Thursday, February 15, 2024

Review: Mothersound: The Sauútiverse Anthology

An eclectic collection of African-futuristic stories blending myth, magic, and technology in bold new ways

Mothersound: The Sauútiverse Anthology is an anthology of short stories written by a range of authors in the African diaspora. Through the variety of writing styles, we get an eclectic collection of African-futuristic stories blending myth, magic, and technology in bold new ways. All of the tales are set in the “Sauútiverse,” a fictional star system inspired by African mythology and African-futuristic sci-fi. Most of the stories in the anthology are infused with evocative imagery and gorgeous, immersive lyrical prose.

The anthology opens with several layers of commentary on the creation and inspiration for the collection, followed by sections of explanatory discourse on the makeup of the Sauútiverse. Fans of detailed world-building might enjoy the deep dive into politics, mythology, magic, technology, and planetary ecology. But plot driven readers will prefer to skim the preliminary details and dive into the stories. Throughout the book, the stories vary from lyrical world-building to fast-paced adventures to introspective character narratives. Each tale is carefully woven and thoughtful but some are more philosophical and abstract while some are grounded in active struggles and adventures.

Each story is preceded by a backstory explanation passage which, like the prologues, may appeal to those who like technical details. However, this technique is distractingly lecture-like to readers who just want to dive in and escape to another world. The details from each preceding passage are helpful for understanding the context of the tale but the decision to speak directly to readers reminds us that this isn’t real. For those who prefer to be transported and immersed in a new reality, the information could be better woven into the introductory sentences of the story or provided by a recurring fictional storyteller sharing the information in between the tales.

Despite this shortcoming, many of the stories in the collection are fascinating, immersive, and engaging. A few stood out in particular for me.

In The Way of Baa'gh by Cheryl S. Ntumy, a crab-like creature tries to sabotage an alliance of his people with the humanoids. Unlike prior stories, this is a tale told from the point of view of humanity’s enemy, a monster who despises, fears, and misunderstands humans and remains determined to sabotage them when the humans and Baa’gh form an alliance to try to harness control of time. Through the protagonist we see humans as dangerous aliens. This clever literary technique allows the story to unfold in a unique and tragic way.

The Grove’s Lament by Tobias S. Buckell is the story of Ami-inata, one of several refugees rehabbing a wasteland and trying to protect the fragile ecosystem. But she must fight for her life when a chaotic scientist from their ruined world tries to reenact the same type of dangerous experiment that destroyed their home world. He is mystical and destructive but Ami-inata is practical and focused as they clash with the safety of their people in the balance.

Xhova by Adelehin Ijasan is one of many stories in the anthology which addresses the intersection of technology with spirituality and magic. A human child is raised by an android parent, Xhova, in a post-apocalyptic society where androids control the creation and raising of humans. Xhova has grown attached to his human child but testing reveals she possesses magic which dooms her to death and Xhova has to choose whether to save his human daughter. The story is told from Xhova's first-person perspective and also from his second person perspective to his daughter. As a result, it becomes an immersive confluence of mythology and technology.

My favorite tale in the collection is A City, a Desert, and All Their Dirges by Somto Ihezue and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki. A young man, Ajubiju, is bored with his highly spiritual, rural, nomadic people. He gets a chance to change his destiny when he meets a high tech foreign entourage (the Lomanoo) to his community. Two of their high councilors have been murdered by spiritual means and, since they only have high tech at their disposal, they need a person from a magic community to help them solve the mystery. Ajubiju is tired of his isolated, spiritual nomadic life and craves adventure with the technologically advanced society so he defies his mother and breaks his spiritual bond with his people to leave. This story is a futuristic crime thriller set in a high-tech city. Ajubiju is the magic wielder brought in to find the spiritual assassin in a city of non-believers. While there he befriends a young woman, the sister of one of the targeted councilors, who finds him fascinating. The story is a page-turner, with chase scenes and plot twists worthy of a big-screen adventure, but it still manages to be poignant, tragic, and thoughtful in its exploration of grief and revenge.

Sina, the Child with No Echo by Eugen Bacon is set in a society where all humans have an “echo,” a form of spiritual/magical hearing essential to their culture. In the story, Sina is born without an echo and left by his parents to die in the woods as an infant. But he is rescued by his aunt, a village leader who raises Sina as her son and trains him to use his skills to hunt and forage. Sina’s sister, Rehama’re, is a year younger than him and raised by their parents as a replacement for him. Understandably this creates an awkward relationship when they encounter each other in the village. The background is an allegory for society’s willingness to accommodate physical disabilities while the main plot focuses on the two siblings joining forces against a creature who has been ravaging the village. Overall, the story is an exploration of the true meaning of “family” and the value of unequivocal love that inspires Sina’s journey to his own self-acknowledgment.

Some of the stories focus on the theme of false histories versus the pursuit of societal truth. In Undulation by Stephen Embleton, an orphaned girl is tasked with reciting the origin story of her people in special public ceremonies. She struggles when she senses the falseness hidden in the words even as she comes to terms with her own personal tragedies. Muting Echoes, Breaking Tradition by Eye Kaye Nwaogu is the story of an opposing pair of secret assassins who must decide if truth and friendship can overcome murderous commands and institutional lies in this star-crossed lovers story.

Overall, editor Wole Talabi has created a memorable collection of clever stories set in a vivid universe. Although the world-building can be exhausting, the payoff is worth it. The tales blend technology, magic, and spirituality in a way that will appeal to readers with an appetite for immersive and innovative storytelling.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10.


 Immersive imagery, gorgeous prose.

 Backstory overload.

 Engaging mix of magic, mythology, and high-tech futurism.

POSTED BY: Ann Michelle Harris – Multitasking, fiction writing Trekkie currently dreaming of her next beach vacation.