was jumping up and down while rapidly signing to the woman with lion claws and teeth. However, Saeed had a spoon in his hand and a bowl full of broken glass before him. I stood there staring at him as others stared at me. He dug the spoon into the chunks of glass, scooped out a spoonful and put it in his mouth. I could hear him crunching from where I stood. He smiled to himself, obviously enjoying it.            Driven by sheer curiosity, I walked over and sat across from him with my plate of spicy doro wat. He eyed me with suspicion, but he didn’t seem angry or mean, at least not to the best of my limited social knowledge. I leaned forward and asked what was on my mind, “What’s it like to eat that?”            He blinked, surprised. “‘What’, she asks. Not ‘Why’.” He grinned. His teeth were perfect- white, shiny, and shaped like the teeth in drawings and doctored pictures in magazines. Had they removed his original teeth and replaced them with ones made of a more durable stuff? “The taste is soft and delicate as the texture is crunchy. I’m not in pain, only pleasure,” he said in a voice accented in a way that I’d never heard. But then again, the only accents I’d ever heard were from the Big Eye doctors and guards.            “Tell me more,” I said. “I like your voice.”            He’d looked at me for a long time, then he smiled and said, “Sit.”            After that, Saeed and I became close. I loved words and he needed to spill them. He could not read, so I would tell him about what I read, at least in the hours of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes, he grumbled with annoyance when the current series of books I was reading were romance novels or what he called “woman tales”; but he couldn’t have disliked them that much because he always demanded to hear these stories from beginning to end, as well. “I like the sound of your voice,” he said, when I asked him why. He may have, but I believe he liked the stories, too.Saeed was from Cairo, Egypt, where he had been an orphan who never went hungry because he could always find something to eat. He ate rotten rice, date pits, even the wooden skewer sticks of kebabs; he had a stomach like a goat. They brought him to the tower when he was thirteen, six years ago. He never told me exactly how or why they made him the way he was. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were who we were and we were there.            Saeed told me of places I had never seen with my own eyes. He used the words of a poet who used his tongue to see. Saeed was an artist with his hands, too. He had the skill of the great painters I read about in my books. He most loved to draw those foods he could no longer eat. Human food. Portraits of loaves of bread. Bowls of thick egusi soup and balls of fufu. Bouquets of smoked lamb and beef kebabs. Oniony fried eggs with white cheese. Plates of chickpeas. Pitchers of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Piles of roasted yellow corn. They allowed him to bring the paintings to mealtime for everyone to view. I guess even we deserved the pleasures of art.            Saeed could survive on glass, metal shavings, crumbles of rust, sand, dirt, those things that would be left behind if human beings finally blew themselves up. They tasted delicious to him. Nevertheless, eating a piece of bread would kill him as eating a giant bowl filled with sharp pieces of glass would kill the average human being.            The first time he kissed me, we were sitting together at dinnertime. Finished with my own meal of fried chicken curried rice, I was telling him the chemical make up of the flakes of rust he was eating and speculating on how green rust would probably taste different to him. “I think you will find green rust tastier because it’s more variable and complex.” We were sitting close, a habit we’d gotten into when we’d realized that my natural body temperature was usually warm and his was cool.             He took a deep gulp of water from his full glass, turned to me, cupped my chin and kissed me. All thought of iron oxide and corrosion fled my mind, replacing it with nothing, but amazed shock and the soft coolness of his lips.             “No affected behavior,” we heard one of the nearby Big Eye bark and immediately we pulled away from each other. I couldn’t help the smile on my face. I had read and watched many stories where people kissed, this was nothing like what I imagined. And I’d never imagined it would happen to me. Saeed took my hand under the table and my smiled grew bigger. I heard him snicker beside me. And I snickered, too.             Everyone in the dining hall stared at us. I remember, specially the idiok baboons pointing at Saeed and me, and then signing energetically to each other. “They’re just jealous,” Saeed whispered, squeezing my hand. I grinned, my stomach full of unusual flutters and my lips felt hot. Even if it were from within, it was the first time that I had ever laughed at the Big Eye.             Now, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened. He took my apple and he ate it. He took my apple and he ate it. He took my apple and he ate it. The Big Eye explained that then his stomach and intestines hemorrhaged and Saeed was dead before morning. I couldn’t stop stressing about the fact that I never got to tell him what was happening to me. I was sure that it would have given him hope; it would have reminded him that things would change. I wiped a tear. I loved Saeed.*            As grief overwhelmed me for the first time in my life, I pressed a hand against the thick glass of my window and longingly looked down at the green roof of the much shorter building right beside Tower 7; one of the trees growing there was in full bloom with red flowers. I’d never been outside. I wanted to go outside. Saeed had escaped by dying. I wanted to escape, too. If he wasn’t happy here, then neither was I.            I wiped hot sweat from my brow. My room’s scanner began to beep as my body’s temperature soared. The doctors would be here soon.*            When it first started to happen two weeks ago, only I noticed it. My hair started to fall out. I am an African by genetics, I had the facial features, my skin was very dark and my hair was very coily. They kept my hair shaved low because neither they nor I knew what to do with it when it grew out. I could never find anything in my books to help. They didn’t care for style in Tower 7, anyway, although the lion lady down the hall had very long, silky, white hair and Big Eye lab assistants came by every two days to help her brush and braid it...despite the fact that the woman had the teeth and claws of a lion.            I was sitting on my bed, looking out the window, when I suddenly grew very hot. For the last few days, my skin had been dry and chapped no matter how much super-hydrated water they gave me to drink. Doctor Bumi brought me a large jar of shea butter and applying it soothed my skin to no end. However, this day, hot and feverish, my skin seemed to dry as if I were in a desert.            I felt beads of sweat on my head and when I rubbed my short short hair, it wiped right off, hair and sweat alike. I ran to my bathroom, quickly showered, washing my head thoroughly, toweled off and stood before the large mirror. I’d lost my eyebrows, too. But this wasn’t the worst of it. I rubbed the shea butter into my skin to give myself something to do. If I stopped moving, I’d start crying with panic.            I don’t know why they gave me such a large mirror in my bathroom. High and round, it stretched from wall to wall. Therefore, I saw myself in full glory. As I slathered the thick, yellow, nutty smelling cream onto my drying skin, it was as if I was harboring a sun deep within my body and that sun wanted to come out. Under the dark brown of my flesh, I was glowing. I was light.            I pulsed, feeling a wave of heat and slight vibration within me. “What is this?” I whispered, scurrying back to my bed where my e-reader lay. I wanted to look up the phenomena. In all my reading, I had never read a thing about a human being, accelerated or normal, heating up and glowing like a firefly’s behind. The moment I picked up the e-reader, it made a soft pinging sound. Then the screen went black and began to smoke. I threw it on the floor and the screen cracked, as it gently burned. My room’s smoke alarm went off.            Psss! The hissing sound was soft and accompanied by a pain in my left thumbnail. It felt as if someone had just stuck a pin into it. “Ah!” I cried, instinctively pressing on my thumb. As I held my hand up to my eyes, I felt myself pulse again.            There was a splotch of black in the center of my thumbnail like old blood, but blacker. Burned flesh. All specimen, creature, creation in the building had a diagnostics chip implanted beneath his, her or its fingernail, claw, talon or horn. I’d just gone off the grid.            Not thirty seconds passed before they came bursting into my room with guns and syringes at ready, all aimed at me as if I were a rabid beast destroying all that they had built. Bumi looked nearly mad with stress, but only she knew to not get too close.            “Get down! DOWN!” she shouted, her voice quivering. She held a portable in her hand and her other hand was in the pocket of her lab coat.One of the male Big Eye guards grabbed my arm, probably with the intent of throwing me on the bed so he could cuff me. He screamed, staring at his burned, still-smoking hand. Bumi raised a gun and shot me in the leg. It felt as if someone kicked me with a metal foot and I grunted. I sunk to the floor, pain washing over me like a second layer of more intense heat. I would have been done for if someone else had not shouted for the others to hold their fire.            Thankfully, I healed fast and the bullet had gone straight through my leg. Bumi said she’d shot me there knowing the bullet would do that; I believed her. If the bullet hadn’t, I don’t know what would have happened with my extreme body temperature. Bumi knew this more than anyone.One minute I was staring with shock at the blood oozing from my leg. Then the next, I blacked out. I woke in a bed, my body cool, my leg bandaged. When they returned me to my room, the scanner was in place to monitor me, since I could not hold an implant. They replaced my bed sheets with heavy heat-resistant ones similar in material to my new clothes. The carpet was gone, too. For the first time, I saw that the floor beneath the carpet was solid whitish marble.Bumi took me to one of the lab soon after that. This would be my first but not last encounter with the cubed room with walls that looked like glass. Maybe they were thick clear plastic. Maybe they were made of crystal. Or maybe they were made of some alien substance that they were keeping top secret. I knew nothing. I didn’t even know what the machine was called. They simply put me in it and it heated up like a furnace. I felt as if I were on fire and when I start screaming, Bumi’s voice filtered in, smooth like okra soup, sweet like mango juice, but distant like the outside world. “Phoenix, hold still,” she said. “We are just getting information about you.”I believed her. Even through the pain. I always believed everything they told me. The space was just large enough for me to sit with my long legs stretched before me, my back straight, my palms flat to the surface. The smooth transparent walls warmed to red and orange and yellow, so it was like being inside the evening sun I watched set every day.“Does it have to hurt?” I cried. “I’m burning! My skin is burning!” It did not get so hot that my flesh caught fire, but the parts of me that touched the walls- especially my legs, received first-degree burns. “Nothing great comes without pain,” she said. “Just relax.”I closed my eyes and tried to retreat into myself. But the memory of the sound of Bumi’s gun firing was still ricocheting in my head. I hadn’t been fighting. I wasn’t dangerous as some of the other specimen became when in some kind of distress. I wasn’t doing anything but standing there in confusion thinking about the fact that I was off the grid. Yet, she’d shot me.I couldn’t help my legs flexing and twitching whenever the pain hit. My legs ran, like a separate part of my body.“Relax,” Bumi said. Relax. How could I relax? I frowned. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was as if my thoughts had become tangible and were bouncing off the walls, getting faster and faster, like a heated atom. Maybe thoughts were just atoms made of a different type of material for which even the Big Eye lacked tools to study.