Science Fiction/Fantasy

Discovering the Women of SciFi: Nnedi Okorafor

Cassandra Neace

Staff Writer

Cassandra Neace is a high school English teacher in Houston. When she's not in the classroom, she reads books and writes about them. She prides herself on her ability to recommend a book for most any occasion. She can be found on Instagram @read_write_make

Several months ago, a copy of Robot Uprisings, an anthology of stories about…well, robots rising up against their human overlords, as the title would suggest…showed up on my doorstep. There were several stories from favorite authors, like Ernie Cline and Cory Doctorow. There were new-to-me authors in there, too. One of them, Nnedi Okorafor, and her story “Spider the Artist” caught my attention and has yet to let it go.

The story is about a woman living in Nigeria at some point in the future. She lives with her husband, who occasionally beats her, along a pipeline that is patrolled and protected by giant robotic spiders. For the person that strays too close to the pipeline, these spiders can be deadly. As she sits in her backyard playing her guitar, only just maintaining a safe distance from the pipeline, she catches the attention of one of those spiders. It is attracted to her music and, it would seem, to her.

The story is utterly hypnotic. I couldn’t shake it. In the months since I first read it, I’ve been slowly working my way through the short stories I can find online.  I started with the “Palm Tree Bandit,” a story that features a woman who decides to defy the expectations placed on her because of her gender and gives other women the courage to do the same.

Next, I read “The Book of Phoenix”  (which I later realized is a shorter version “African Sunrise). There is so much contained in what is a relatively short story. It’s incredibly powerful in terms of emotion, and it makes very definitive statements about what is right and what is wrong. It also has a sort of X-Men vibe to it that is very appealing. The story has evolved into a book that will be released in 2015 called The Book of Phoenixa prequel to her novel Who Fears Death.  I haven’t read that yet.

In fact, I haven’t read anything but these stories, and a few others that she has provided links to on her website.  I do this on purpose. In the past, I’ve run right out and devoured everything written by an author whose work I enjoy. I inhale it, and then there is nothing left. I can’t bear the thought of not having more Nnedi Okorafor to read.  Her work speaks to me in a way that I didn’t expect.  I like what she has to say about being a woman and the things that women are able to do. And I like that she doesn’t seem to be trying all that hard to say it. She doesn’t feel like she’s trying to make a case. She’s just trying to tell a story.

LagoonI came to her work at a time when the debate about a woman’s place in the world of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction was getting a lot of buzz. I realized that I’d read a few of the women who’d made their mark in that realm – Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Jo Walton- but I felt as though I hadn’t gone far enough. Okorafor’s stories have encouraged me to travel further down that path. I’ve found some good stuff, like Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds and The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian.  Next up:  Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.   

I’m anxiously awaiting Okorafor’s Lagoon, due out in the US in July 2015. It sounds like it is right up my alley, and there’s a blurb from Ursula K. LeGuin on the cover that makes me take notice: “There’s more vivid imagination in a page of Nnedi Okorafor’s work than in whole volumes of ordinary fantasy epics.” That’s quite an endorsement. I may just have to find a way to get my hands on an already-in-print British edition sooner rather than later.


Expand your literary horizons with New Books!, a weekly newsletter spotlighting 3-5 exciting new releases, hand-picked by our very own Liberty Hardy. Sign up now! 

new books