I have to admit that despite my passion and admiration of science and technology, I have never been a fan of science fiction. I have always imagined it to be about absurd fantasies involving flying cars, alien invasion, giant ants, and all the other stuff that are really distant from reality. I don’t remember reading one, and when it comes to sci-fi films, I have a very short attention span.
However, I think I have had a change of heart after listening to some science fiction writers at the recently concluded Africa Writes event in London. It is not that now I suddenly like the idea of Green Men flying on elephants, No. It is that I now understand science fiction to mean something else or more precisely I have been made to believe by these authors that it doesn’t have to be just about these fantasies that I have talked about.
According the Zimbabwean science fiction writer Ivor Hartmann, sci-fi should be used to imagine the kind of realistic future we would like to see. There is so much in the world about forecasting the future as if the future just happens without our inputs. He talked about using science fiction as a political tool. Personally, I can imagine a political party writing their party manifesto in the medium of science fiction. It should describe the society they sought to create and its impact on the life of ordinary people. Instead of a highly worded manifesto full of jargon, I would like to see what the life of an ordinary folk would look like if the party implemented its policies. Call it utopia if you like, even though that makes it sound unreachable.
Another panel speaker, Tade Thompson, went even further to say that science fiction should be about the way we would like the society to look like today. If one wrote a novel centered in Lagos, Nigeria, and postulated electricity supply being available round the clock, the roads all tarred and free from potholes, and houses have access to running water, that would be a science fiction according to him. My conclusion from this is that science fiction is not just about time, it is about space (place). Even though many people in some parts of the world take such things as electricity, good roads and drinking water for granted, there are parts of the world where it is a fantasy-a science one for that matter.
I think it is important for African countries in thinking about their path to development, to pause and imagine what that future will look like in real terms. There needs to be a reference point. It is especially important because as new technologies emerge, we need to think how people will interact with them and how they will be used to create the kind of society that everyone wants. The problem at the moment is that there seems to be this obsession to look like the West in terms of how people eat, dress, talk, and interact with each other and use technology. And with this approach, there is the tendency to believe that every aspect of African culture should be abandoned. This is really disturbing. Without fantasising what the future should look like, it’s hard to know how to go about achieving it.
Chimamanda Adichie’s latest political satire would classify as a science fiction. In this excellent piece, she imagined what it would look like if President Goodluck Jonathan acted differently in response to the adduction of some school girls by Boko Haram. She also imagined that the saviours who gave the president the wise advice to visit the parents of the abducted girls were ladies. And the ladies were of mixed ethnic parentage or intermarried judging from their names. Using literature in this way may become the norm. The publishing director of Cassava Republic, Bibi Bakare, said something to suggest they will be using a similar approach. She insists that her authors use their romance to portray women in a better light.
If this is what science fiction is going to be about, then I am looking forward to reading a lot of it. I am looking forward to reading Lagos 2060 – a book written by one of the speakers.