“I am trying,” I said.“Do you want to hear a story?”For the first time, I was able to pull back from the sound of the gun firing and the kernel of whatever I was feeling deep in my chest. “Yes,” I said, looking up. All I saw was the machine’s artificial burning sun. “Ok,” Bumi said. She paused. I listened. “You read so much, so I know that you know my country, Nigeria.”“Official name is the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Capital is Abuja. Most known city is Lagos, the third largest city in the world. West Africa. One of the world’s top producers of streaming films, crude oil and fine literature,” I whispered.I heard her chuckle. “You know my country better than I do.” She paused. “But to really know it, you must go there. I was born and raised in the metropolis of Lagos. My parents lived on Victoria Island in one of the high-security gated communities. Big big houses with columns, porches, marble and huge winding staircases. Manicured palm trees and colorful sweet smelling flowers. Even the houseboys and house girls dressed like movie stars. Paved roads. Security cameras. Well-dressed Africans with perfect wigs, suits, jewelry and flashy cars. Can you see it?”I nodded.“Good. So, I was born in that house. I was the first of five children. My mother was alone when she went into labor. My father was on a brief business trip in Ghana. The two house girls had gone to the village to visit their families before coming to stay in the house until I was born. She only had a virtual doctor to guide her through it all. She’d never had to use one before then. They could afford to have an actual doctor come to check on her and they’d hired a midwife. But she went into labor with me ten days early and the midwife got stuck in a go-slow, Lagos traffic. My mother said it was like being instructed by a ghost.”“I was born healthy and plump in my mother’s bedroom. She’d shut the windows and turned on the air purifier, so my first breath was not Lagos air. It was air delivered from the Himalayas.” She laughed. “My mother took me outside for the first time three weeks later. I took one breath of the Lagos air and vomited from coughing so hard. Then I was ok.”I had my eyes closed. Though I could smell my skin slowly baking as the heat increased in the tiny room, I was strolling down the black paved road of Lagos beside Bumi’s mother who was dark-skinned, pretty and short, like Bumi. She was pushing a light-weight stroller with baby Bumi in it, coughing and cooing. “When I think of my youth in Nigeria, I know that I can never be fully American, even when I am a citizen.”“So you are not American?” I asked. “But you live here. You work here. You…”“I’m not a citizen. Not yet. I will be. My work with you will earn me the pull I need,” She paused. “Do you want to know about how you were when you were a baby?”I frowned. I remembered life from about a month old, I was like a three year old. “Do you know…when I was a baby?”“I was there when they brought you,” she said. “You were so small. Like a preemie. But strong, very very strong. You never needed an incubator or antibiotics or special formula. You took easily to life.”The lights in the machine went off and something beeped. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Times up. Let’s get you to your room,” Bumi said. She didn’t say any more about first meeting me, as we walked back to my room, following the red lines. I was curious, but Bumi always had a set look on her face when she had switched back to her Big Eye self. I knew not to ask for more of my own story.When we arrived at my room, it was evening. “May the day break,” Bumi said. This was how she liked to say goodnight to me every night. She said she’d once heard it in a Nigerian movie she’d watched. She only said it to me and usually when she said it, I laughed and smiled.Tonight, I was in too much pain to smile, but I responded as always, “May it break.”My body ached from the burns, but by the time I entered my room, removed my clothes and inspected myself, there was not a mark left on my body. But I remembered the pain. You never forget the smell or the pain. I took a long cool shower. As the days progressed, I learned that when I grew hot and luminous like this, electronics died or exploded in my hands, except that cubed room. This was why they started giving me paper books. They were difficult to read, as I couldn’t turn the pages as quickly as I could with the e-reader. The paper books they had were limited and old and I was afraid that I’d burn them. And they could now easily monitor what I was reading. Although now I realize with the e-reader they were probably monitoring my choices, too.            I didn’t tell Saeed about the heating and glowing because at the time I didn’t want to worry him. I enjoyed our talks so much. I wish I had told him.*            The door slid open and my doctors came in, Debbie and Bumi. I took a deep breath to calm myself. Though the heat did not go away, it decreased, as did the glow.            “How do you feel?” Bumi asked, as she took my wrist to check my pulse. She hissed, dropping it.            “Hot,” I flatly said.             She glared at me and I glared back thinking something I had not thought until Saeed was dead— You should have asked first.             “Open,” Debbie said. She placed the heavy-duty thermometer into my mouth.            “She’s not glowing that brightly,” Bumi said, typing something onto her portable. I resisted the urge to grab it and hold it in my hands until it exploded. Saeed was dead because of these people. I steadied myself, thinking of the cool places sometimes described in the novels I read. I once read a brief story about a man who froze to death in a forest. How nice it would have been to be in that cold place at that moment.            “It might just be menopause approaching,” Bumi said. “I believe the two factors are correlated.”            I tuned out their talk and focused on my own thoughts. Escape. How? What would they do to me? What did Saeed see? My internal temperature was 130 degrees, but the temperature of my skin was 220. They couldn’t take my blood pressure because the equipment would melt.            “We need to get her to the lab,” Debbie said.            Bumi nodded. “As soon as the scanner says she’s reached 300 degrees. We don’t want her any higher or things around her will start to ignite. Maybe by morning.” She looked at me and smiled. “May the day break.”            “May it break,” I responded.            They left. I paced the room. Restless. Angry. Distraught. They would be back soon.            How am I going to get out of here? I wondered. As if to answer my question, Mmuo walked into my room. He came through the wall across from my bed. My heart nearly jumped from my chest. “Mmuo, good evening,” I said. He’d scared me, but I was glad to see him. Without Saeed, Mmuo was my only other friend now.            “Did you hear?” he asked, sitting on my bed. He spoke quietly, his low voice like distant thunder.            I blinked, feeling the rush of sadness all over again. He was Saeed’s friend, too. “Yes,” I said.            “I’m sorry, Phoenix.”            My face was wet and drying with sweat. “I’m getting out of here,” I declared.            Mmuo softly laughed. “You?”“Will you help me?” I asked. “You once did things against the Big Eye in Nigeria. Can’t you…” “You get it wrong. I went up against Nigeria’s government, but the Big Eye… I know better than anyone what the Big Eye will do when you cross them.”“What? What will they do?”He waved a dismissive hand. “I’m not telling you that,” he snapped.“Then help me get out of here,” I begged. “Please.”“We…” He frowned. “What is wrong with you? I can feel you from here.”            I sighed. “I think it has something to do with how they made me. It’s been happening for two weeks and it’s getting worse.”            We looked at each other, silent. I knew we were thinking the same thing but neither he nor I wanted to speak it. If we spoke of my name, I didn’t think I’d be able to move, let alone run.            “Yes, that would make sense,” he said.            He called himself Mmuo, which meant spirit in a Nigerian language. He was a hero to all those who were created or altered in Tower 7. Like Saeed, Mmuo had been taken from Africa. He said he was from “the jungles of Nigeria”, the same country as my doctor Bumi. I didn’t believe he was from any jungle. He spoke like a man who had known skyscrapers, office buildings and digital television. He knew how to disable the security doors on several of the floors and was known for causing trouble throughout the building. Not that he really needed to do so to get around the tower; Mmuo could walk through walls. The only walls he could not pass through were the walls that would get him out of Tower 7. Mmuo could not escape; obviously, his abilities were created by Tower 7 scientists.            He was a tall, thin man with skin the color of and as shiny as crude oil. He never wore clothes, for clothes could not pass through the walls with him. He was so proud and frank in his nakedness that I didn’t even notice it any more. Mmuo stole what food he needed from the kitchens. He was the only person/creature who’d successfully escaped the Big Eye’s clutches.            Why Tower 7’s Big Eye tolerated him, I do not know. My theory is that they simply could not catch him. And since he was contained, they accepted the trouble he occasionally stirred up. Most of those in the tower were too isolated and damaged to be much trouble if freed, anyway.            “It looks like your skin is nothing but a veil over something greater,” he mused, after an appraising look. It was something Saeed would have said and the thought made my heart ache again.            “Can you open the door?” I finally said. “I...I want to see what is down the hall, near Saeed’s room.”            Mmuo met my gaze and held it.            “What did Saeed see, Mmuo?”            He shook his head and looked away.            “Show me, then,” I said, suddenly wanting to sob. “And help me…help me escape.”            “Saeed and I, we had plans,” he said. “He always said that it was right beneath your skin,” he said with a slight smile.            “That what was?”            “Your taste for freedom.”            He moved close to me and I was sure he was going to hug me.            “Don’t touch me,” I said. “You’ll...”            He raised a hand up and made to slap me across the face. “Don’t move,” he said. His hand passed right through my head. I felt only the slightest moment of pressure and there was a sucking sound.            “Wha...”            “Can you hear me?” I heard him loudly say through what sounded like a microphone. I looked around.            “Shhh! They’ll hear you!” I hissed. I frowned. His lips hadn’t moved.            “No,” he said. He held his finger to his lips for me to quiet down and grinned, his yellow-white teeth and black skin shining in my glow. “They won’t. You are hearing this in your head.            “Not even the Big Eye know I can do this,” he said aloud, but lowering his voice as before. “Whatever they did to enhance my abilities, I can pass it into people and they can hear me, until the tiny nanomites are sweated from their skin.            “I did this to a little boy on the fifth floor. He had a contagious cancer, so they kept him in isolation for tests. Hearing me talk to him from wherever I was, kept him sane. At least, until he died.”            His disease could have killed you, though, I thought.            He started to descend through the floor. “Fifteen minutes,” he said in my head, then he was gone.            I whipped off my pants and t-shirt and threw on a white dress they’d recently given me made of heat resistant thin plastic. The dress was long but light and it allowed me to move freely. I didn’t bother with shoes. Too heavy.            For a moment, I had a brief flash in my mind of actually stepping outside. Into the naked sunlight, under the open sky, no ceiling above me. I could do it. Mmuo would help me. He and I would both escape. I felt a rush of hope, then a rush of heat. The scanner on my wall beeped. I had reached over 300 degrees.            Just before the door slid open, I had the sense to spread some shea butter on my skin. Then I ran out of my room...
Oh yes, Phoenix escapes and when she does, all hell breaks loose. Find out what happens next:
DAW Books (USA)/Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Amazon.comAfriwarebooks.comBorderland BooksAndersonson's Bookshop...and wherever books are sold. 


