I used to think about what it would be like if massive EMP bombs went off around the world, instantaneously frying all the electronics. The so-called modern cities (and nations) would be transformed into dense hells, with few practical, natural resources but plenty of Apple brand paperweights. The less “advanced” and more rural peoples would suddenly be the only ones who knew how to get by. In some cases, their lives would not change at all. The power hierarchy of humanity would exactly invert.
A much more interesting version of this is what happens in Deji Bryce Olukotun’s After the Flare. A solar flare cooks everything electronic outside a narrow equatorial band. Today’s power-players – the U.S., Europe, far east Asia, etc. – descend into relative chaos. Parts of Africa, South America, south Asia become the centers of civilization. This is fascinating world-building.
This fast-paced story, set a bit in the future, is part mystery, part techno-thriller. Can Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency (that’s a real thing which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t know existed – Nigeria is the 7th most populous nation, 50% of which is urban – this is a big country), working with their Indian colleagues, rescue a stranded astronaut? Can our protagonist, an ex-NASA, African-American – always encouraged by his mom to dip into his African heritage but now feeling quite out-of-place – unravel the baffling disappearance of one of his workers? Add ancient tribal magic (or is it just physics?), Boko Haram, politics, fascinating but totally convincing biotech, a surprising use of music, and you’ve got some killer sci-fi.
One thing I love about good science fiction is the chance to look at things from a different POV. This story does that with the technology and also, obviously just from the premise, with global power shifting to Africa. It’s so interesting to constantly be adjusting your sense of what is “standard” to something that is not standard for you. (Which, of course, folks who are not straight, white, male have to do all the time.) But the other thing that feels different in this book is that though it has post-apocalyptic elements, the drive is towards a genuinely new future. It’s something we used to think about and write about and hope for, but it feels like – in the West, anyway – we’ve run into a wall of our own making. It’s like we lost our nerve for the unknown, and our appetite for challenging ourselves. Not so in Olukotun’s Nigeria. I like this Afrofuturist POV. It makes me feel hopeful and ready to build something amazing. A year or two ago, it might have just felt entertaining, but right now, it feels like medicine.
“And still Bracket heard the song. He felt it inside him now. There. There was the source of the kingdom. There was the coiled-up, thigh-burning sprint. The rush of air around the brow. The beats surging in the blood. The dream that would sling them forward.”