Monday, July 27, 2020

SciFI/Fantasy Anthology Review: Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora: Edited by Zelda Knight & Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald

Full Disclosure:  This book was read as an e-ARC (Advance Reader Copy) obtained via Netgalley from the publisher in advance of the book's release on August 17, 2020 in exchange for a potential review.  I give my word that this did not affect my review in any way - if I felt conflicted in any way, I would simply have declined to review the book.

Dominion is an upcoming anthology of short fiction, ranging from short story to novelette length in size, featuring authors entirely from Africa or the African Diaspora.  It contains a set of authors with a certain amount of critical acclaim in various smaller awards, but who were mostly unknown to me (I've read a novel from one of the authors and that's it).  Reviewing anthologies is, as I have mentioned before often tricky because obviously story quality can vary from story to story, and depending upon the anthology, the themes that hold the collection together can be often be very loose, making the works not really feel like a collective whole (and if the collections are very large, it's not exactly easy to review every story).

Dominion could have been such a loosely themed anthology in that its collection is based upon its authors' background, but at the same time that background manages to ground many of the stories in some similar themes and ideas, even as the stories diverge wildly.  Some of the stories are very effective and interesting, covering a wide range of SciFi/Fantasy ideas, whereas a few fall flat - in particular two stories feel entirely incomplete, as if part of a larger series I can't seem to find anywhere.  But other than those two, this is a really different and interesting collection of stories with a worldview shaped by the authors' collective backgrounds and it's well worth your time.

NOTE:  As I put up in the disclosure above, this book was read in a prerelease copy e-ARC, with at least one major omission: the book's cover promotes a foreword by Tananarive Due, but the foreword was not included in my copy.

TRIGGER WARNING:  Rape (kinda) and Domestic Abuse (Physical) in one story in particular.

The stories in Dominion - 12 stories and 1 poem - features a range of settings and subgenres - with a number being fantasy, a number being scifi, and of course a number being a hybrid because the two aren't exactly separate genres.  There are some commonalities of course as I mentioned between many of the stories - anger and dismay at the treatment of Africans and Africa and its diaspora, whether that also occurred in the world of each story or not, is common, as is the idea of an Africa that somehow managed to escape from the interference of the outside world, at least for a little while.

The anthology also includes a pair of stories with heavy feminist themes, featuring as protagonists or major characters women struggling against the bounds of patriarchal societies, often as a result of other women in these societies as much as the men.  Moreover the anthology features more than once the idea that people repeat the mistakes of the past through their hubris and often recklessness, even knowing full well how devastatingly it worked out the last time.  The stories within are often stories dealing heavily with metaphor and analogy, although not always (one story, Michael Boatman's "Thresher of Men" is a direct tale of vengeance upon White Americans who slaughtered and oppressed Black people throughout history in a particular town, and it's deliciously righteous and timely).  Interestingly queer individuals are basically NOT present anywhere within the anthology, as all relationships featured within are heteronormative.

Several stories stand out from the rest for me:
Dilman Dila's "Red Bati" features a robot pet whose former owner secretly installed within it an AI and who decides to try and act for itself when its beloved owner dies and new ones try to take charge, to really interesting results.

Eugen Bacon's "A Maji Maji Chronicle" features a pair of magic wielding time travelers, an elder and his son/apprentice, coming back to 1905 Africa to teach a lesson in the impact of changing history by altering power dynamics between the oppressed and the oppressor, but the end result surprises them both in a really nice twist that I rather liked.

Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald's "Ife-Iyoku, The Tale of Imadeyunuagbon" is probably my favorite story of the whole anthology (and the last one), featuring a small community in Africa that somehow survived a nuclear apocalypse that was diverted by other nations to hit the African continent, destroying all but their enclave, while the community as a whole somehow gained magical powers as a result.  But the community maintains strict gender roles, to the dismay of some, and when one of the community's leaders makes a dangerous error in changing the status quo, those come to a head in tremendous fashion.  A very feminist tale in the end as mistakes of the past recur, requiring brave and powerful action and the rebirth of one individual's power.

Anyhow, even most of the other stories are at the very least interesting and made me think quite a bit, even if I didn't really like them or enjoy them after doing so, but I usually did like them.  There are a few misses - two stories in particular as I mentioned above feel incomplete, as if part of a much larger story, and just ended with a thud as a result - and I looked to see if I could find other stories by those authors in the same world and came up empty.

Also one story - The Unclean by Nuzo Onoh is what earns my trigger warning above by the way, being utterly brutal in its treatment of the woman protagonist at its heart (Rape/Domestic & Emotional Abuse feature).  Fair warning there.

So yeah, Dominion is a fascinating anthology of stories from a group of authors I really would love to read more of, and whose voices should be amplified in this community.  Recommended.

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