Naijamerican Eyes on Lagos

Mon, 04/11/2016 - 08:09
I originally presented this at Other Desires: The African City at Columbia University (the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation) on April 8 (my birthday). I figured I'd post my talk here, too. Enjoy. :-)



Lagos, the city where nothing works yet everything happens.
Lagoon, an American white woman in the wrong place at the wrong time
A bustling metropolis, Lagos is situated on the Gulf of Guinea and has one of Africa’s busiest ports. There are between 18 and 22 Million residents in the megacity of Lagos, Nigeria. It’s the 18th biggest city in the world and the largest city in Africa.


It will literally ensnare you with its near-impossible traffic, locally known as “go-slow”.




From the beauty and wealth of Lagos’ Victoria Island...


 To the potential of Eko Atlantic...

 To the slums of Ajugunle (nicknamed “the jungle” for a reason)...

Lagos is one of those cities that has a noisily beating heart and a vibrant soul.
Lagosians often complain and complain about the city's chaotic nature, but many will also say in the same breath that they’ll never fully leave Lagos. The most they'll do is come and go and come and go. Even if you visit just once, you don’t leave Lagos the same person you came as; it affects you.
Of course, Lagos has been the setting and character in many novels by Nigerian writers, as well. My favorites being:
Graceland by Chris Abani, which tells the story of a Nigerian teenager named Elvis, who is trying to get out of the ghettos of Lagos.
Black Ass by A. Igoni Barrett, a satire set in contemporary Lagos where a Nigerian man wakes up a white man...except for his black ass.
Every Day is for theThief by Teju Cole, a story about a man returning to Lagos after being in New York for 15 years and all the wahalathat ensues.

None of these stories could have happened in any other city. Lagos had to be part of the narrative.
My own obsession with Lagos did not start from research, it started with terror.
I didn’t come to Lagos as a tourist. Much of my family lives in the southeast and in Abuja, but I have family living in Lagos, too. So I came to Lagos as a Naijamerican (meaning a Nigerian American, a child of Nigerian immigrants. "Naija" is slang for "Nigeiran", implying an intimacy and familiarity with Nigeria. Also, "Naijamerican" is one word, implying a hybridized new individual whose parts cannot be separated).
This meant that nothing was explained to me, as would be explained to a tourist.  I was expected to be silent and take all that was handed to me, like a good Nigerian child. 
I’d grown up accepting and embracing my Nigerian heritage, all parts of it, and this meant that I intuitively knew that whatever I saw when I arrived in Lagos was a part of me. I was of these people. 
Thus, when crazy things happened, I was always conscious of the fact that I too was Nigerian and therefore did not have the detached “luxury” of being able to say “Wow, these people are nuts.” My family was “those people”, so I was “those people.”
Coming to Lagos as one who embraced both her American-ness and Nigerian-ness resulted in a special form of vulnerability and openness when I arrived there. I was seeing things in double vision, as a foreigner and a citizen, an outsider and in insider. The Naijamerican paradox. This made my first experience of Lagos...troubling.
I was about sixteen years old when I arrived in Lagos for the first time with my family. I'd been coming to Nigeria with my family for years. Usually, we’d land in Port Harcourt and then drive to my parents’ villages in Imo State.
This time, we landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. 

Leaing the airport that day reminds me of the scene in the Hayao Miyazaki animated film Ponyo when Sosuke and his mother leave the nursing home and drive into a tsunami; they get there, but not after some...excitement. 
Between leaving the airport and arriving at the hotel I breathed air that made me both cough with discomfort and flare my nostrils to inhale more deeply. I watched a taxi driver nudge a regally dressed woman with his car as she crossed the road (he didn’t think she was moving fast enough). I glimpsed a most likely dead body lying in an alley.
There was spitting, cursing, hissing, and shouting.
I saw a man driving a van using a horsetail to whip cars so he could pass by.
Okada (motorcycle taxis), cars, SUVs, trucks, squeezing, zipping, and forcing their way through the clogged streets.
It’s the only place where the contradictory phrase “rapid moving traffic” makes sense.
No rules of the road and everyone trying to rule the road at the same time.
Clusters of tenement houses, locally called you-face-me-i-face-you…or sometimes more cynically  called you-slap-me-I-slap-you.
From skyscrapers to shacks.
A maelstrom of people.
Everyone was hustling.
No one had time.
Fast fast fast.
Someone shoving bread into my window. It smelled good, but I didn’t have any naira yet.
Note, two things:
1. I was raised in the quiet predominantly white, somewhat (sometimes viciously) racist south suburbs of Chicago, where the deer and coyotes play.
 2. At this time, I’d never been to New York City.
 At some point during this 30 minute drive, I closed my eyes.
By the time we made it to our hotel, I was trying to squeeze myself under the seat. The rest of my time in Lagos wasn’t much different.
I didn’t return to Lagos for over a decade, but I was always thinking and talking about it. When I did return, it was with the mind, ears, nose and eyes of a writer. When I left, I knew I’d write about Lagos.
Lagos is Afrofuturist and mystical in its energy. 
from Lekan Jeyifo’s Lagos 2060 collection
Lekan was also on the conference panel with me.It is both apocalyptic and heavenly. For Nnedi the Naijamerican Writer, it is the exact place aliens would want to invade.
Lagoon (Simon and Schuster) So, when I wrote Lagoon, which is about aliens coming to Lagos, I knew something was haunting the roads. I knew it being set in Lagos, water would play a prominent role, both clean and profoundly polluted. I knew there would be Nollywood level drama. I knew the water goddess Mami Wata hung out around the Fin Bank.
The Finn Bank (or whatever it's now called) I knew there would be glorious chaos when they arrive…and since I set the story in 2010, I knew the president would be missing. And last but not least, I knew the story needed to be told from the point-of-view of many. 
As both an outsider and an insider, seeing  Lagos with my double vision, this all made perfect sense to me. 


But the story goes deeper.It is in the dirt, the mud, the earth, in the fond memory of the soily cosmos.It is in the always-mingling past, present, and future.It is in the water.It is in the powerful spirits and ancestors who dwelled in Lagos.It is in the heads and hearts of the people of Lagos. Change begets change.
-from Lagoon, Chapter 13, "Udide Speaks"




Insight into the Lagoon

Fri, 09/25/2015 - 07:56
Read the Prologue and Chapters 1 & 2 here

Some readers have told me that though they enjoyed LAGOON, they felt they were missing some things on the cultural/political/societal side. Understandable. Fair enough.
I admit (and don't apologize for) the fact that my flavor of scifi is evenly Naijamerican (note: “Naija” is slang for Nigeria or Nigerian). Read more about what I mean by this in a recent interview I did with Ventures Africa. Thus, I’m going to explain a few things.
I’m not going to totally give the plot away by contextualizing everything I say below. Read the novel for that, :-). I will say that LAGOON is about three Africans, a Nigerian marine biologist, a Nigerian soldier and a famous Ghanaian rapper, who are tasked with being at the forefront of an alien invasion in the city of Lagos, Nigeria in 2010. The shape-shifting aliens first land in the waters of the Bight of Biafra. When the aliens come, they don’t just meet the human citizens of Nigeria, they meet other animals, plants, and some who are beyond the physical world.
Ok, so here’s some…help.
What’s 419?
In LAGOON, there are 419-scammers working out of cyber cafes. The number "419" is the name given to the “Nigerian scam”….you know, when Nigerian Prince So-and-So sends you an email claiming he’s got billions sitting in the bank but he needs “you” (a total complete gullible greedy stranger) to send him a minimal feee to get it out of the bank and, gosh, when he does, he’ll send “you” a nice cut for helping. The number 419 is a reference to the section of Nigerian law that the scam violates. 
If you want to know more about this practice from an objective perspective (as opposed to one that solely sides with the victim), I highly recommend Alan Dean Foster's nonfiction book, The Phisher. He wrote this book after responding to a 419-scammer's email and actually striking up a conversation with the guy who was indeed in Nigeria (no, I do not recommend trying this for yourself. Just delete the email).
Note: Don't joke to me about Nigerian scammers and princes. This happens to me on Twitter far too often and people think they're being clever. It's terribly irritating. If all you know about one of Africa's most powerful and innovative nations is that there is an abundance of 419-scammers from there, that's on you, not me. 
Does “Witch Slapping” really exist?
There's a "witch-slapping" scene in LAGOON (again, read the novel to experience it. It's really quite funny, heehee). Are there self-proclaimed holy men slapping the so-called witchcraft out of women? Yes. See for yourself. 




Witch-slapping is just one symptom of the strong strain of Christian fundamentalism running through Nigeria's veins. Such things can be found all over the world, you say? True. However, what worries me about the particular strain that’s been running through Nigeria in recent years is not that it’s teaching people extreme and bizarre forms of Christianity. It is that it’s teaching Nigerians to hate their own indigenous traditions, spiritualities, and religions. It’s one thing to move past what was there before, it happens. People evolve, change, move on (and sometimes they return to the old ways or create hybrid new ones). However, it’s another thing entirely to move past what was before because of a nasty form of hatred of one’s self in the guise of religion, brought or imported by outsiders and foisted upon people who are simply looking for God. Ijs.
Food for thought:



Why First Contact with a swordfish instead of a human?
Because 1. If aliens came and were interested in earthlings, earth has many citizens (human and non-human) who'd be of interest to them.  2. I felt these environmentalist swordfish deserved to be immortalized and empowered for their efforts. Here's a brief news story about them: "Swordfish attack Angolan oil pipeline"
What’s up with the Road Monster?
The roads of Nigeria are unsafe, often scary, and in poor shape in far too many parts of the country. They’re monstrous and they’ve swallowed many lives. I’m not going to lie, I have seen terrible things on Nigeria’s roads. I’ve seen death there multiple times.
*Pause to remember the dead on the road.*
More specifically to LAGOON, there was a super graphic photo circulating the Internet back in 2010 of a horrific accident on the Lagos-Benin expressway (if you really must see it, it’s here. But I warn you, it’s quite awful). There were several explanations that explained the photo; most of them were inaccurate, but all of them very possible.  The incident caught my writer’s eye and it made it into LAGOON.
What the hell are they saying?
There’s a lot of Nigerian pidgin English in LAGOON. Really, more people should have been speaking it in the novel. However, I knew I wanted to go 100% when the characters spoke it, so I limited the pidgin to certain characters. Nollywood director Tchidi Chikere (see the latest video he directed here and my favorite of his movies here) and self-proclaimed Pidgin English expert Taofik Yusuf worked closely with me to get it as accurate as possible.
Thus, in LAGOON, you’ll get dialogue like this:
“Eyyy!” Moziz exclaimed as he watched Ayodele change again. He laughed hard. “Look at Father Oke! De man wey dey do gragra before see as he dey shake like waterleaf! He don nearly shit for him pant!” Philo smiled. She’d bagged an educated man and he spoke like a man of the streets. “Baby, dis ting na real? Abi na film tricks?” he asked. “I say I take my two naked eyes see de thing as e happen, just like two hours ago,” she assured him.-Lagoon, page 28To those with no background in any kind of African or Caribbean (even knowing African American English should provide you with the necessary tools for hearing pidgin English) pidgin English, my advice is to just relax your mental ear, chill, and remind yourself that there’s English in there. Some of it will start coming through.
Also, there’s a glossary at the end of the book. Here are a few words from it that may help with the passage above:
Na (Pidgin English)it is
Dey (Pidgin English)this means “is” or “are” . . . most of the time. Other times, it means something else
Gragra (Pidgin English)a show of bravado (often false)
Hope this helps.

