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Where Rivers Go To Die
by Dilman Dila

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 30, 2024

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Dilman Dila is a Ugandan writer, filmmaker, and social activist. Where Rivers Go To Die is his second story collection, plus he has published several novellas, with many other stories in various anthologies. The range in this book is from modern day crime/mysteries, future science fiction, and either modern day, past, or future supernatural stories. In the opener, "Fragments of Canvas," a police detective gets numerous, untraceable phone calls from a woman telling him of murders he should investigate. At first he thinks the woman sounds like his wife, but that is impossible since she is dead. How does this woman know of the murders, why can't coroners determine cause of death, and why does each crime scene share clues? Each victim has a piece of torn canvas glued to their chest, with what is assumed to be their wedding ring glued to the canvas. Is the woman caller responsible for the deaths, or if not, how does she know of them?

Dila made a short film which shares the title and theme with the second story, "Kifaro." That is an evil spirit directed to kill. Jamwa wakes in a hospital emergency room, with no memory of what had happened to him. By 'wake' I mean his spirit leaves his body. He is still alive, for a while, and he may recover if he can join forces with an old man in the waiting room who says he can help track whoever tried to kill him. "Monwor" is about another supernatural entity, but it is also science fiction, since the person whose actions mimic those of a monwor got those abilities from a medical procedure gone awry. "The Last Storyteller" is set in a devastated future, with most animal and plant life extinct. But there is high technology, which is mainly used to provide virtual realities for the survivors. Most of those are created by artificial intelligences, but Aya has just produced a popular story which may prove to be profitable for her.

"The Flying Man of Stone" is set in a country in the midst of civil war. It may be recent past, or present day, or near future. It is another that shares supernatural elements with science fiction. In fleeing soldiers intent on recruiting others into their army, a man and his son find a cave in the mountains, which is the home to entities they do not understand. Are they aliens, demons, or the spirits of the ancestors? The man is captured, but the boy escapes, and when he sees his father again he appears younger, and he has gained knowledge of how to manufacture machines and weapons they can use against the invading soldiers. One of those is a flying craft, another a gun that is similar to a laser, which the boy learns to use in order to rescue his older brother who has been captured. Kera knew of the legends of the warriors Kibuuka and Luanda Magere, and he sees himself embodying the powers they possessed. The title story is another set in the future, but I'm not sure how far, but it is after the Big Burn. I'll admit I was confused throughout, due to a few terms I could not identify through google, dictionary.com, or wikipedia. A boy has been banished from his village for causing his mother's death, even though he says it was an accident. He thinks his mother should have been able to heal herself, and he could have brought her back to life if he had been allowed. Is he human? A machine? Was his mother human, but he a machine she had made? Sorry, I can't answer those questions. A re-read is necessary, but I'm not sure when that will happen.

The shortest story, "The Green Men Who Fly," is set somewhere in Africa in 1850, with colonial soldiers confronted with mysterious beings deep in the forests. They are green, and they can fly, but are they human or alien? If I had to decide which of the stories I liked the most, one would be "The Flying Man of Stone," the other, "The Terminal Move." Both involve people relying on their ingenuity to fight formidable foes while also trying to preserve the ideals of their family, friends, and tribesmen. Terminal of course means last, and in this case it is about the last move for a group of people fleeing war. They come to an area that seems perfect, but one of the shaman says evil lurks there. A young man, Laceng, who all acknowledge had been prophesied to be their future leader, wants to stay, while most of the others want to continue looking, the elders saying Laceng is not old enough to be leader yet. The majority prepare to move on, but Laceng is able to convince many of the younger ones to stay with him. They have to fight two different groups, giants who had been living in the nearby mountains, who warn them of the jothokwo that inhabit the deep jungle. Jothokwo are like zombies, whom the giants say cannot be killed. Laceng finds a way, with the help of others, including his future bride.

Where Rivers Go To Die is a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award, and has been long-listed for BSFA, although I'm not sure when that ballot will be announced. As with the collection I reviewed a couple of days ago, the stories here are set in Africa, written by a man familiar with the people, history, and legends of the area. The fact I am not familiar with them did pose a few problems due to terminology, but I did my best to guess meanings through context. It was worth the effort, and I suggest other readers take the chance on these intriguing, mysterious stories. You will meet heroes and villains, victims and conquerors, the good and the bad and everything in between. It will be worth it. Highly recommended.


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Dilman Dila

June 6, 2023

Finalist for:
Philip K. Dick Award

Long-listed for BSFA, final ballot not announced yet

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