What is African Science Fiction?
Science fiction as a genre is commonly defined as:
“…fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component”.1
“…an imagined future, especially about space travel or other planets.”2
“…a form of fiction that deals principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals.”3
While most of the aspects are relevant to and feature in African science fiction, the standards are lacking and exclusive of the various cultures in Africa and how they influence African technology and society. In sum, science fiction is the plausible within a speculative format.
African sci-fi, however, has a broader sense of what is plausible, often blurring the line between science fiction and fantasy. One could argue that the plausible rests within reality (I.e chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc) but reality comprises psychology, sociology, politics, and philosophy as well, all of which are equally fundamental elements in sci-fi. For many South Africans, the tokoloshe4 is as much a part of reality as gravity is. Whether or not the creature exists according to physical science is up for debate, but within the social sciences, its existence can be seen much in the same way as we observe dark matter: through its interaction with the observable.
For the instances as above, African science fiction has been broadly classified as speculative fiction; the encompassing genre that includes sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc. The world is yet to recognize African sci-fi within its ranks of hard5 or soft (social)6 science fiction, without the inclusion of sub-genres such as cyberpunk or biopunk as quasi-scientific explanations of the elements considered as fantasy within African fiction.
Because sci-fi, in general, is already difficult to define, African sci-fi struggles to have its voice heard or regarded as “real” science fiction. Among other countries throughout the continent, South African science fiction helps to illuminate the importance of African sci-fi as an aspect of the genre, through fiction markets both local and abroad.
Last month we looked at South African science fiction authors with titles published in the last decade; the reemergence of sci-fi in our country. But there is more, another side of the literary tale: the worlds of literary magazines, journals, and anthologies. AfroSF and Probe were mentioned as contributors to SA sci-fi but they are not the only gateways for local emerging and established authors.
AfroSF is an anthology by StoryTime: African Publisher, formed in 2007 to combat the lack of African literary magazines. Another anthology they produced was African Roar, from 2010 to 2014. StoryTime continued in a weekly fiction magazine of the same name. Their anthologies are available on their website:
Probe, the magazine by the Science Fiction and Fantasy South Africa club, being the more established and prolific, has been able to adapt with the change of times and technology, releasing their magazine in digital format since 2006 for free reading on their website:
Something Wicked Magazine, established in 2006 (ending in 2012), curated pieces of science fiction and horror short stories from authors across the globe. It was one of the better paying markets for South African speculative fiction and the entry gate for several local authors. Past issues in print and digital are still available on their website:
FIYAH Literary Magazine is a new initiative aimed at promoting African speculative fiction, giving a voice to people of colour in and from Africa. Founded in 2016 and based on FIRE!! Magazine’s ideals, FIYAH has released two issues and are working on their third. Their website is packed with articles, reviews, playlists for each issue, and interview features that are well worth the read:
Omenana, launched in 2014 with their first issue, is a thriving literary magazine for African authors of speculative fiction in a paying market. With nine issues already published, Omenana opens doors for more sci-fi from South Africa and the entire continent. Their issues are available for your reading pleasure on their website, along with some really great artwork:
JungleJim Fiction was a colourful literary magazine for African speculative fiction. From the release of their first issue in 2013, they have published another twenty-five by 2016, opening the door to local sci-fi authors. Unfortunately no longer releasing issues, their website still stands with a catalog of their simplistic and vibrant covers, and features the authors who have contributed:
Short Story Day Africa features an anthology of short stories from across the continent, allowing the voices of Africa to tell their tales and opening the door for science fiction and other speculative genres. The non-profit organization launched its first prize competition in 2013. They have released several anthologies since, featuring South African sci-fi, which can be acquired on their website:
PEN South Africa, the local branch of Pen International, while not dedicated to speculative fiction, has published South African science fiction pieces in anthologies comprised from submitted pieces to their literary prizes. The organization also encourages local talent and authors. Information on their anthologies can be found on their website:
And The Authors?
The following are local authors of short and long form stories published in literary magazines, journals, and anthologies across the world from the last decade, with the reemergence of sci-fi in South Africa.
Branded, 2003 in SL Magazine (Student Life Magazine)
by Lauren Beukes
God is Dead So Smile, 2006 in Chimurenga: Conversation In Luanda & Other Graphic Stories
by Nikhil Singh
Claws and Savages, 2012 in AfroSF
by Martin Stokes
The Carthagion, 2014 in Terra Incognita: Short Story Day Africa
by Sarah Jane Woodward
Xaua-Khoe, 2016 in Imagine Africa 500
by Catherine Shepherd
With much appreciation and thanks to the
African Speculative Fiction Society
for their list of African authors.
As always, don’t hesitate to point out errors or anyone I may have missed for this list. Comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to help keep this list and the South African Sci-Fi Authors’ list updated.
 Science Fiction | Definition of Science Fiction by Merriam-Webster https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/science%20fiction
 Science Fiction Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/science-fiction?a=british
 Science Fiction | Literature and Performance | Britannica.Com https://www.britannica.com/art/science-fiction
 What Is a Tokoloshe? | Occult Zulu https://occultzulu.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/what-is-a-tokoloshe-2/
 Article Abstracts: #60 (Special Section: Hard Science Fiction) http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/abstracts/a60.htm
 SF Citations for OED http://www.jessesword.com/sf/view/1672