-Nnedi
LAGOON is available where books are sold, including:Afriware BooksA Room of One's Own BookstoreAnderson's BookshopsWaterstones (UK)Amazon.com

Origin of the Chicken

Sat, 08/01/2015 - 14:08

September 1, 2015/ Lantana PublishingWhen my twelve-year-old daughter, Anyaugo, was three, she understood that I wrote stories. And because I wrote stories, she didn’t think it good enough that I read other people’s stories to her. She wanted me to make some up just for her.  So I did.
There were two stories that she loved and demanded me to tell over and over, sometimes at night, sometimes in the middle of the day, sometimes whenever. One was a story from the world of Zahrah the Windseeker called “Garbage Soup.” I came up with it after I opened a can of soup that turned out to be the most disgusting soup I’d ever tasted.
“Garbage Soup” featured a species of monster central to the plot of Zahrah the Windseeker- an elgort. In the story, an elgort (a creature that’s sort of a deadly black elephant-like beast with the smooth skinny skin of a pig and a trunk full of sharp teeth) was destroying a small jungle by eating everything in it, trees, animals, dirt and all.
Zahrah and her friend Dari stopped it by going to the store and buying a barrel of garbage soup and setting it out for the irrational elgort to eat. Once the elgort ate it, it t fled with disgust. The End. This story always garnered applause from Anya, especially when I acted out the elgort’s extreme disgust before it fled.
The second story was titled, “The Chicken in the Kitchen.” Anyaugo ate chicken, but she was also obsessed with the live bird. She wanted t-shirts, cups, and paintings of them. And I myself, had also had a fascination with chicken since the first time I visited Nigeria and someone gave me a live one as a gift (I was seven years old). That chicken was my best friend for 2 hours, then I don’t know what happened to it (it probably became dinner).
I’ve always felt that chickens don’t get enough respect and this story was my way of giving them a little honor and power. Interestingly, enough, this story is also connected to Zahrah the Windseeker by the appearance of one of its characters. Never did I imagine I’d get the chance to make this story into an actual tangible children’s book. The illustrations are by Iranian illustrator Mehrdokht Amini and she is amazing.
I laughed a lot when I used tell this story to my daughter and I laughed more during the process of making it into a children’s book. The story is full of nonsense, magic, mischief, culture, spirits and there’s a giant dramatic chicken in it. I love this stuff.
Here’s a little about the book:What would you do if you woke up one night to find the shadow of a giant chicken passing your bedroom door? Go and investigate of course! When Anyaugo follows a giant chicken into her kitchen one warm night in Nigeria, she embarks on a hilarious adventure where nothing is quite as it seems. Is the nature spirit that lives in the wooden walls of her house a help or a hindrance? Is the mischievous giant chicken a friend or a foe? Most importantly, will Anyaugo be able to save the food her aunties have cooked for the New Yam Festival the next day?

Sample pages:










Available for pre-order here."What a joy to experience. Nnedi has written a gem of a picture book full of playful mystery, laughs and Nigerian magic. The story awakens readers in the night and then it takes them on a journey to arrive at another surprise by morning. Figuring out the giant chicken in the kitchen is a game readers will enjoy." -Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Coretta Scott King Honor award-winning artist and illustrator.   "An enchanting, evocatively illustrated adventure that will capture the imaginations of young and old alike – more, please!"  -Ambelin Kwaymullina, award-winning author of The Tribe series

WHO FEARS DEATH and her older sister THE BOOK OF PHOENIX

Thu, 01/08/2015 - 09:59
I started writing WHO FEARS DEATH as a way to cope with my father's passing. I started writing THE BOOK OF PHOENIX as a way to cope with my anger toward my immediate world. I started writing both books spontaneously, no outline, ideas, notes, no nothing. I started writing both books while sitting in the sun around noon, in the summer. And with both books, once I started writing, a very strong voice began to narrate the story to me.  While writing THE BOOK OF PHOENIX, I remember I tried to take a nap because the story was getting stressful. In the middle of my sleep, I heard a voice angrily tell me to get. "Keep writing it," the voice hissed. I dragged myself off the couch, sat back down at my computer and kept writing. Yes, it was creepy and, yes, I was a little scared. 
I didn't want to write a novel when I wrote THE BOOK OF PHOENIX. I wanted to rest my brain. So, I tried to write it as a short story. When the story kept coming, I wrote it as a novella. However, Phoenix  would not let me rest. Onyesonwu in WHO FEARS DEATH was the same. A relentless muse. 
These two novels are sisters. Close sisters. But not twins. Their covers reflect this fact. Similar, but different. How do the stories connect? Who is Phoenix to Onyesownu and Onyesonwu to Phoenix? You'll have to read them to find out. Don't bother going in with expectations; you'll probably be wrong. ;-). 

Winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best novel. 2010, DAW BOOKS

Prequel to WHO FEARS DEATH. May 5, 2015, DAW Books

Science Fiction at the University at Buffalo

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 11:54
This semester, I'm teaching a literature class  at the University at Buffalo on selected science fiction. I want it to focus on recent, envelope-pushing, diverse science fiction. Apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, gaming, socially relevant, comics, disturbing, weird, unexpected literature. I wanted to keep the list reasonable and enjoyable, and I wanted to blow students' minds and leave them wanting more. Learning about literature within the classroom is important for students, but so is sparking that NEED to read/learn more on their own. Here's the list:Required Reading for English 254Something Passed By by Robert McCammon (a short story)
The Giver by Lois Lowry
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Blood Child by Octavia Butler
Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned
The Three by Sarah Lotz
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor


Wildly adorned WHO FEARS DEATH for sale

Sat, 08/02/2014 - 09:37
I made this one-and-only wildly adorned WHO FEARS DEATHlast night (can't do many b/c they take a while). I'm willing to sell it, but I have no idea how much to sell it for. Make me an offer by emailing me here. Whoever makes the best offer in the next 24 hours, gets it. 

It's a hardcover edition and the dust jacket comes with it, of course. I've autographed it, as well. If you'd like a secret message, let me know in your email. Find info about WHO FEARS DEATH here.

Front
Back

A Reading Guide for the novel WHO FEARS DEATH

Sun, 07/27/2014 - 09:44
Reading GuideforWHO FEARS DEATH
“Dear friends, are you afraid of death?”—Patrice Lumumba, first and only electedPrime Minister of the Republic of the Congo
International award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor enters the world of magic realist literature with a powerful story of genocide in the far future and of the woman who reshapes her world. Below are a series of questions Nnedi wrote that explore and build on ideas in the novel. These great for teaching the novel in schools and simply for one's own personal understanding of the book. 

