Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor
Speculative fiction reader, are you in a rut? When you think about the genre, do you mostly see brawny white guys with swords and old white wizards with beards? Or maybe a thief with a hood? Or a group of misfits who must team-up to save the world from an evil overlord or a tyrannical government? Is there a castle or a spaceship in every story? And lots of people riding horses?
Speculative fiction reader, isn’t it getting a bit stale? Are you ready for a change of scenery?
If so (and even if not) I urge you to pick up Nnedi Okorafor’s Kabu Kabu (2013), a collection of 21 short stories that will expand your horizons and restore your faith in the future of your favorite genre.
Kabu Kabu begins with a short introduction by Whoopi Goldberg, who says that she always loved science fiction but that it “didn’t feel inviting to me… I didn’t feel I was part of it” until she read Octavia Butler and Nnedi Okorafor. The stories in this collection mostly take place in Africa, a setting that I always love for its freshness and beauty as well as just the opportunity to learn about African (mostly Nigerian) history, geopolitics, language, culture, people, and food.
The stories in Kabu Kabu are:
- The Magical Negro
- Kabu Kabu (with Alan Dean Foster)
- The House of Deformities
- The Black Stain
- How Inyang Got Her Wings
- On the Road
- Spider the Artist
- The Ghastly Bird
- The Winds of Harmattan
- Long Juju Man
- The Carpet
- The Popular Mechanic
- Bakasi Man
- The Baboon War
- The Palm Tree Bandit
The first story, “The Magical Negro,” is a satire that hilariously sets the tone by letting us know that this book is not full of “some kinda typical fantasy world from some typical fantasy book.” In other words, white people’s stories:
“Sheeeit,” he drawled, looking directly at you. “You need to stop reading all this stupidness. The Magical Negro ain’t about to get his ass kicked no more. Them days is ovah.”
The next story, “Kabu Kabu,” co-authored with Alan Dean Foster, gets us to Nigeria in an entertaining manner. It’s about a young lawyer named Ngozi who lives in New York City. She’s running late to catch her plane to Nigeria for her sister’s wedding. She prays for a cab to come quickly and one does. It’s a very strange cab that keeps picking up very strange people on the way to the airport. It’s loads of fun.
The rest of the stories take place in Nigeria or other parts of Africa and involve characters, settings, mythologies, folklore, food, flora, fauna, and other plot elements that are rarely seen in speculative fiction.
Several are horror stories. Several involve people (mostly women or girls) of African heritage who live in the United States but go back to Africa to visit family. There are plenty of spiders and insects as well as abusive husbands. There’s even a dodo bird. Multiple stories feature (or at least mention) oil pipelines that are legally exploited by Americans and illegally exploited by Africans who steal the crude oil straight from the pipe. Some of the stories are about an Igbo girl with dadalocks who can levitate. She is a windseeker.
Empowering women is a theme in this collection. In the final story, “The Palm Tree Bandit,” a mother is combing out her daughter’s hair while telling her a whimsical story about her great-grandmother, a girl who dared to do what girls weren’t allowed to do and stumped the men in her village. It’s a fitting close to the collection.
I listened to Yetide Badaki, a Nigerian-American actress, narrate Tantor Audio’s new edition of Kabu Kabu. She is sooo good, with a beautiful voice and perfect performance. I loved listening to her and highly recommend this edition of Kabu Kabu. It’s 11 hours long.