I have often asked myself the same question in another form: Why are Africans in general and Nigerians in particular afraid of science fiction?
I must begin by categorically stating that I’m neither a scientist nor a science student for that matter. Oh, I confess I’ve always been fascinated with ants, earthworms and documentaries on wildlife since I was a boy. And that I’ve always been fascinated with “Dexter’s Labouratory” (of Cartoon Network) and “Made in Japan” (a series about technological innovations by the Japanese). But even these fascinations could not stop me from fleeing from Chemistry’s “Balancing the Chemical Equation” or the scary calculations in Physics into the arms of arts (Government and Literature) in my senior secondary school days. Ha ha! Till today, I do not regret that choice. Many must now be wondering, “Why then are you writing this? What is your point?”
Okay, I’ll tell you. It is because I’ve recently fallen in love with science and indeed technology’s promising future in Africa. I’ve discovered the enormous power of science fiction as an art. I’ve suddenly realised that science fiction makes a writer an artist, scientist and prophet all in one. Isn’t that amazing? I’ve also realised that most African readers do not connect with the spaceships and inter-planetary wars of Western science fiction but have very few home-grown alternatives. That is why I am so disgusted with the continued fixation of our writers on romance, adventure, folk tales amongst other common genres of fiction while neglecting science fiction. I’m even more disgusted when a fellow African tells me that it’s so because we do not have science in our genetic make-up.
At such statements, I wonder if such a person is ignorant of the genesis of modern science from ancient Black Egypt. I wonder why such a person has not bothered to read Walter Rodney’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” to understand why he/she could even harbour such an opinion at all. That is why I am so worried that Africans are not being inspired towards home-grown technological development. That is why I fear that Africa is not ready for the future. Why do I think so?
Well, in the SF Book of Lists, Tom Shippey notes that “Science fiction is hard to define because it is the literature of change and it changes while you are trying to define it.” (I love his definition.) Please underline literature of change. Earlier on, over a century ago, the New York Herald of Sept 1835 stated that Mr R.A. Locke, one of the very first writers of science fiction “…looks forward into futurity, and adapts his characters to the light of science.” Underline futurity here.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary explains science fiction as “a type of book, film/movie, etc that is based on imagined scientific discoveries of the future, and often deals with space travel and life on other planets.” Underline future. While the Encyclopaedia Britannica further defines it as “a genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting.” Underline futuristic. What do you notice in all these definitions? Change, futurity, future and futuristic, isn’t it? Now you must agree with me that if Africans are scared of science fiction then it ultimately means that they are afraid of change, afraid of the future. Isn’t that a fearful observation in this 21st century?
Great sons and daughters of Africa, we as writers must recognise that there is enormous power in our pens. Was it not through the pen that our nationalists were able to awaken the African consciousness and eventually achieve independence from our colonializers? Can’t we remember how “Things Fall Apart” changed the perception of the world towards Africa only decades ago? Yet, we need not keep walking the wide, smooth and over-beaten footpaths of Achebe, Soyinka or even Adichie. Africa needs a new vision, a new awakening and a new direction. The time has come for us to guide our generation of African readers into the 22nd century of a peaceful ultra-developed Africa. An Africa free from today’s colonially-drawn boundaries of artificial states. An Africa where you are free to be a South Sudanese, a Biafran, an Oduduwan, an Arewan or whatever else you choose to be. An Africa contributing meaningfully and powerfully to the spiritual and physical advancement of humanity.
The time has come, my dear brothers and sisters, for us to march through the rough, narrow and almost-virgin routes of a home-grown science fiction. To discover and redefine a science fiction of Africa, for Africans and by Africans so that our people may have no fear. Welcome to the future!!!
NGENE CHIBUEZE JOHN
(THE LIGHT OF AFRICA!!)