1. In Who Fears Death, actual African traditions and spirituality are blended, oftentimes seamlessly, with the fantastical. In Nigerian culture, one can see masquerades dancing, joking, threatening at weddings, funerals, and on other special days. These creatures are spirits and ancestors come to mingle with the mortal world. The Great Mystic Points are derived from central Igbo (Nigerian) traditional beliefs. Consider the definitions of fantasy and spirituality. How does this affect your reading of Who Fears Death? Consider the genres of science fiction, fantasy, magical realism and literary fiction. Which of these does Who Fears Death touch on? Discuss how you’d categorize this novel and why.
2. In Who Fears Death, there are traditional villages and towns that also have advanced technology including computers, portable devices, capture stations, etc. In this world, the traditional and the modern are fluid and quite compatible. How does this reflect parts of Africa today? How does this complicate common stereotypes of Africa?
3. In Who Fears Death, the Ada is an empowered woman. She is highly respected in the community and educated. She is married yet lives in and owns her own home. And she is content with her life and the lives of those around her. Nevertheless, she is the central guardian of the town’s clitoridectomy tradition, the Eleventh Rite. She even joins up with her husband Aro to place juju on the scalpel used during the cutting that causes a girl to feel pain when aroused until she is married. What does the Ada’s character say about the complexity or simplicity of female empowerment and even the concept of feminism?
4. In many cultures, women view the clitoridectomy as a bonding experience. They share pain, fear, risk infection and heal together. Consider Onyesonwu’s friendship with Luyu, Binta and Diti. How did their clitoridectomys play a role in the creation of their friendship? How would Onyesonwu’s story have been different if she did not have a clitoridectomy? What does this say about life?
5. Consider Alice Walker’s book about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Warrior Marks. Does Who Fears Death’s approach of this topic differ from Walker’s?
6. “‘The raping of Darfuri women is not sporadic or random, but is inexorably linked to the systematic destruction of their communities,’ the report said. Victims are taunted with racial slurs such as ‘I will give you a light-skinned baby to take this land from you,’ according to one woman interviewed in the Touloum refugee camp in Chad, recalling the words of a Janjaweed militiaman who raped her.From “Janjaweed Using Rape as ‘Integral’ Weapon in Darfur, Aid Group Says”, Washington Post Foreign Service, July 3, 2007
A large part of the violence in Darfur, Sudan (the United States has defined Darfur conflict as genocide) has been attributed to militias known as the Janjaweed. In Arabic, the word “Janjaweed” literally means, “A man with a gun on a horse”. In Who Fears Death, Daib and the men who rape the Okeke women Holding Conversation in the desert were modeled after these Janjaweed. The ethnic-cleansing in the West was modeled after the genocide in the Sudan. How is the novel using a future setting to address these devastating problems of the present?
7. Onyesonwu’s biological father is a rapist and the main instigator of the last push to completely annihilate the Okeke from the West. As a child he was taught by the mysterious sorcerer Sola and raised by a mother who was one of the few Nuru who took the chance to help Okeke escape slavery. What does Daib’s character say about the nature of good and evil and the idea of “nature vs nurture”?
8. Onyesonwu never gives up on becoming a sorceress. She tries asking, having others ask for her, begging, pleading, using persistence and finally using force. What was her main driving ambition?
9. Consider the bits of history and storytelling in the novel that give glimpses of the distant past. Who are the Okeke really descendants of? The storyteller says that the goddess Ani pulled the sun to the land and from this sun she plucked the Nuru people. What could this “sun” represent?  What part of the origin tale of the Okeke and Nuru in the Great Book is story and what part is actual history?
10. Discuss the role of friendship in Onyesonwu’s journey.
11. Discuss the role of mentorship in Onyesonwu’s path to becoming a sorceress.
12. Compare and contrast the relationships between Onyesonwu and Diti to their lovers Mwita and Fanasi. How have their upbringings contributed to these relationships?
13. Just after Binta’s death, Onyesonwu retells the story of Zoubeir the Great. How does her angry retelling differ from the likely original version of the story? Why does she tell this story?
14. In the Igbo language (the Igbo are a Nigerian ethnic group), the word ifunanya is used to denote love. A more literal translation of the word is “to look into one’s eyes” or “I’m seeing you with great affection.” Like most Igbo expressions, it is more an idiomatic expression of love, thus it cannot be translated literally into a Western perspective. In the traditional context, long ago, romantic love grew on a couple, and was not necessarily the initial reasonfor the coupling. In Who Fears Death,this word takes on a more magical meaning. It is a word spoken only once in a man’s life (or a barren woman’s) to the one that is his (or her) true spiritual companion. Discuss the relationship of Onyesonwu and Mwita and the significance of ifunanya.
15. Onyesonwu’s being female, a sorceress, pregnant and overcome with emotion causes an entire town of men to die. Was Aro right to discriminate against the training of a young woman as sorcerers? Explain your answer.
16. In the West, the Nuru are inflicting genocide on the Okeke people. However, as with all evil things, the issue is complicated. Mwita’s journey is a perfect example of this. His parents were in love when they made him. He was raised by loving Nurus who were murdered by angry Okeke fighting for their freedom. He was forced to be a child soldier by Okeke, the very people who were being exterminated. As a child soldier, he witnessed rape and murder amongst the Okeke. Consider the genocide in the Sudan which is based on history, religion, land dispute, ethnicity (real and imagined) and skin tone. How are things there more complicated than they seem?
17. Mwita is a healer and he weaves when he is nervous. Onyesonwu is the one prophesized, not a man. Onyesonwu’s adoptive father is the one who raises her and it is her biological father who tries to kill her. For years, Aro rejects Onyesonwu because she is female. Mwita harbors resentment because it is Onyesonwu’s destiny to rewrite the Great Book, not his. Mwita is allowed a certain freedom because he is ewu and male, whereas Onyesonwu is hindered by being ewu and female. Comment on the roles of men and women in the novel.

18. In Who Fears Death, the written word and language are very powerful. Onyesonwu “rewrites” the Great Book. There are two moments when Onyesonwu speaks special words and great harm is done. The mysterious House of Osugbo is engraved with Nsibidi (a magical script), as is Daib’s office building. It is a mere word that Daib uses to nearly kill Onyesonwu and it is a word that Mwita uses to cripple Daib forever. Onyesonwu’s oral telling is transformed into written words by the documenter. Discuss the various ways that words drive Onyesonwu’s story. 

A sample of LAGOON: Prologue and Chapters 1 & 2

Wed, 04/30/2014 - 06:58







Welcome to Lagos, Nigeria.The city takes its name from the Portuguese word for “lagoon”.The Portuguese first landed on Lagos Island in the year 1472.Apparently, they could not come up with a more creative name.Nor did they think to ask one of the natives for suggestions.And so the world turns, masked by millions of names, guises, and shifting stories.It’s been a beautiful thing to watch.
My designs grow complicated.




PrologueMoom!
*Listen to the audio edition of this prologue here*
She slices through the water, imagining herself a deadly beam of black light. The current parts against her sleek, smooth skin. If any fish gets in her way, she will spear it and keep right on going. She is on a mission. She is angry. She will succeed and then they will leave for good. They brought the stench of dryness, then they brought the noise and made the world bleed black ooze that left poison rainbows on the water’s surface. She often sees these rainbows whenever she leaps over the water to touch the sun. Inhaling them stings and burns her gills.The ones who bring the rainbows are burrowing and building creatures from the land and no one can do anything about them. Except her. She’s done it before and they stopped for many moons. They went away. She is doing it again.            She increases her speed.She is the largest predator in these waters. Herwaters. Even when she migrates, this particular place remains hers. Everyone knows it. She was not born here but after all her migrations, she is happiest here. She suspects that this is the birthplace of one of those who created her.            She swims even faster.She is blue-grey and it is night. Though she cannot see, she doesn’t need to. She knows where she is going. She is aiming for the thing that looks like a giant dead snake. She remembers snakes; she’s seen plenty in her past life. In the sun, this dead snake is the color of decaying seaweed with skin rough like coral.Any moment now.She is nearly there.She is closing in fast.            She stabs into it.From the tip of her spear, down her spine, to the ends of all her fins, she experiences red-orange bursts of pain. The impact is so jarring that she can’t move. But there is victory; she feels the giant dead snake deflating. It blows its black blood. Her perfect body goes numb and she wonders if she has died. Then she wonders what new body she will find herself inhabiting. She remembers her last form, a yellow monkey; even while in that body, she loved to swim. The water has always called to her.All goes black.
She awakens. Gently but quickly, she pulls her spear out. The black blood spews in her face from the hole she’s made. She turns away from the bittersweet tasting poison. Now they will leave soon. As she happily swims away in triumph, the loudest noise she’s ever heard vibrates through the water.            MOOM!            The noise ripples through the ocean with such intensity that she tumbles with it, sure that it will tear her apart. Then the water calms. Deeply shaken, she slowly swims to the surface. Head above the water, she moves through the bodies that glisten in the moonlight. Several smaller fish, jellyfish, even crabs float, belly up or dismembered. Many of the smaller creatures have probably simply been obliterated. But she has survived.            She swims back to the depths. She’s only gone down a few feet when she smells it. Clean, sweet, sweet, sweet! Her senses are flooded with sweetness, the sweetest water she’s ever breathed. She swims forward, tasting the water more as it moves through her gills. In the darkness, she feels others around her. Other fish. Large, like herself, and small . . . so some small ones have survived.            Now, she sees many. There are even several sharp-toothed ones and mass killers. She sees this clearly now because something large and glowing is down ahead. A great shifting bar of glimmering sand. This is what is giving off the sweet, clean water. She hopes the sweetness will drown out the foul blackness of the dead snake she pierced. She has a feeling it will. She has a very good feeling.
The sun is up now, sending its warm rays into the water. She can see everyone swimming, floating, wiggling right into the glowing thing below. There are sharks, sea cows, shrimps, octopus, tilapia, codfish, mackerel, flying fish, even seaweed. Creatures from the shallows, creatures from the shore, creatures from the deep, all here. A unique gathering. What is happening here?            But she remains where she is. Waiting. Hesitating. Watching. It is not deep but it is wide. About two hundred feet below the surface. Right before her eyes, it shifts. From blue to green to clear to purple-pink to glowing gold. But it is the size, profile and shape of it that draws her. Once, in her travels, she came across a giant world of food, beauty and activity. The coral reef was blue, pink, yellow and green, inhabited by sea creatures of every shape and size. The water was delicious and there was not a dry creature in sight. She lived in that place for many moons before finally returning to her favorite waters. When she traveled again, she was never able to find the paradise she’d left.Now here in her home is something even wilder and more alive than her lost paradise. And like there, the water here is clean and clear. She can’t see the end of it. However, there is one thing she is certain of: what she is seeing isn’t from the sea’s greatest depths or the dry places. This is from far, far away.            More and more creatures swim down to it. As they draw closer, she sees the colors pulsate and embrace them. She notices an octopus with one missing tentacle descending toward it. Suddenly, the octopus grows brilliant pink-purple and straightens all its tentacles. Then right before her eyes, it grows its missing tentacle back and what looks like boney spokes erupt from its soft head. It spins and flips and then shoots off, down into one of the skeletal caves of the undulating coral-like thing below.            When a golden blob ascends to meet her, she doesn’t move to meet it. But she doesn’t flee either. The sweetness she smells and its gentle movements are soothing and non-threatening. When it communicates with her, asking question after question, she hesitates. It doesn’t take long for her apprehension to shift to delight. What good questions it asks. She tells it exactly what she wants.
Everything is changing.            She’s always loved her smooth, grey-blue skin but now it is impenetrable, its new color golden like the light the New People give off. The color that reminds her of another life when she could both enjoy the water and endure the sun and air.Her sword-like spear is longer and so sharp at the tip that it sings. They made her eyes like the blackest stone and she can see deep into the ocean and high into the sky. And when she wants to, she can make spikes of cartilage jut out along her spine as if she is some ancestral creature from the deepest ocean caves of old. The last thing she requests is to be three times her size and twice her weight.            They make it so.            Now she is no longer a great swordfish. She is a monster.
Despite the FPSO Mystras’s loading hose leaking crude oil, the ocean water just outside Lagos, Nigeria, is now so clean that a cup of its salty-sweet goodness will heal the worst human illnesses and cause a hundred more illnesses not yet known to humankind. It is more alive than it has been in centuries and it is teeming with aliens and monsters.

