The best African climate speculative fiction/fact (SF) books

Who am I?

Growing up in Zambia and then South Africa, I was immersed in the natural landscapes and the fantastic variety of African plants and wildlife. However, I increasingly became aware of many other human injustices happening around me—e.g., human to human: the extreme racism of white supremacy (apartheid). Additionally, human to other animals: the ivory and wildlife ‘trade,’ resulting in what has been called The Sixth Extinction (of plants and other animals.) Alongside this destruction of life is the critical climate crisis and the financial appropriation of vital resources for profit—none more vital than water, for water is life. These books emphasise the ethical sanctity of all living beings!

I wrote...

Water Must Fall

By Nick Wood,

Book cover of Water Must Fall

What is my book about?

On a near future, drying and dying Earth—who gets to both drink and live? Follow the precarious journeys of three ‘ordinary’ people as they cross Southern Africa and the arid American west, looking for firm footholds, from which to fight the multi-national water corporations, that have privatized and taken over the world’s dwindling water supplies. Hope eventually comes, from learning to stand together, but are they willing to pay the heavy price, to find ways to ensure that (for all), water must fall?

“This is the story of people struggling with a climate situation that is out of their control. It’s a situation that soon may become universal, so there’s an extra edge to this novel that makes it especially compelling.” Kim Stanley Robinson.

The books I picked & why

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By Nnedi Okorafor,

Book cover of Lagoon

Why this book?

Nnedi Okorafor is the leading light in African Speculative Fiction (ASF) and Lagoon is a great place to start (or continue), by reading Nnedi’s wide-ranging, seamless and extensive blends of science fiction and fantasy, all firmly rooted in the African continent. Lagoon is a first contact/alien invasion novel and where else would aliens want to invade, than the massive Nigerian metropolis of Lagos? This not only decenters traditional Western narratives of first contact, but it starts and ends with animal and mythic voices that remind us of our histories—and that we are already surrounded by ‘aliens’ (many of whom we are either eating or driving into extinction.) At its heart, Lagoon is a novel of hope, about relearning a new and compassionate way of relating to ‘Others’, including our shared living planet. 

Disruption: New Short Fiction from Africa

By Rachel Zadok (editor), Karina M. Szczurek (editor), Jason Mykl Snyman (editor)

Book cover of Disruption: New Short Fiction from Africa

Why this book?

This is a wonderful and diverse cross-section of stories from a variety of African countries representing a thematic focus on a world facing Disruption, whether via climate change, global pandemics, or a plethora of crises, that challenges us all with the necessity to find ways to join with each other if we are to survive. Stand-out stories for me were Zambian author Mbozi Haimbe's "Shelter" (shortlisted for a NOMMO Award this year—best in African Speculative Fiction 2022) and Kenyan Idza Luhumyo’s "Five Years Next Sunday," winner of the 2022 Caine Prize for African Writing. I loved the vibrancy and range of these stories, all bristling with energy and providing novel ways of seeing and learning to confront our global challenges.  

It Doesn't Have to Be This Way

By Alistair Mackay,

Book cover of It Doesn't Have to Be This Way

Why this book?

The title says it all: It does not have to be this way—we can build a better, more just and kinder world together, if…we learn to act on our dreams/visions in order to make this happen. But this path—as Capetonian author Alistair Mackay outlines, in a passionate and riveting exploration of fraught existences in an increasingly divided and desertified Southern Africa—will always come at personal cost. What price are we willing to pay for a better and more inclusive human future? What artificial ways of seeing (and consuming) do we need to resist to see and value each other as we all truly are? I loved this book as it is both darkly funny and tragic, yet never loses hope for a new and better world.

Naturalizing Africa: Ecological Violence, Agency, and Postcolonial Resistance in African Literature

By Cajetan Iheka,

Book cover of Naturalizing Africa: Ecological Violence, Agency, and Postcolonial Resistance in African Literature

Why this book?

This book provides a detailed and trenchant analysis of how African novels have sought ways of reflecting and resisting the destruction wrought by colonial occupations and neo-colonial extractive capitalism. This analysis thoughtfully includes ‘nonhuman life’ and the need to ‘redefine our notion of personhood to include other beings that we do not normally ascribe to this (yet with whom our ecological history remains deeply entangled).’ Iheka also points out how Africa has ostensibly been demarcated as a ‘sacrifice zone’ by other major global powers (many of who benefited from the colonial enterprise) and how African fiction attempts to decentre narrative perceptions from the Global (and anthropomorphic) North. I enjoyed the subtle and inclusive approach of the author, who emphasised the porous nature of borders and the ethical need to reengage with what it means to be human as a way of finding our way out of a ‘slow apocalypse.’ 

A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis

By Vanessa Nakate,

Book cover of A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis

Why this book?

Vanessa Nakate is a young Ugandan climate activist who was excised from a photo of gathered young climate warriors (which included Greta Thunberg) as they prepared a response to DAVOS, the World Economic Forum accused of peddling the destructive myth of ‘eternal economic growth.’ (The other four activists in the photograph were all white, suggesting racism operates structurally at many levels—and within multiple contexts.) Nakate provides a refreshing perspective of driving climate activism from the Global South—centering those not only most detrimentally impacted by climate depredations, but also the most disempowered to respond and be heard. Her concluding chapter on ten practical things one can do, provides a hopeful and concrete map for personal climate action, including creative imagining. I loved her emphasis on local action too—no change is too small.

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