Emma Lee Reviews ‘Dominion’ Anthology edited by Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald

‘Dominion’ anthology edited by Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald
Published by Aurelia Leo
ISBN-13: 978-1-946024-79-4 (paperback; also available as hardback and eBook)

‘Dominion’ is an anthology of thirteen speculative fiction stories from Africa and the African diaspora. Some stories, e.g. Eugen Bacon’s ‘A Maji Maji Chronicle’ travel back in time, some are rooted in the past, e.g. Nuzo Onoh’s ‘The Unclean’, Ekpeki Oghenchovwe Donald’s ‘Ife-Iyoku, whereas others have a distinctly futuristic feel, e.g. Marian Denise Moor’s ‘A Mastery of German’, Dilman Dila’s ‘Red_Bati’, Dare Segun Falowo’s ‘Convergence in Chorus Architecture’. The remainder have a more contemporary/near future feel.

The anthology opens with Nicole Givens Kurtz with ‘Trickin’’ where Raoul sets out to play ‘trick or treat’ on Hallowe’en with a dystopian twist. Raoul feels like a typical older teenager as he enters a broken city, hoping his belligerence will get him what he wants. It’s as the story ends, readers discover Raoul isn’t who he believes himself to be. Most of the stories have a human or at least humanoid narrator. One that deviates from that is Dilman Dila’s ‘Red_Bati’ where a robot wants to escape his current assignment, mining, and return to the companion he used to be. He thinks he can revive his former owner in holographic form but discovers what he’s not factored in is that his owner was human and capable of contrary decisions. Nuzo Onoh takes readers back in time to a woman bought for a bride price who visits a pastor to cleanse her spirit so she can produce a son, who doesn’t survive childhood. She is ousted by a second wife and visits a medicine man whom she hopes will restore her fortunes. Going back to her family is not an option. She is trapped in her marriage to an ogre only the nightmare gets worse. Although set in 3029AD, Eugen Bacon takes readers back to 1905AD in her tale of a magician and his apprentice son. Rafeeat Aliyu’s ‘To Say Nothing of Lost Figurines’ is set in an Africa of the future where humans and humanoids have divided Africa into strictly bordered areas. When a significant item, a ngunja, is stolen and its rightful owner has to seek special permission to enter a land forbidden to him to retrieve it, a hybrid civil servant sees a way to escape her outcast status as not fully belonging to the country she serves.

Marian Denise Moore takes us forward in time in ‘A Mastery of German’ where the narrator is put in charge of a project that seeks to edit memories where two subjects’ DNA is compatible. The problem found in trial subjects is that memories can’t be separated so if subject A receives memories of a specific skill from subject B, useful where B needs to know a language they are not fluent in, B will also receive all of subject A’s memories, so B receives not just the language but also childhood, significant and inherited memories. The narrator is charged with coming up with a way to keep the project viable otherwise it and her reputation are doomed. Her father, currently tracing the family’s ancestry, provides a solution.

A trio of stories have more of a horror feel to them. Suyi Okungbow Davies’ ‘Sleep Papa Sleep’ is narrated by a trader in body parts who inadvertently breaks the rules and has to suffer horrifying consequences. In Mame Bougouma Diene’s ‘The Satellite Charmer’, Ibou’s strange connection with the satellite lasers used by the mining company he works for grows stronger when his wife and son leave him after discovering his infidelities to devastating effect. Michael Boatman’s ‘Thresher of Men’ sees an invoked goddess answer her worshippers’ pleas.

Fittingly the anthology ends with Ekpeki Oghenchovwe Donald’s ‘Ife-Iyoku, The Tale of Imadeyunuagbon’, which takes readers forward to a post-apocalyptic world that has fallen back on traditional African societal structures, and a tale of conflict between the elders, whose experience-won wisdom is faced with a new challenge and a rebel who challenges the old order and offers a new solution. Through Imade and her lover Morako readers see the friction not only between old traditions and new methods but also friction between a prescribed role and a desired one. Morako refuses the elders’ commands to force his woman into subjugation. Imade rebels against her hypothetical children growing up to be guards (if male) or breeders (if female) and refuses her prescribed role as mother, an action which could destroy the village.

All the stories are engaging, with characters who draw readers’ sympathies and are tasked with solving their own dilemmas. All the stories also have a clear African origin, either in their setting or in dealing with topics such as inherited trauma from enslavement and displacement or trapped in minimal wage jobs from a need to feed a family which expose employees to environmental hazards. Each writer explores the frictions between their characters and their prescribed roles either in capitalist or societal structures in a way that provokes readers to think about human behaviour for better or worst. ‘Dominion’ is recognisably speculative fiction which does not bombard readers with complicated science and futuristic technology, but gives them relatable scenarios from which to explore human dilemmas and responses, even when the main character is a robot, making for a wide-ranging and excellent introduction to writers influenced by their African heritage.