Afrofuturism, what is the science in AfroSciFi?

Afrofuturism, what is the science in AfroSciFi?

On Day 2 at the Writivism 2015 literary festival in Kampala, Uganda, there was an interesting panel discussion titled “What is the science in AfroSciFi?”. Growing up in Nigeria I found myself attracted to scifi from an early age. I was the type of pupil who spent his recess at the library reading fiction. I read everything on the shelves allocated to my age group. And by the time I ran out of “age-appropriate” books to read, exceptions were graciously made and a small but growing selection of books for older kids was moved to “my” shelf so I could keep reading. These are the early primary school days I’m talking about. The librarian and some of the teachers had stopped trying to get me to go outside and play cops and robbers with the other kids. I did that too, from time to time, but nothing beat the adventure and magic and fun and wonder of a good book.

Eventually, I discovered scifi books. Around the same time they started showing Battle of the Planets on NTA 2 Channel 5, in Lagos. That was it. To this day, my true literary love is science fiction. There will most probably never be a genre/category/label/section that will grip and move and inspire me as much as scifi has been doing, all these years since.

Science fiction wasn’t big in the 80s Nigeria I grew up in. Not even at the German school I attended in Lagos, with the library with the “age appropriate” books. To this day, there’s a sadness I feel when I try to share my love for scifi with people and they’re just not that into it, man. The sadness comes from this sense of loss I feel on their behalf. A loss of access to time travel (with all its paradoxical quirks), teleportation, alien races, intergalactic battle ships. Oh my goodness.

It bothers me that scifi isn’t big in Nigeria, or Rwanda or anywhere else in Africa. A lot of what we read in Africa of African literature is in a sense scifi. But we don’t call it that, simply because it’s not from a white guy writing about Borg implants or Cylon Basestars. But then what do you call stories about shapeshifters, evil mermaids (Mami Wata), shamans and zombies? The label Magic Realism was mentioned at the panel discussion, in the context that some participants were unhappy with the distinction between Scifi and Magic Realism. To me, it’s all one specialized form or another of the parent genre Fantasy.

Where’s the Science in AfroSciFi? Everywhere. Any sufficiently advanced technology often seems like magic. My grandmother in Rwanda doesn’t understand how the Internet works to transmit pictures from my mother’s phone in Lagos to my aunty’s phone in Kigali. I’m not saying she thinks her daughters are involved in the dark arts. But you get what I’m saying?

I have seen and experienced things for which I am unable to produce a technical manual. But it does not mean there is not some form of science, or technology or technique behind it. People are able to lower their heart rates at will. In the northern hemisphere animals hibernate. Sleeping through winter. Is it magic?

I think scifi is a test of your imagination. Of your willingness to let your mind take you to where your body might perhaps be reluctant or fearful to go, if given the chance. Suspension of disbelief is more required in scifi and fantasy than in almost anything else you could read. Except maybe American presidential election debates….

Afrofuturism is more than just a genre to me. It’s a viewpoint. I think it’s an identity. A movement. A world of possibilities, and the possibility of different worlds. Magical, fantastical, hypertechnological… The extraordinary narrated from an extraordinarily African point of view. I love it. And maybe one day, African primary school children will discover and love afrofuturistic gems in the “age-appropriate” sections of their school libraries.

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