Chapter 1Fist
It was an eerie moment as Adaora and the two strange men arrived at that spot, right before it happened. Exactly three yards from the water at exactly 11.55 p.m., 8 January 2010. Adaora came from the north side of the beach. The tall veiled man came from the east. The bloodied man wearing army fatigues from the west. They ambled in their general directions, eyeing each other as it became clear that their paths would intersect.            Only Adaora hesitated. Then, like the others, she pressed on. She was a born and raised Lagosian and she was wearing nicely fitted jeans and a sensible blouse. She’d spent more time walking this beach than probably both of these two men combined.She wiped the tears from her cheeks and trained her eyes straight ahead. About a quarter of a mile away was open water where the Atlantic overflowed its banks. When bad things happened, her feet always brought her here, to Lagos’s Bar Beach.            In many ways, Bar Beach was a perfect sample of Nigerian society. It was a place of mixing. The ocean mixed with the land and the wealthy mixed with the poor. Bar Beach attracted drug dealers, squatters, various accents and languages, seagulls, garbage, biting flies, tourists, all kinds of religious zealots, hawkers, prostitutes, johns, water-loving children and their careless parents. The beachside bars and small restaurants were the most popular hangout spots. Bar Beach’s waters were too wild for any serious swimming. Even the best swimmers risked a watery death by its many rip currents.Adaora had removed her sandals. It was deep night and this was probably a bad idea. So far, however, she hadn’t stepped on any pieces of wood, rusty nails, broken glass or sharp stones. Her need to feel the cool sand between her toes at this moment outweighed the risk. Despite its trash, there was still something sacred about Bar Beach.            On 12 June 1993, the day of the most democratic election in Nigeria’s history, she’d come here with her father and watched him shed tears of joy. On 23 June, her mother brought her here because her father and uncles were at home cursing and shouting over the military annulling those same elections.She came here to escape the reality that her best friend was sleeping with her biology professor to earn a passing grade. On the day she received her PhD in marine biology from the University of Lagos, she came here to thank the Powers That Be for helping her stay sane enough to finish her degree (and for the fact that she hadn’t had to sleep with anyone to earn it).Last year, she’d come here to weep when her father was killed along with thirty others during a botched robbery of a luxury bus on the Lagos–Benin Expressway, one of Nigeria’s many, many, many dangerous roads. The thieves had demanded that all the passengers get off the bus and lie in the momentarily empty road. In their stupidity, the thieves hadn’t anticipated the truck (speeding to avoid armed robbers) that would run over everyone including the thieves.And now Adaora was here at Bar Beach because her loving perfect husband of ten years had hit her. Slapped her really hard.All because of a hip-hop concert and a priest. At first, she’d stood there stunned and hurt, cupping her cheek, praying the children hadn’t heard. Then she’d brought her hand up and slapped him right back. Shocked into rage, her husband leaped on her. But Adaora had been ready for him. By this time, she wasn’t thinking about the children.She didn’t know how long she and her husband had scuffled like wild dogs on the floor. And the way the fight had ended, it wasn’t . . . normal. One minute they’d been brawling and then the next, her husband was mysteriously stuck to the floor, his wrists and ankles held down as though by powerful magnets. As he’d screamed and twisted, Adaora had got up, grabbed her keys and ran out of the house. Thankfully, their Victoria Island home was only minutes from Bar Beach.She rubbed her swollen cheek. Even on her dark skin, the redness would be visible. She set her jaw, and tried to ignore the two men coming from her right and left as she walked toward the ocean. After what she’d just dealt with, she wasn’t about to let any man get in her way. Still, as she got closer, she ventured a glance at the two of them.She frowned.            The man in the military uniform looked like he’d already seen “plenty plenty pepper”. He reminded Adaora of a whipped lion. Blood dribbled from his nose and he wasn’t bothering to wipe it away. And half his face was swollen. Yet he had a hard, unshaken look in his eye. The other man was a tall, dark-skinned scarecrow of a fellow wearing a black and white veil. Maybe he was a Muslim. He was scrutinizing the approaching beat-up-looking soldier more than he was her.            Each of them walked in their respective straight lines. Each heading toward each other. Adaora squinted at the man in the veil. What is it about him? she thought, as she walked toward the sea. Something.But she didn’t slow her gait. And so the three of them met. The tall man was the first to speak, “Excuse—”            “Tell me this is a joke,” Adaora interrupted, as she realized what it was about the man. “Are . . . are you . . . can I ask you a . . .”            The tall man, looking deeply annoyed, removed his veil and sighed. “I am,” he said, cutting her off. “But don’t call me Anthony Dey Craze. I’m just out for a post-concert stroll. Tonight, just call me Edgar.”            “Na woa!” she exclaimed, laughing, reaching up to touch her throbbing cheek. “You wore that scarf on your album cover, didn’t you?” After what had happened at home, it was surprising and felt good to laugh. “I was supposed to be at your concert tonight!”At some point, her husband Chris had changed his mind about “letting” her go to the Anthony Dey Craze concert with her best friend Yemi because he’d barred her way when she’d tried to leave. “Since when do I need your permission to do anything, anyway?” she’d said to her husband, taken aback. Then came the slap.            “Please,” the bloody military man said, snatching his green beret off his smoothly shaven head and squeezing it in his shaking hands. “Do either of you have a mobile phone? I must call my father. I will pay you well.”Adaora barely registered his words; she was now really looking him over. Up close he looked not only injured but in deep, deep distress. The blood running from his nose glistened in the dim mix of street and moonlight. She took her hand from her burning cheek and reached out to him.“Hey, buddy,” Anthony said, looking at the military man with concern. He’d brought out his mobile phone. “You’re bleeding, o! Do you need help? Are you all—”“No!” he snapped.Adaora jumped back, unconsciously bringing her fists up.“I’m not all right! Do I LOOK all right?” He motioned for Anthony’s mobile phone. “I need to make this phone call right now! My fam—”            BOOM!            Anthony dropped his mobile phone as all three of them dropped to the ground, their hands over their heads. Adaora found herself looking from the bleeding military man to Anthony in terror. It was not the type of sound one heard on Bar Beach, or in any part of Lagos. On Bar Beach, the loudest thing was typically some woman shouting at a man or someone’s old car backfiring on a nearby road. This booming sound was so deep Adaora could feel it in her chest and it rattled her teeth. It left cotton in her ears. It was so wide that it seemed to have its own physical weight. Adaora glanced around and saw that the noise pushed everything to the ground. A few feet away, two seagulls dropped from the night sky to the sand, stunned. Something black bounced off Anthony’s head and fell beside him.            “Bat?” Adaora asked. Everything was muffled, as if she were speaking underwater.            Anthony looked at it closely. The bat was furry-bodied and beady-eyed with black wings. It wiggled a bit, still alive. He scooped up the poor creature and grabbed Adaora’s hand. He nudged the military man’s shoulder as he cradled the stunned animal.“Come on!” he shouted. “That came from the water! We should get away from here!”But something was happening to the ocean. The waves were roiling irregularly. Each time the waves broke on the beach, they reached further and further up the sand. Then a four-foot wave rose up. Adaora was so fascinated that she just stood there staring. Anthony stopped pulling her and pushing the military man. Blood ran into Agu’s eyes as he tried to focus his gaze on the darkness of the water. The wave was heading right for them. Fast and quiet as a whisper. It was closer to ten feet tall now. Finally, the three of them turned and ran. The fist of water was faster. Adaora grabbed the military man’s hand. Anthony threw the bat to what he hoped was safety, leaped and grabbed Adaora’s legs just as the water fell at them.PLASH!The salty water stung Adaora’s eyes and pulled at her garments as it sucked her toward the sea. Her hands scrambled at the sand as it collapsed beneath her, the pebbles raking at her skin, the sea sucking at her legs. She could still feel the desperate grasp of the military man’s hand and Anthony’s arms around her legs. She wasn’t alone. In the blackness, she could see some of the lights from the bars and the nearby buildings. They were flickering and growing smaller and smaller.            Bubbles tickled her ears as she tried to twist to the surface. But it was as if the ocean had opened its great maw and swallowed her and the two men. She couldn’t breathe. She heard bubbles and the roar and rush of water against her ears. And she could feel the tightness of her laboring lungs and the suction of the water. Aman iman, Adaora weakly thought. The phrase meant “water is life” in the Tuareg language of Tamashek. She’d once worked with a Tuareg man on a diving expedition. “Aman iman,” had been his answer when Adaora asked how a man of the Sahara Desert became an expert scuba diver. Despite the pain in her lungs now and the swallowing darkness, she smiled. Aman iman.The three of them grasped each other. Down, down, down, they went.

Chapter 2The Boy and the Lady
Only two people on the beach witnessed the watery abduction of Adaora and the two men. One was a young boy. Just before the boom, his guardian had been standing several feet away having a heated discussion with the owner of one of the shacks selling mineral, mainly orange Fanta and Coca-Cola. The boy was staring at something else. His stomach was growling, but he forgot about his hunger for the moment.In the moonlight, he couldn't clearly see the creature, but as it walked out of the water even he knew it was not human. All his mind would register was the word “smoke”. At least until the creature walked up the quiet beach and stepped into the flickering light from one of the restaurants. By then it had become a naked dark-skinned African woman with long black braids. She reminded the boy of a woman whose purse he’d once stolen.She’d stood there for several moments, watching the three people who came from three different directions and ended up standing before each other. Then the strange woman creature silently ran back to the water and dove in like Mami Wata.Rubbing his itchy head, the boy decided that he was seeing things, as he often did when he grew confused. He flared his nostrils and breathed through his mouth as he tried to focus back on reality. The great booming sound rattled his brain even more. Then came the wave that looked like the hand of a powerful water spirit. The boy saw it take the three people, one who was a woman and two who were men. And just before it did, he saw one of those people throw a black bird into the air that caught itself and flew into the night.Nevertheless, he could not speak or even process any of this information for he was both mute and mentally handicapped. He stared at where the three people had been and now were not. Then he smiled, saliva glistening in the left corner of his mouth, because somewhere deep in his restrained brain, he had a profound understanding that things around him were about to change forever and he liked this idea very much.            The other witness of the abduction was a young woman named Fisayo. She was a hard-working, book-reading secretary by day and a prostitute by night. She, too, noticed the creature woman who emerged from the water. And she, too, thought the word “smoke”, but she also thought “shape-shifter”.“I am seeing the devil,” she whispered to herself. She turned away and dropped to her knees. She was wearing a short tight skirt and the sand was warm and soft on her shins and kneecaps.She prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive her for all her sins and take her to heaven, for surely the rapture was here. When the boom came, she shut her eyes and tried to pray harder. The pain of death would be her atonement. But deep down she knew she was a sinner and there was nothing that would ever wipe that away. She got to her feet and turned around just in time to see the woman and two men snatched up by a huge fist of water. Just before it happened, one of them had released something black and evil into the air like a poison.She stood there, staring at the spot where they had been and no longer were. She waited for the water to take her, too. The fist had to be the hand of Satan, and she was one of the biggest sinners on earth. Oh the things she’d done, so many, many times. Sometimes it was just to fill her empty belly. She trembled and started sweating. Her armpits prickled. She hated her tiny skirt, tight tank top, red pumps, the itchy straight-haired brown wig on her head. When nothing else happened, she went to the nearest bar and ordered a cranberry and vodka. She would anxiously tell her next john, a businessman from the United States, what she had seen. But he wasn't interested in anything she had to say. He was more interested in filling her mouth than watching it flap with useless dumb words.But she wouldn't forget. And when it all started, she would become one of the loudest prophets of doom in Lagos.


