A Tunnel in the Sky

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Caged Ocean Dub
by Dare Segun Falowo

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 28, 2024

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A collection of "glints" (flash fiction) and stories by Dare Segun Falowo, who has been described as a voice of Nigerian Weird. I first became aware of them with "We Are Born" (included here), first published in the September/October 2017 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It impressed me enough to nominate it for a Hugo, although it was not on the final ballot. None of my other short story nominations made it either. I bought the e-book of this title direct from the publisher, Android Press, and I don't think I would have been disappointed if that story was the best the collection had to offer. There are several others that at least equal it, if not surpass it in vision and execution. The stories are grouped in three sections: Hungers, Hauntings, and Heralds, even though those subjects come up in each section. A few could be considered general fiction, although there may be some unfamiliar (to me) cultural references that might make them fantasy or horror. Ghosts appear frequently, along with aspects of Orisha gods.

The first three are glints, opening with a bit of whimsy, then a haunting of vengeance, and a desperate search for a new home. "Eating Kaolin" begins the longer stories. A pregnant woman in search of kaolin, a type of clay that she has eaten in the past, knowing it would ease her stomach distress. When she arrives at the river bank where she would usually dig for kaolin, she finds British colonialists damming the river, digging for something they think is more valuable. She runs from them, then gathers other villagers, along with some panther spirits, to drive the British away. The October in "October in Eran Riro" is a woman trying to find her wayward brother, Monday. She goes to the Eran Riro restaurant he has raved about before, but she is turned away due to her disheveled appearance. She jumps a fence, trying to find a way to get in through the back, but is attacked by security, and thrown in a cage. Several things about this story were confusing, not about the delicacy that brought many to the infrequent Banquets, but there are many servers and/or cooks that live in dormitories under the restaurant, some of whom October thinks are not human. The head cook intervenes since she realized October is an olowosibi, one who has a special gift for cooking. Unfortunately, Monday returns to Eran Riro at an inopportune time.

The highlights of the "Hauntings" section include "Ngozi Ugegbe Nwa," about a woman, an aspiring model, who is having an affair with a photographer while being the fifth wife of a prominent citizen, but hidden away in one of his many estates. One evening while sweltering in the heat of stalled traffic, she spies a very old woman carrying a large, oval, gold framed mirror. She buys the mirror, but perhaps should have been wary of the fact the woman knew her name, and had told her she owed her mother an apology. That night she had a dream of going through the mirror, and seeing multiple duplications of herself. But was it a dream, might the mirror be a portal to another realm? Frightened of the implications, Ngozi calls a friend to help her dispose of the mirror. They drive to a remote area and bury it. When she returns home, the mirror is back in place, and that night she is transported to another place. "Kikelomo Ultrasheen" features other god-like creatures, the Onidiri, which translates as "weavers of hair." Kikelomo's mother is a hairdresser, and she grew up helping in the salon, but her mother realized as soon as Kiki was born that she would not have her for long. There was a spot on top of Kiki's head, a birth mark that looked like a black moon. When she encountered a black moon in real life, Kiki was instructed by the Onidiri that she was special, destined to help cure ills through the cleaning and weaving of hair. This should be a must read for anyone who has criticized or disciplined black people because of their hair styles. Each of those styles has a special meaning. They should be accepted as an integral part of a person's life.

The first "Heralds" concerns an infinite time loop, one which a person hopes to repeat until a death is reversed. It is possible that "LSD-1842," rather than being the license plate number on an old Volkswagen Beetle, was in fact a strain of lysergic acid used in a psychiatric, maybe military, experiment. "We Are Born" is in this section. Wura is a woman renowned for her stone, clay, metal, and wood sculptures. She and her husband Ojo have had three daughters, all who died in infancy. During a rain storm she is able to dig down into the softening earth to find a special clay, which she uses to fashion a young girl, who comes to life. She hides the girl from everyone, at least until the girl discovers her own destiny. She is an abiku, a spirit destined for death, to be born again and again to the same woman. But this time is different. Wura is pregnant again. Her clay daughter runs away, jumps in the nearby lake, and when the abiku emerges again, they are a boy. I had thought "We Are Born" was the only story I had read before, but I forgot about the anthology Africa Risen, which I reviewed last year. As soon as I started reading "Biscuit and Milk" I recognized it. It is science fiction, and might be considered space opera. A generation ship crewed by humans, but controlled by artificial minds. It was called Biscuit because its hull was made of a living nanopshperic mud which dried to become lighter and tougher than other ships. Also because its official name was the Bi-Solar Circuit Expedition. Milk is the destined planet. The ship's minds were created in the images of Orisha gods, so it was also known as an oriship. It carried a biodome of Earth flora and fauna, as well as 1000 embryos in incubators. Similar to other generation ship and A.I. stories, problems arise, but this time at least some of the ship's minds side with the humans.

The final story is the longest; "Convergence in Chorus Architecture" is a novelette which had appeared in a previous anthology, and has been released on its own in print and e-book. In Italian. It starts out seeming to be a tragedy of two youths rendered unconscious from being struck by lightning. It turns toward fantasy (or at least into the spiritual realm) when the village's three babalawo (priests/diviners, literally "father of secrets") enter the dream state of the two victims. What they see there frightens them. Then the story takes a leap toward science fiction/space opera, since it seems the lightning may have been sent by other-worldly beings. Beings who enter the world on a bone ship, through a void, drawing up the entire village except for the boy victim, who wakes to an empty village. But Orisha have other plans for him. Rescuing his people from the bone thieves. It is a remarkable story, working on multiple levels, open to multiple interpretations. That also applies to most of the stories. They can be taken as fantasy or horror, or evidence of Orisha controlling, or at least influencing people's actions. I haven't mentioned all of the stories, just my favorites, but there is much here to entertain and inform readers open to new perspectives, new interpretations. Not only new ideas, but many of the stories also have a different rhythm than most Westerners are familiar with. Highly recommended.


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Dare Segun Falowo

Stories: 2014-2021
Collection: 6/16/23

Long-listed for BSFA
(final ballot yet to be announced)

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