I was unfamiliar with Margrét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas, and also with their publisher Fox Spirit. Cheryl Morgan mentioned the African Monsters anthology on her website and it looked interesting; Fox Spirit was kind enough to supply me with a review copy. I am happy that they did. Now I am familiar, not only with the publishing house, but with the editors and authors of this fine book.
Introduction by Margrét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas:
The editors continue what appears to be an ongoing mission to keep monsters monstrous. This time they focus on the monsters of Africa. And, in a surprising twist for Westerners talking about Africa, on Africans themselves.
We also wanted to use the opportunity to show the world a few of the wonderful and talented authors and artists from this continent who we feel do not always get the attention they should. Also, we felt it was wrong to invite authors with no connection to Africa to write about African monsters. We are proud to tell you that all the authors who have contributed to this book are either from, live in, or have lived in one or several countries in Africa.
“On The Road” by Nnedi Okorafor:
Open the wrong door, get an unrequested lesson about local (super)natural history.
Or possibly, become an unrequested lesson about local (super)natural history.
I think the protagonist of this story and Aud Torvingen could have a very interesting conversation.
“Impundulu” by Joan De La Haye:
An aging witch-woman passes her gift on to her daughter, a process almost as terrible as the purpose to which the daughter will put her magic.
“One Hundred And Twenty Days Of Sunlight” by Tade Thompson:
Transformed into a monstrous thing by a kiss, the protagonist is immune to all human connections.
“Severed” by Jayne Bauling:
An interest in nature is all very well, but it is time to worry when nature takes too close an interest in you…
This reaffirms my faith in the essential commonality of humanity: the African unfortunates in this story ignore some extremely pointed hints about what lurks in the lake that they want to visit, just like Westerners considering whether or not to spend a night in the Le Château de Mort Certaine. Granted, people in horror stories must make such stupid choices because narrative necessity . Otherwise you get this: ].
“Death Of The One” by Su Opperman:
Two entities meet. One is the hunter, the other its food—but which one is which is unclear.
This is an illustrated piece, almost without dialogue save for a very brief (and yet extremely portentous) exchange. The art seems rough but is very effective.
“Chikwambo” by T. L. Huchu:
Driven by a monstrous hunger, the Chikwambo will kill and kill without mercy or end. But stopping it demands a terrible price.
The ending to this story seemed oddly abrupt.
“Monwor” by Dilman Dila:
A bizarre murder seems to have occult overtones; instead, it is rooted in science gone horribly wrong.
There is no reason monsters need to be supernatural in nature. As Pratchett once said “There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.” In this case, it’s some (off-stage) researcher with a very cool idea that turned out to have unanticipated side-effects.
“That Woman” by S Lotz:
What is behind a series of supernatural attacks and why, exactly, do the local authorities refuse to do anything about them?
Or perhaps “who is the real monster, here?”
“Sacrament Of Tears” by Toby Bennett:
A weak European is broken by his monstrous child.
“Dead child came back wrong” is terrible enough … but this is a story about a child who was never right, which is arguably worse.
“Bush Baby” by Chikodili Emelumadu:
Any decent sibling would have no choice but to give shelter to a foolish brother fleeing a predatory forest spirit. Alas, the forest spirit has followed! Modern technology repulses it … temporarily.
If you have to be a protagonist in a horror story, try hard not to be the protagonist in a horror story written in the present tense.
“After The Rain” by Joe Vaz:
A South African returning after years abroad gets a pointed lesson in transformation.
The dog-headed men in this remind me of a time, years ago, when I had stayed up later reading the novel Fevre Dream. Around 3 AM I looked up and saw a child-sized, hunch-backed, pointed-eared thing silhouetted in the window of my ground floor apartment. After a moment, I realized that it was merely a dog on its hind legs with its front paws on my (rather pointless) ground level balcony. Woke me up, it did.
“Taraab And Terror In Zanzibar” by Dave-Brendon De Burgh:
Who is responsible for calling down a plague of monsters? An even greater monster. But, as it will learn, not the greatest monster.
This touches on the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964, about which I knew nothing. I am now very slightly less ignorant. Among the many things I didn’t know before I began this book is that the former Sultan of Zanzibar is still alive and presumably as well as any octogenarian residing in Portsmouth.
“A Whisper In The Reeds” by Nerine Dorman:
Just how dangerous can sultry aquatic temptresses be when their intended target is a gay man?
The thing about seductive monsters is that they can be very adaptable. The successful ones, anyway.
“Acid Test” by Vianne Venter:
In the ruins of a city, a scientist seeks her perfect mate.
This story hinges on an intersection between science gone horribly wrong and the malevolent supernatural, which in retrospect do seem like natural partners.
“Thandiwe’s Tokoloshe” by Nick Wood:
Hoping she is in the right sort of story, Thandiwe journeys to the rainbow’s end, hoping for a pot of gold.
It’s not that sort of story.
To be honest, the stories about rainbows and pots of gold also tend not to go in the direction the protagonists hope, because if they do there is no story.
“A Divided Sun” by James Bennett and Dave Johnson (artist):
A job opportunity lures father and son to Apartheid-era South Africa, where the son gets a memorable lesson about South African monsters.
The art in this is simple and unschooled; I thought it undermined the story.
This is a collection of monster stories; it is to be expected that the stories will not end well. The thrill is in finding out the exact way in which they will end badly. And for whom they will end badly. Not every monster understands their place in the food chain.
Although horror isn’t one of my favourite genres, I found this example diverting and recommend it to your attention. African Monsters is available here.