A few places to purchase LAGOON:
In the UK:Amazon.com UKAudible.com(the Lagoon audiobook) UK
In the United States:Amazon.com USAThe Book DepositoryAudible.com(the Lagoon audiobook) USA
In Australia:Pulp Fiction Books (Australia)

Note: I'm currently looking into how to make LAGOON available in Nigeria. These things don't happen over night, no matter how badly I wish they would.



African Science Fiction is Still Alien

Wed, 01/15/2014 - 11:57
 African Science Fiction is Still AlienBy Nnedi Okorafor
Contrary to what was pounded into my head for years by brilliant well-meaning creative writing professors, science fiction is one of the most relevant and potent forms of storytelling.
Science fiction carries the potential to change the world. Literally. It has changed the world. The concept of the very computer that I am using to type these words was first dreamed up in a science fiction novel. The same is true for the Internet, cell phones, submarines, e-readers, satellites, and robots. In fact, most modern technology was born within the pages of science fiction novels.
The power of imagination and narrative should never be underestimated. Aside from generating innovative ideas, science fiction also triggers both a distancing and associating effect. This makes it an excellent vehicle for approaching taboo and socially-relevant yet overdone topics in new ways. Oh, and these narratives are a lot of fun, too.
Considering all of this, the impact of African-based science fiction on Africa and the rest of the world could be great. Sadly, there are few such narratives emerging from within or outside the continent. Note, “African science fiction” is not the same as “science fiction set in Africa” (though there isn’t much of the latter, either).
In 2009, a year before my own African-rooted science fiction/fantasy novel Who Fears Death was released, I wrote an essay titled “Is Africa Ready for Science Fiction?” The essay was the result of a conversation I’d had with close friend and celebrated Nigerian film director Tchidi Chikere about African’s non-relationship with science fiction.
“I don’t think we’re ready [for science fiction] in the primary sense of the word,” Chikere had said. “We can hide it in other categories like magical realism, allegory, etc., but we’re not ready for pure science fiction. Science fiction films from the West are failures here. Even Star Wars! The themes aren’t taken seriously. Science fiction will come here when it is relevant to the people of Africa. Right now, Africans are bothered about issues of bad leadership, the food crisis in East Africa, refugees in the Congo, militants here in Nigeria. Africans are bothered about roads, electricity, water wars, famine, etc, not spacecrafts and spaceships. Only stories that explore these everyday realities are considered relevant to us for now.”
He had a point. Plus, it's a fact that the genre of science fiction was birthed in the West. Few science fiction classics and contemporary works feature main characters of African descent, African mythologies, African locales, or address issues endemic to Africa. And until recently, next to none were written by African writers.
As a Nigerian-American, born and raised in the United States, what distanced me from science fiction novels early on was feeling that I was not a part of the stories; I didn’t exist in them. I suspect the same can be said for many African writers who might consider writing science fiction.
There may also be another reason for the non-relationship. Things Fall Apart was one of the first African novels to garner critical acclaim overseas (due to colonialism, success overseas is the hallmark of an African writer’s success). This great work was one of the first African novels to enter standard university curricula globally. Nevertheless, this also set a precedent for African writers striving to be viewed as “serious” writers. Even today, many African writers still dismiss genre fiction like science fiction and fantasy as “childish” or “amateur”.
Digging deeper, this leads to two troublesome facts: 1. Africans are absent from the creative process of global imagining that advances technology through stories. 2. Africans are not yet capitalizing on this literary tool which is practically made to redress political and social issues.
Notwithstanding the challenges, Africa is ripe with invention and ingenuity. Need examples? A line from the Ethiopian-American hip-hop group CopperWire’s science fiction-themed song, “Phone Home” comes to mind: “What’chu think we do all day, swat flies? We got two-ways and flip phones shipped here from Dubai.” The manner in which raw technology has proliferated the African continent is as unique and fascinating as its individual nations. 

Consider young women in rural Nigeria walking down the dirt road carrying containers of water on their heads because they lack plumbing in their homes. While they walk, they hold their mobile phones in front of them as they text, to avoid splashing them with water. Or the innovative yet desperate lawless Nigerian scammers manipulating gullible people through the Internet. Or the unreliable infrastructures of so many African countries that have led to people preferring chargeable devices.
Consider the remnants of colonialism mixing with the information infusion of the Internet in Namibia. The impact of portable tech, like mobile phones and blackberries in Ethiopia. School kids in Djibouti with no electricity at home managing charged up e-readers given to them at school. Youths living around digital dump sites in Ghana. We’ve already seen aliens in Johannesburg in the South African science fiction film District 9. This film was a start (one that I took serious issue with regarding the offensive portrayal of Nigerians), but we can do better. Africa is bursting with resources, including the raw material of fresh science fiction narratives. As Nigerian writer Ben Okri wrote in Birds of Heaven, “Africa breathes stories.”

Zimbabwean writer Ivor Hartmann emphasized the uniqueness of his own culture, too. “Most speculative fiction, be it fantasy, scifi, or horror, is firmly rooted in cultural mythologies,” Hartmann said. “It’s not something we can ever get away from because they form the archetypal base for all speculative stories. This is why I think African writers are already changing the face of literature and beyond, because our intricately diverse and complex mythologies are for the most part unwritten and therefore bring forth a relatively new and fresh perspective.”
I understand this perspective intuitively. I was born to two Nigerian Igbo parents who immigrated to the United States for medical and graduate school in 1969. When my siblings and I were old enough, we regularly traveledas a family to Nigeria. Thus, the unconditional connection, love, and pride that I have for Nigeria is limitless. The Nigerian culture I was infused with in the United States and the frequent trips to Nigeria were the foundation of my need to see Africa in the future. I started writing science fiction set in Africa, based in specific African cultures, from an African perspective because I wanted to READ these stories. Hey, my mother always said that the best way to get something done is to do it yourself. In my forthcoming science fiction novel, Lagoon (April 2013), aliens arrive in Lagos, Nigeria, all hell breaks loose and even the spirits and ancestors come out to see what’s going on. 
A handful of others are doing it themselves, too. In 2010, Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu’s Kenyan science fiction short film Pumzi was screened at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to win several awards and accolades. Last year, the Ethiopian-American hip-hop group CopperWire released its first album Earthbound. It’s described as a “hip-hop space-opera” and it is fantastic.
In 2011, South African science fiction writer Lauren Buekes won the Arthur C. Clark Award for her second science fiction novel Zoo City, a cyberpunk novel set in a future Johannesburg, South Africa. The first science fiction anthology by African writers, AfroSF (edited by Ivor Hartmann), was released last year. And South African writer Sarah Lotz’s The Three will be released in May of this year. 
As African consumers sample the few works out available, their palettes will grow accustomed to and hopefully even crave homegrown African-rooted science fiction. It’s only a matter of time. I can imagine what will come next.

Note: I wrote this for the New York Times but the New York Times editor I was working with ended up setting it aside (unfortunately, some other story pushed mine out of the way).





The Legend of Arro-yo

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 11:43
I've wanted to repost on Facebook this illustration (by the awesome Ross Campbell) of my windseeker character, Arro-yo for some time. However, when I first posted it there, Facebook removed it within minutes and I received a warning about posting "pornographic" photos on my page and a threat that my page would be removed if I did it again.

Arro-yo by Ross Campbell
Arro-yo is cold, rebellious, very tall and kind of mean. She was born in the early 1900s in a forest village in Nigeria's Cross River State. She is dada (born with locked hair) and this leads her to be set aside- unlike her older sisters, she isn't circumcised, sent to the fattening hut or married off. When she grows older, she also comes to understand that she's a windseeker (one of the people who can fly). But this is the tip of the iceberg, because Arro-yo is also born during a dynamic time in Nigeria's history. You'll have to read the stoires iun Kabu Kabu to find out more.

An Efik girl in Old Calabar, Nigeria (1918)
The above photo is the inspiration for Arro-yo's attire and it should explain Arro-yo's toplessness. It's unfortunate that Facebook did not understand this fact.

There are four Arro-yo stories in my recently released short story collection Kabu Kabu- "Biafra", "How Inyang Got Her Wings", "The Winds of Harmatten" and "Windseekers". All were mined from an unpublished adult novel I wrote called The Legend of Arro-yo (My agent shopped this novel to several publishers. However, though fantasy publishers loved it, they said it was was too literary and though "literary" publishers loved it, they said it was too fantastical. I wrote Zahrah the Windseeker as The Legend of Arro-yo was getting batted around).

Though the Legend of Arro-yo hasn't been published (yet), the short stories I took from it have been better received. "Windseekers" was a finalist for the Writers of the Future Contest in 2002 and published in the anthology. "The Winds of Harmatten" was published in Stanford University's  Black Arts Quarterly in 2003 and reprinted in Nalo Hopkinson's Mojo Conjure Stories anthology in 2005. "Biafra" won the The Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism Short Story Contest in 2005. How Inyang Got Her Wings was a finalist for the The Equiano Prize for Short Fiction in 2006. Another Arro-yo story ("It's War!") will appear in the forthcoming anthology Long Hidden.
Arro-yo by Ross Campbell
Arro-yo is a very special character to me. In many way, she is the beginning. I started writing her with seriousness while at the Clarion Writers Workshop at Michigan State University in 2000. I'd written the short story "Windseekers" (most of my novels start off as short stories) and then discovered Octavia Butler's work in the bookstore days later. Wild Seed. Reading that novel verified my suspicion that I was on the right track. After getting to know Anyanwu (one of the main characters of Wild Seed), Arro-yo's meanness didn't bother me so much.

Tainted Pepper Soup Recipe

Sun, 12/08/2013 - 13:34
If you are looking for a unique recipe for the holidays, here is a tasty delicacy you might want to try...at your own risk.

