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Wole Talabi – Incomplete SolutionsIs it just me, or is there more and more fantastic fiction, both SF and Fantasy (not that there is much of a practical difference here, in this case!) to come out of Africa these days? Or, maybe, it was always there, but is becoming more visible to me, has more of a platform, is more self-assured and pushing for centre stage?
But either way, Luna Press, who always have published a wide range of styles and authors, are helping to boost the signal by featuring the Nigerian writer Wole Talabi in their Harvester series which brings together 'old and new stories, plus bonus material'. So here, with his first collection Incomplete Solutions, we get 18 of Wole's stories which were previously published in a variety of short story outlets, plus 3 originals first published in this collection.
Wole Talabi describes himself as 'a full-time engineer, part-time writer and sometime editor' – he has won a Nommo Award (for The Regression Test, which is part of this collection), and has been nominated for a number of others, including the Caine Prize. He currently lives and works (and writes!) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The stories here cover a wide spread of styles, topics, and approaches, even for a collection. I don't know if that's because Wole is still working towards finding his own voice, approach, and place; or if this simply is because he has interests and skills which range further than your average writer's. Either way, Incomplete Solutions extends all the way from standard tropes with not much new added to very unusual and fascinating takes on stories and themes, most of which show a strong influence of his origin and societal background, making them from a western perspective unusual (still, despite the groundswell noted above) and thus, in my view of the world, interesting and sometimes alien from more than one perspective.

Besides the stories the book contains Author's notes on the individual stories, providing background, inspirations, iterations in writing them, topical points, and publication history.
I did not read these in conjunction with the actual stories (I only found them at the end...), but suspect that these would provide value through additional viewpoints and topical focus whilst reading the stories if considered at the same time.

Below I'm running through the stories in the book, providing short capsule reviews on topic and my thoughts on them – read on it if you're interested in what's in the book, or stop here if you feel this would spoil your enjoyment of the book which you're about to obtain (I recommend you do obtain a copy indeed!).

Parse. Error. Reset.
A world driven by social media profile, near-absolutely. And where people can have an 'alter', a copy of oneself which can go places (work, parties you have to be seen at for social reasons, et al) on the owner's behalf. Who, when allowed to go on beyond a limited span, can become their own entity. Or become you, legally.
I felt that one.

A Short History of Migration in Five Fragments of You
Exactly as it says; told in a nice, reasoned, non-dramatic voice. I'm sure this could serve (and maybe should!) as the high level outline for the script of a 3h film...
Maybe too simplistic in parts, but if everybody could see migration as detached, as natural in the grander scale of all things human then we'd all be better off.

Drift-Flux
A longer story, out into a future of gene-editing, artificial body mods, zero-point energy, and mining operation across the solar system. A Proper Future, you could say.
But also with luddites, racists, and a generally backwards-facing 'Confederacy' and terrorist organisations willing to use violence and mega-death to destroy the new and successful way of life.
Breathless and quite believable, but also somewhat rushed, somehow patched together, and in summary much less compelling than the previous two stories.

A Certain Sort of Warm Magic
Non-SF. A story about a relationship, about a man, and his inability to be close, to love. About the ocean, outside, and the larger ocean within. And about love.

Necessary and Sufficient Conditions
A strange fragment of a man tracking down the murderer of his mother, to avenge her – and finding much more than he bargained for.
It feels strangely unfinished, piecemeal – a feeling that is recurring here, somewhere between the writing and my reading, or maybe my expectation of stories.

Wednesday's Story
A story about the Days of the Week telling stories, and of Wednesday trying to change one she feels especially painful to tell. And of course a story about stories (as these setups have a tendency to be), about telling stories, and about the space between and outside of stories.
Fascinating, interestingly interlaced, and thought provoking.

The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi
A first contact story, with the pre-teen daughter of a community activist as the carrier for something new, and maybe better.
A bit like Peter Watt's take on The Thing, except not based on conflict with the new. So, as a story, nothing like Peter's taken on The Thing. Believe me, it makes sense.

Crocodile Ark
A love story. A tale of revolution against the Theocracy on a Generation Ship, an Ark, preserving life after a deadly asteroid strike on Earth. And of how, when presented with additional information which challenges your believes and drivers, you can become what you hate the most.

Nested
Hehehehe. Not a new trick, but cleanly executed, with neat little details. Nope, not telling.

The Last Lagosian
Post-apocalyptic, set in Lagos – the aliens have come, have killed humanity (save a very few survivors) and have taken the water.
Really just a slice of life, and maybe not as engaging as it could have been? Loved the setting, though.

If They Can Learn
Robocop meets Black Lives Matter. Or – unintended consequences of software development decisions. A cyborg cop has just shot an unarmed, black young man. And the company rep is trying to find out why, before all hell breaks loose. The cop doesn't know why...
All too believable, and again a Peter Watts connection for me; he has written about the scenario a while back...

Nneoma
“Rain pattered against the building like the drumbeat of ants going to war”
“If it does not feel like death, it is not true love”
About a man falling in love (lust?) with the wrong woman, and the consequences.
I felt that I was missing some cultural background here, for all the entertainment the story provides.

I, Shigidi
Essentially the reverse side of the previous story (sorry, spoiler); a veritable superhero romp, featuring gods & other supernatural entities, and the politics/business/currencies of belief. All very American Gods, from some perspective. Also – very entertaining, and promising more!

Polaris
A story of love, murder, and self-knowledge, told against the backdrop of a Mars used by an over-populated Earth much like England used to use Australia: a penal colony to export criminals to. Strong and impressive, even if I think that the end didn't properly close the story arc (and could have, I reckon).

Connectome, Or, the Facts in The Case of Miss Valerie Demarco (Ph.D.)
The story of the first, experimental brain upload. Standard trope and treatment thereof, with a nice final line...

The Regression Test
Exactly that – with a human to warrant that the evolved AI of her mother's record is still essentially her. Fascinating concept, even if something much insidious is afoot, of course.

Eye
Of the curse of knowing the future. Not nice, but very correct, I fear.

Home is Where My Mother's Heart is Buried
A reflection on the eternal question of where home is, for those displaced by history, family, loyalty, and choice. It's sad that it takes a telepathic alien to figure things out, but at least they turned out right in the story (and, from experience, this is only a positive ending due to the choice on when to end the story...)

Incompleteness Theories
A longer story, concerning matter displacement/teleportation – solved for solid matter, considered impossible for living things. And of the question of what makes a human, in that case. And of completeness, both the Goedel and other variants.
Unevenly paced and very wooden in the characterisation – I found this story to be unsatisfactory, and somehow lacking.

When We Dream We Are Our God
A father, explaining to his son, why he has chosen to join the collective hive intelligence, which in turn is joined with the AI which attained sentience on the Internet.
Essentially the counter-piece to 'The Harmonic Resonance...', but human centred instead of externally triggered, and father to child instead of the other way round.
And, of course – yes please, let's go there!

Overall a facinating new voice touching on a raft of different topics and settings, and always approaching topics from his (for readers of UK/US centric SFF) unusual cultural and setting backdrop. Recommended, despite some weaker points.


More Wole Talabi

Title: Incomplete Solutions
Author: Wole Talabi
Series: Luna Harvester
Series Number: 3
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Luna Press Publishing
Publisher URL: http://www.lunapresspublishing.com
Publication Date: 2019
Review Date: 191118
ISBN: 97819111143550
Pages: 270
Format: ePub
Topic: African SF
Topic: Short Stories

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

 

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