African Monsters Review Part 3

Here is the end of our look at AFRICAN MONSTERS.  In short, this anthology is just such a powerful representation of what you can do with a mindful, purposeful approach to diversity and trying to make sure everyone’s story is put out there.  The last batch of stories continues in the vein of using horror as the vehicle to make wider statements about societal ills.

“Bush Baby” by Chikodili Emelumadu provided some powerful, haunting images.  It struck me as a story of the unfortunate truth that family can sometimes pull you into their bad decisions like gravity.  The main character had done everything right and didn’t really deserve to have to confront what she did.  But the indisputable bond between siblings drove her to it and I like how there isn’t really an end to the confrontation.  It was a lesson in some things having to simply be endured and not necessarily coming to a neat ending.

“After the Rain” by Joe Vaz is one of those stories that really worked the horror angle.  It taught me a bit about South Africa and some of its politics along the way, but I have to say I felt the creeping horror the entire time.  Vaz knew what to focus on to build the horror (the baying, the carcasses, the darkness) and each of those elements carried out the story to its proper crescendo.  The ending brought all the simmering politics of the story to a head.  It was a well-constructed story that hit all the notes along the way.

“Taraab and Terror in Zanzibar” by Dave-Brendon de Burgh is political in more of a Jason Bourne sort of way.  It has all the feeling of an old school pulp story and the hero of it put me in the mind of Doc Savage.  It’s almost pulp horror in how it’s handled.  I wish we could have seen the actual final fight, but I can understand why we didn’t.  While it might have been a spectacle, it wouldn’t have ultimately added anything of substance to the story.

“A Whisper in the Reeds” by Nerine Dorman offered up the first LGBT protagonist in the anthology and I was glad for it as I was afraid that bit of representation might be missed out on.  It was refreshing to see a gay couple that wasn’t mired by tragedy and wasn’t insanely happy either.  They were just a normal couple.  I found that thread of the story the most interesting.  While the creatures in the lake were the way the story was brought together, I found the more grounded events to be profoundly more intriguing.

Some of those themes of sexuality get carried over into “Acid Test” by Vianne Venter.  There’s a strong component of environmentalism in the mix of this story and it offered up something of a warning in that regard.  But it wasn’t necessarily dystopic in its handling.  It felt more capitalistic in approach and the main characters seem to feed right into that which sort of makes the environmental message a bit fatalist, which sadly is probably the most realistic approach.

“Thandiwe’s Tokoloshe” by Nick Wood is a twisted children’s story that lovingly throws the middle finger up at Narnia.  I loved it and the sassiness of the young child is such a refreshingly real take.  Not all children come wrapped in manners and innocence.  Frankly, they shouldn’t for a number of reasons and I think this story makes a strong case for it.

AFRICAN MONSTERS delivered on its promises and then some.  We got stories from a unique perspective that I can only hope continues to grow in the publishing industry.

African Monsters Review Part 2

So we move into our second look at the anthology AFRICAN MONSTERS.  One of the things that I really love about this collection is that it doesn’t try to play the continent like this monolithic entity.  It acknowledges and embraces the many, many cultures and subcultures that exist there.  That is such a needed thing for those of us who suffer from a Western gaze which prompts us to make so many unfounded assumptions.  So while this anthology certainly entertained, it also educated.

Picking up where we left off, we start with “The Death of One” by Su Opperman.  Having a short graphic piece in the middle of this prose collections was a welcome change of pace.  And I think it’s a perfect complement to many of the stories that came before and after it.  There’s a grittiness to the work that is just primal.  There’s this raw intensity that travels effortlessly from one panel to the next.  You don’t need a lot of exposition because the essence of this conflict is depicted flawlessly.

“Chikwambo” by T.L. Huchu was a story that intertwined so much into such a short time.  You see the arrogance of patriarchy, the cruelty of loss and it all gets encapsulated with this terribly sad creature.  The Chikwambo is certainly scary, but there’s such a tragic aspect to it.  It’s heartbreaking to think of the origins and how much pain must exist behind such a legend.  The Tsikamutanda reminded me a bit of the teacher character from “Fullmetal Alchemist” in how he possessed great wisdom, but still made a fatal mistake in the end.  I think this is easily one of my favorite stories in the collection.

