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Friday Five: Beyond Broken Monsters and The Three - 25 South African SF&F Books

This week's Friday Five (...Fives) is courtesy of Nick Wood, who has focused on some of the amazing speculative fiction coming out of South Africa. More of Nick's work (and reading suggestions) can be found on his blog, or you can ask him on Twitter, at @nick45wood.

Idea WarThe South African speculative fiction scene seems to be burgeoning in the wake of Lauren Beukes and Sarah Lotz (whom I’m forbidden to mention, in order to give space to other, perhaps less well-known authors).*

So much so that I’m going to beg for editorial indulgence and significantly go over the Friday Five numerical limit – going to five fives. And even then it still feels like a constraint.

Given this fast emerging SF scene within South Africa, it deserves a strong local publishing platform. Traditionally, the larger local publishers have tended to shun SF/F/H fiction (novels by Lauren Beukes and Lily Herne excepted), choosing to focus on so-called "literary" fiction and other forms of genre, such as crime. 

Thankfully, this is changing. While stalwart publishers such as Umuzi, Jacana and Kwela are now beginning to open their doors to more speculative fare, local digital publishers have also moved into the SF scene - namely Fox & Raven, who have published work by Martin Stokes, Mia Arderne and Dave de Burgh, amongst others  - as well as wordsmack who have published Abi Godsell's Idea War (more of Abi later). Wordsmack will also publish the Vampire Queen of the South, Nerine Dorman (Inkarna and Khepera Rising), who’s not only a prolific indie author in her own right, but runs the local horror anthology/competition, "Bloody Parchment"

South Africa’s first and much-beloved horror magazine, Something Wicked, which was instrumental in launching the careers of more than a few genre writers, has moved from a monthly edition to an annual anthology. 

South Africa is also home to a number of powerful works by writers not ostensibly working from within a genre "camp". Zakes Mda springs immediately to mind - he has been writing for many years and although mostly within a 'realist' frame, many of his novels contain fantastic elements. Indeed, Mda has mentioned previously that  Gabriel Garcia Marquez told him "magical realism" in his own work had been influenced by the historical presence of African slaves, carrying this tradition within their own oral storytelling culture.

The heart of rednessAlthough written some years ago now, a favourite of mine from the Mda oeuvre remains The Heart of Redness, set in the Eastern Cape, with parallel tales of modern and nineteenth century concerns focused around the mass starvation of the amaXhosa. This was amongst those who followed the prophetic calling of Nongqawuse, the prophetess who spread her vision that the dead would rise to expel the colonialists, should the amaXhosa have faith and kill their own cattle. This book weaves together past and present, faith and myth, in a resonant tapestry that made me weep for home, while reading it on the far shores of Aotearoa New Zealand. I have just received Mda's latest book The Sculptors of Mapungubwe and look forward to being richly immersed yet again 

Other local writers of a somewhat "magical vein" include Henrietta Rose-Innes - her lush novel Nineveh gorgeously demonstrates the porous boundaries between 'civilisation' and nature and "rewilds" the imagination. Tom Eaton's The Wading and Rachel Zadok's Sister Sister similarly occupy liminal spaces, both richly told and beautiful stories.

Perhaps grittier in tone, Kgebetle Moele's The Book of the Dead has the second half of the story narrated by the HIV virus. Phaswane Mpe's Welcome to Our Hillbrow explores an infamous Jo'burg suburb in post-apartheid South Africa, with some fantastic twists. Thando Mgqolozana's second book, Hear Me Alone is described as "an African makeover of Judea". Tom Learmont's Light Across Time is a love story, with an ancient evolving backdrop.

Space RaceMoving more clearly within genre boundaries, Charlie Human's Apocalypse Now Now is a zany, humorous melange of fantasy and local myth, within the supernatural underworld of Cape Town. Other local writers include Sam Wilson (here's a lovely, if slightly dated exchange with Sam and Charlie Human here at Something Wicked) and Cat Hellisen, who has released The House of Sand and Secrets, the second book in her gripping and critically acclaimed fantasy sequence. Andrew Salomon was shortlisted for the inaugural Terry Pratchett Award (his novel, Lun will be published by Umuzi this year) and Alex Latimer's The Space Race has arrived, recently highlighted in Lauren Beukes' 'The Spark'

Ivor Hartmann's AfroSF promises a return in 2014 with volume 2 featuring longer novellas. Volume 1 introduced (amongst wider African representation) local South African SF from Christy Zinn, Ashley Jacobs, Sally Partridge - who also writes leading YA fiction - Liam Kruger and Joan De La Haye (also published in horror and crime).

The collaboration behind S.L. Grey has long been known. Sarah Lotz's partner in horrific crime is Louis Greenberg, who is both an editor and a funny and beautiful writer - see his mummy story, "Akhenaten Goes to Paris" in The Book of the Dead - and with what looks like an edgy new book coming out soon, Dark Windows.

And so we move towards the countdown denouement. Another pseudonymous partner with Sarah Lotz is her own daughter, Savannah Lotz. Their YA alien-invasion series, Deadlands, is written under the name Lily Herne. Abi Godsell, mentioned above, is also a young up and coming writer, with a good few publications already in Something Wicked. Her Idea War is an unfolding series on wordsmack and reads (to me anyway) with the power of a raw Kameron Hurley. That's 25 writers named, right? So I'll break the rules again: Miranda Sherry has been highlighted in the SW news link above with Black Dog Summer coming  and Alex Smith’s darkly fantastical Devilskein & Deerlove will be out in mid-2014.

Next time, look out for Friday Five Five Fives - I’m sure by then I’ll have 125 South African genre writers storming the bastion of speculative fiction. Until then... Watch out for the names above.

*An editorial constraint in place - that I do not mention probably the two most prominent South African SF writers, given we may all know of their work by now. Of course, we could also claim Lavie Tidhar as our own, as he is South African too - his latest tour de force is The Violent Century.

More on South African genre fiction from S.L. Grey on the World SF Blog.

[Editor's note: From experience, the best (and cheapest) method to purchase South African books from outside of South Africa is to email the Book Lounge - a fantastic independent store in Cape Town. If you send them a 'shopping list', they'll order them, package them and help sort out the shipping and customs. It is very easy and surprisingly inexpensive.]