16 thoughts on “omenana: “The Company,” by Sanya Noel, and “Sweet Like Pawpaw,” by Rafeeat Aliyu”

    1. But that was just the beginning of a story! I reached the author’s bio and said wait, there’s no more?!

      Good start, though; I hope we get the rest of it sometime. The writing style is very basic, but it’s got a good theme. Certainly, from what I hear, even with the importation of Christianity and other European ideas, and large cultural changes, the idea of spirits (good or evil) is very present in Nigeria; whether you do or don’t believe in them, you hear so much about them that it’s a familiar idea.

      So in this story, we have a conflict of human attitudes toward spirits. Do you think that a spirit’s lake is blessed? Do you forget that trees once had spirits? Would you give them offerings or try to exorcise them? Do you think, or not, that they have a role to.play in modern urban life?

      Oyin apparently is exciting her fans by "showing her spirit". It has a selfish motive, to feed off their adoration. But I wonder if it makes her a good pop musician too — after all she has a hit recording. Is that spirit work or all human musicianship? It isn’t clear to me after reading the story whether Oyin is purely parasitic on humans or whether she has something to given them too.

      The most obvious way that the story is unfinished is we don’t know who’s behind the Prophetess’s campaign. She is a very interesting character though (more interesting than Oyin).

    1. The mention of Karibu tea in the last paragraph is the first indication of where in the world this story.is set. The speaker dropping that name as if pleased to be serving a familiar local brand might seem to humanize her, but then she adds another reminder (no shaking hands) that emphasizes that sharing a cup of tea is definitely not to be regarded as a friendly social interaction.

      This story.is all about social interactions. The company intends to control every detail of not only its employees’ identity (assigning them a number, an ID card, and a gender) but how they can interact. There are strict rules about who you can talk to, when, and where, all arbitrary and complicated. The speaker does not say much about what sort of things it is allowable to say during casual chit-chat, on those occasions chit-chat is permitted, but they will obviously be closely monitored, and I actually think that uncertainty will have a more damping effect than having rules for what not to say. All this is enforced by the threat of unemployment. Not stated what happens if you have too many notations in your file, but again, uncertainty may be worse.

      So would this kind of all-encompassing social control drive people to suicide in less than six months? Maybe not since they do apparently go home to their families outside of the job. But we don’t know what work the employees are doing. Hinted to be pretty bad stuff. And something they couldn’t tell their families about. So no real escape from the paranoid workplace atmosphere there.

      It is a comment on corporate control of their workers– and also a parody of how interactions in an office would normally be.

    2. I think the most interesting thing about this story is its context – I think people who read it in an SF magazine might understand it differently than people reading it in a periodical or in a muggle magazine.

    3. Interesting idea, Assaf – how would this story sound to someone who wasn’t used to reading science fiction, if they read it in a non-SF publication? They might interpret it as intended to be an exaggerated depiction of conditions in the corporate world today, whereas a SF reader might mentally place the story in the near future "if this goes on" — but there isn’t really much difference between those two perspectives. Both readers can clearly see the current realities that this is a distortion of, and the ways that the author has distorted them. Would a non-SF reader be disoriented by being asked to imagine their way into an unreal situation? I don’t know about in Africa, but in the core English-speaking countries, Dystopia is really quite a familiar and accepted mode of literature. This story has all the characteristics that would make a dystopian story easy to read without butting up against disbelief, too: it’s concrete, internally consistent (on its own absurd terms), and takes place inside one corporation, isolated from the rest of the world.

    4. The story itself is detatched from all context. All the while I read, I was trying to place it for myself. Who are the people its talking to? Clones, perhaps? What is the work they’re expected to do? But the story works hard to avoid supplying details. Besides the chip in people’s heads, I don’t think technology is even mentioned. But I, as a seasoned genre reader, built up a mental image. What would a reader make of this if he wasn’t a genre-reader, and he came across this story in a paper like, say, Ha’aretz? I don’t think that science-fictional imagery (that isn’t strictly social) would even occur to him. More like Capek, or Kafka, or other absurdists.

    5. Definitely people would think of Kafka — such a familiar reference point to English speakers; I bet even more so to German speakers. Do you read him a lot in Israel? Having writers like that in the literary canon helps people learn to read non-realistic fiction even if they avoid anything labeled "science fiction".

      I guess you’re right that this isn’t traditional science fiction with solid world-building and a problem to solve; but that kind of science fiction is really only a small subset of the genre. Strange, rather far-out dystopias with a lot of their details only hinted at have a long tradition too. (Can"t think of an exactly-fitting example. Didn’t "We" have people referred to by numbers? I don’t think they are cloves in this stories, just people who have been stripped of their outside-world identities.)

    6. Back in junior high, we had a class about modern art. A class which I appriciate much more in hindsight than I did in real time. One of the issues was "what is art", and one of the answers were "whatever is presented in a museum". In the same way, I guess the same might apply to sci-fi. If it’s in a sci-fi publication…
      Pinpointing the genre for this one, I might suggest Slipstream. Which is almost always a good answer if you’re not sure about genres. But my point wasn’t really about genres, but about the expirience of the reader. Which brings me back to something from one of the psychology classes I took, about the reading. According to [why do I always forgets his name?], the complete piece of art consists of how the reader expirience what she reads. For without that, there is only ink on dead wood (or bytes on a kindle). And I believe that in this instance, there might be noticable differences.

      And of course some of us reads Kafka. I assume our minister of culture have’nt, though, which is ironic in so many ways. But we also have Kishon, which is less weird, more funny version.

    7. She is very proud of being ignorant. and of "Not reading Chekhov", as if he is the symbol of high-brow western culture. Might be a good choice on her side, though. I don’t know whom had I chose as the symbol to direct hate at.

      (Me, I am ignorant on very many things as time and resources are limited, but I am not proud of any of it.)

  1. "The Company" grabbed me right away. It’s a type of humor I always associate with the Paranoia roleplaying game – the terrifying absurdity of how complete and arbitrary power can be.

  2. My main thought about "Sweet Like Pawpaw" is about the Prophetess, and how she’s introduced. I feel like in most stories, that intro would be positioning her as a Bad Guy – a zealot, playing on terror, calling for a cleansing.

    In this story, though, she’s portrayed as someone who may not have the whole truth, but she certainly has a lot of the pieces. Oyin *may* be able to build a bridge, but the Prophetess isn’t wrong in looking to destroy the demons.

    1. Yes — the Prophetess is the most vivid character in that story. I was hooked by the opening, where she leads a meeting telling her vivid story of demon fighting, and I’m saying "Oh, one of those charlatan preachers, of course she’s a skilled speaker, it’s her trade!" And then that assumption is turned upside down when we follow her home and find out that her battles are real, and painfully exhausting. And although she’s kind of badass, she is being used by someone with an unknown agenda. That’s what I want to hear more about!

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