“Monwar” by Dilman Dila also manages to weave some different themes together in an interesting way.  The main character is a woman cop in a society that doesn’t make it easy for women to exist in such a profession.  So she takes no crap from anyone and does her job very well throughout the course of the story.  But thankfully, Dila avoids the mundane “unstoppable badass woman who feels nothing” cliché and infuses the character with a large yearning to fill a part of her life that has left her.  At first, I was prepared to not like that particular angle of the story but Dila delivers it with nuance and some comedy.  The main character’s yearning is mirrored in terrible fashion by the Monwar that is feasting throughout the city.  Overall, this story is just an excellent use of foil and symbolism.

The feminist work is carried onward in “That Woman” by S. Lotz.  When I talked earlier about this anthology educating, this is one of the stories I thought of.  It is a story that lays out the harmful repercussions of a witchcraft accusation and how damaging that can be to a woman.  The sinister details of these accusations and the economic destruction it causes reminds me in some ways of the Salem Witch Trails, but this phenomena runs far deeper and the scar of it seems longer lasting.  I didn’t walk away from this story feeling sorry for any of its losers and that’s how it should be.  None were deserving of sympathy and I think this story manages to relish in its vengeance in a way that doesn’t feel gratuitous.

“Sacrament of Tears” by Toby Bennett caught my attention immediately because of the tone.  The author manages to capture the language and flow of the time period they’re depicting so well that I almost wanted to check back to the first page to make sure Lord Byron’s name wasn’t there.  This is a story that you can tell work was put into to get every word just right and it elevated my appreciation the piece to another level.  There wasn’t a single moment in the story where I felt like it broke “character”.  There is a critique of colonialism hidden somewhere in the mix here, but it hides itself as well as the Mother in this story hides her pain.  A wonderful piece and one that will stick in my mind for quite some time.

Tomorrow will cover the remainder of the anthology and offer us some stories dealing with environmentalism, revolutions and politics all wrapped up with different seasonings of horror.

African Monsters Review Part 1

Monsters and legends.  Every culture has them and in American pop culture, some of these monsters and ideas have been worn to nothing.  The European caricatures of vampires and werewolves have been playing out for decades here.  So this book was refreshing for that reason and because it allowed me as an African-American to get another interesting glimpse into the continent from which my ancestry hails.  To be short, this anthology captured my imagination and forced me to turn on the lights at points of my reading it.  I’ll run through the stories, giving some insight into the parts of them that stuck out for me.  Given the amount of tales woven and my need to say something about each one, this review will be broken into three easily digestible parts.

The first story in the collection was crafted by the incomparable Nnedi Okorafor titled “On the Road”.  This was a perfect story to begin the collection with as it smashed all of my expectations because my early assumptions told me this was to be a zombie story. Wrong is probably not even appropriate to sum up my ill conclusion.  The idea of the mmuo was just so damn intriguing and terrifying in scope.  Its imagery harkened back to some of the mystical guardians seen in Who Fears Death.  In such a small space, Okorafor managed to give us lessons on family, fate and responsibility.  The ending felt like something right out of a superhero origin story.  You can always expect a coolly crafted heroine under Okorafor’s pen.

Next in the collection is a story from Joan de la Haye called “Impundulu”.  The creature that the title is named for strikes me a bit like a Garuda.  I couldn’t help but to invoke the imagery of Perdido Street Station as I read this story.  Rape and its awful consequences is a terrible, global disease and I think this story tries to manage some of that in its own way.   The Impundulu seems to represent the righteous, if not dark, rage a person feels after suffering that kind of violation.  As the story plays out, you see that rage causes indiscriminate lashing out.  I think more could have been done to build up the character of the daughter, but when viewed through the lens of her being a symbol then I see why she wasn’t.

“One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sunlight” by Tade Thompson was one of the longer pieces in the anthology.   Despite every descriptive writing and a sympathetic main character, I’m not sure if it needed to be that long of a story.  There was an immediacy to some of the scenes that I don’t think carried all the way through the story.   But what I found the most interesting was the relationship between the protagonist and the foreign priest.  It struck me as somewhat twisted how this priest had deluded himself into thinking the protagonist was something he could pin down.  By far, that dynamic caught my attention the most.

“Severed” by Jayne Bauling reminded me so much of an old school horror movie.  College kids on a trip and ignoring local lore is something I’ve seen played out in that genre quite a few times, but here it feels new and refreshing.  The monster at the center of this story is horrifying in its ability to take away your freewill through something you can never really get rid of.  It takes one of the most natural aspects of yourself and turns it into something wholly dangerous.  The story works itself in a way you might expect it to, but you’re still left with sufficient chills once it’s done.

Tomorrow we’ll be digging into some stories from Su Opperman, Dilman Dila and others..

..African Monsters