Tainted Pepper Soup Reciperecipe excerpted from Akata Witch

Ingredients: 3-4 large tomatoes (Warning: If they are too small, the finished soup will explode within an hour!)
1-2 tainted peppers (Warning: Never ever use a tainted pepper that has turned orange or emits more than light wisps of smoke)
Meat (Warning: Do not use chicken. Chicken will cause the finished soup to explode within an hour!)
4 Maggi cubes (Warning: Do not use chicken Maggi cubes or the finished soup will explode within an hour!)
Palm oil
2 perfectly round onions (Warning: If they are not perfectly round, the finished soup will explode within an hour!)
Sea salt (Warning: Do not use table salt when using tainted peppers unless you plan to never have children)
50g/2oz ground crayfish (Warning: make sure there is not one grain of sand in your ground crayfish or your soup will taste like glue)
25g Dry pepper
4 cups Water
2 cups Ice
Instructions:
Place the meat in a pot, add very little water (most meat contains water that will drain out as it cooks), dice one onion in with the meat, add some sea salt, and cook the meat until it is almost tender.
Grind the tomatoes, the remaining onion, crayfish and tainted peppers together. Add ice to cool it all down (tainted peppers will make the blended mixture boil).
Pour the blended mixture into the pot with the meat. Also add the Maggi cubes. Then add palm oil, not too much, not too little (palm oil is extremely high in saturated fat).
Allow the soup to cook itself (the tainted peppers will cause it to boil) for about 20–30 minutes, stirring constantly. Do not use a metal spoon unless you want to poison your husband.
Add sea salt and dry pepper to his taste.






Meanings and Pronunciations in Who Fears Death

Sat, 11/30/2013 - 15:23
Meanings and PronunciationsBy Nnedi Okorafor Origianlly published on June 25, 2010 on the Penguin Books Blog
In my stories, there is much to a name.
In my first novel, Zahrah the Windseeker, I gave my main character the name “Zahrah” for many reasons. 1. The name is beautiful. 2. Zahrah is from the Northern part of her world and her world is based on Nigeria. The people in Northern Nigeria are Hausa (I am Igbo) and “Zahrah” is a Hausa name (Northern Nigeria is mainly Islamic). 3. I have a fondness for Northern Nigeria because my mother was born in the North (specifically in Jos, a city that used to be peaceful and is now sporadically problematic) and her first language was Hausa (English was her second and Igbo was her third). 4. Lastly, Zahrah means, “flower”. Zahrah the Windseeker is a coming-of-age story and Zahrah lives in a technologically advanced floral world. It was perfect.
There is a web of stories connected to just about every name I choose for my characters. In Who Fears Death, this is no different. To begin with, all the names are from a part of Africa. It’s the future, cultures mixed, names migrate.
The main character’s name, “Onyesonwu”, is an Igbo (Nigerian) name, which means “who fears death?” Her stepfather’s last name is “Ogundimu”, which is Yoruba (Nigerian). It’s a name I’ve always loved. Plus Ogun is the Yoruba god of iron and Onyesonwu stepfather is a blacksmith. Her mother’s name is “Najeeba”, which is of Arabic origin but in this case a Sudanese name. “Binta”, the name of one of Onyesowu’s best friends, is a name from Sierra Leone. It means “with God”.
Onyesonwu’s eventual significant other’s name is “Mwita”. It’s Kenyan and means, “the one who is calling.” The government of Onyesowu’s hometown is called “The Osugbo”. In Nigeria, Osugbo is a Yoruba name for a secret society of male and female elders. One of the women of authority in Onyesowu’s town is “The Ada”. Amongst the Igbo, “Ada” is a name given to the first-born daughter, it’s a name that carries great respect and responsibility. Aside from being culturally significant to the story, these meanings all play a part in the narrative.
All this said, these names can be tough to pronounce. Here are some phonetic pronunciations:
Onyesonwu: Ōwn-yā-SO (the “o” here is a nasal sound like the “o” in the French word “garcon”) - woo.
Mwita: Mmw-EE-tah Note: in the beginning of the name, simply draw out the “m” and run the “w” sound into the end of it.
Luyu: LOO-yoo
Diti: DEE-tee
Goitsemedime:Khoat-say-mo-DEE-mehNote:This is Diti’s last name. It’s from Botswana and it means “God knows”.
Binta: BIN-tah
Najeeba: Nah-GEE-bah
Osugbo: Ōs-OO-bōNote: The “gb” sound is very difficult for most Westerners to pronounce (I’m slowly getting better at it), so we’ll leave that alone and make it a hard “b”.
Yeye: YĀ-yāNote: This is the word used for a woman’s vagina. It was a little joke that I knew few would understand (and that was perfectly fine, for me). “Yeye” means “big mother” in Yoruba but it also means “useless” or “of no value” in Nigerian Pidgin English (I meant the second definition in a sarcastic way, of course).
In case you were wondering what my own name means:Nnedimmameans “Mother is good,” (I was born looking like my father’s mother).Nkemdilimeans “Let mine be mine”, (I am the 3rd child. My parents knew I would need the ability to take what was mine).Okorafor is a name based on the 2nd Day of the four-day Igbo week, which is Afor Day.

Afriware's Nzingha Nommo text message reviews Kabu Kabu

Sat, 11/30/2013 - 10:10
Nzingha Nommo, owner of AfriwareEach time I have a book published, Nzingha Nommo the store owner of Afriware at some point sends me a flurry of emotive text messages about the book. I've come to anticipate and cherish these bursts of thought about my work. I've begun calling them her "text message reviews". 
When she read Who Fears Death, I will never forget her creepy text messages about hearing a cat screeching outside her window while she was reading it...until the end, when the cat finally stopped. Where did the cat go? *Shudder*
This time, she text message reviewed my recently published short story collection Kabu Kabu. It gave me a good laugh because just as Kabu Kabu jumps all over the place, so did her text message review. Here it is (I added the short story references, for clarity): 

Ooo, you painted a cool breeze exhale relaxin’ feelin’ from dodo bird story [referring to “The Ghastly Bird”]. Its even richer than single story because u place us firmly on launching pad of our imagination, ready4liftoff..but repeated every few pages. Then we r left to wonder abt it n make up own ending...luvin them. Talk about facing ur fears... mating with a ZOMbIE SPIDERZZZZ ....NOT [referring to “Spider the Artist”]. I saw some christmas lights done in a pattern, I imagined it was like the spiderz guitar...u r something. And where did that thousand ANCESTOR faced CREATURE KING KONG THING COME FROM? [referring to “On the Road”]   -Nzingha Nommo, owner of the awesome Afriware, supplier of     exquisite African stuff (including signed copies of my books)
Yeah, that just about sums it up...as much as one could in a paragraph of compressed text message lingo. :-)  

Full jacket for Lagoon/ A few words from South African illustrator Joey Hi-Fi

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 07:51
Hodder & Stoughton
scheduled for release April, 2014I stressed so much about how the cover of Lagoon could possibly look. A book cover can make a book a work of art (There are certain books whose covers are so lovely that I'll buy the physical copy instead of the ebook just for that reason). A book cover is the book's first impression. Not only can it cause a reader to pick or pass up a book, it can deeply influence the way a reader imagines the story. 

Lagoon is about an alien invasion happening in Nigeria in 2010, so not only is it full of Nigerians (and a few Ghanaians) and chaos, it's full of beings from the city, the sea and...beyond. I really really wanted to see all that captured the cover's image. Plus, I love detailed book covers, as a whole. My favorites are the ones that give you a powerful impression upon first glance and another powerful impression when you take a magnifying glass to it. My favorite book cover remains the UK edition for Nancy Farmer's A Girl Named Disaster.



When I finally saw the cover for Lagoon, I squealed with delight. The award-winning South African illustrator Joey Hi-Fi captured the novel's essence perfectly. Being the curious and nosy person that I am, I asked him about his inspiration Lagoon's coverHere's what he had to say: 
After reading Lagoon I was very excited by the possibilities for the cover. I loved the book  - and being a fan of all creatures and things aquatic, the opportunity to illustrate my favourite denizens of the deep had at last presented itself! When life gives you lagoons you draw tentacles. Or something like that. The initial inspiration for the cover of Lagoon came from a particular scene in the book. It's part of the greater mystery within the novel, so I won't get into specifics, but it involves a unique gathering of the various sea creatures off the coast of Lagos. Sharks, swordfish, eels, stingrays,  jellyfish, seals, sea turtles... and even giant tentacled monsters of the deep... to name a few. Tied into that event are a mysterious humanoid shape rising to the surface, large crashing tidal waves and Lagos city itself. Lagoon is a great title to work with typographically. So I decided to combine the title with an illustration of this scene from the novel. My idea was that the negative space between the tentacles and the writhing morass of sea creatures would form the title of the novel: 'Lagoon'. The scene illustrated on the front cover bleeds onto the spine and back cover. Where you see more sea creatures swimming towards that writhing morass of aquatic life on the front cover. Given the detailed nature of the cover illustration I used a limited colour palette to ensure the fine detail wouldn't detract from the novel's title. I wanted the word 'Lagoon' to be as bold and impactful as possible.Lagoon ensnares readers in its tentacles and takes them on a fascinating journey into its mysterious watery depths. I'm hoping my cover does the same.


JOEY HI-FI is the alter-ego of award-winning illustrator & designer, Dale Halvorsen. Operating from his secret underground lair in Cape Town, South Africa, he enjoys working on a variety of projects from book covers to editorial illustration, comics, t-shirts and packaging.
He has won a British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) award and the Wojtek Siudmak Award at the Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire for his work on the 'Zoo City' book cover (by Lauren Beukes).  In 2013 his cover for Thy KIngdom Come by Simon Morden was a British Science Fiction Association finalist for best cover.
He is also currently working on a Graphic Novel which he is writing and illustrating between paying commissions - and thus will only be due for release in 2040 after the great cyborg-cephalopod & zombie-unicorn war.



LAGOON: First Contact April 2014

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 08:32
Scheduled for release April 8th, 2014 (my birthday!)
Hodder and Stoughton
At last, here is the cover for my forthcoming "Alien Invasion in Lagos, Nigeria" novel, Lagoon. Art by South African award-winning illustrator and designer artist Joey Hi-Fi.

A brief description:
Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria’s legendary mega-city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.
But when something like a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways never imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world… and themselves. ‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

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