Incomplete Solutions by Wole Talabi

Luna Press, 2019, 270 p. Published in Interzone 284, Nov-Dec 2019.

 Incomplete Solutions cover

This collection’s title may allude to the proverb from its author’s Nigerian homeland, “Starting a thing is not as crucial as seeing it through to completion,” but can also be seen as an explicit nod to Gödel’s famous theorem. Yet finishing things doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem for Talabi. Twenty stories in a first collection, all of them published in the last five years, is not a low count. As a result it probably contains something for everyone. Often set in Lagos and frequently taking inspiration from Nigerian mythology and folk-tales the contents range from intellectual explorations to straightforward what-ifs.

In Parse. Error, Reset, alters are electronic neurosocial profiles of humans, with a ninety day deadline for disposal, to be used when you need to keep up with social obligations. A Short History of Migration in Five Fragments of You is told in the second person in five sections tracing the lineage of the captain of a Nigerian mission to land on Europa.

Drift-Flux starts arrestingly enough with a spaceship exploding but soon degenerates into a race-against-time to foil a plot to destroy Earth, interlaced with a crudely characterised conspiracy by those prejudiced against enhanced humans and tinged with ancestral beliefs as a ward against nosiness. Its fight scenes are a touch unconvincing, though. A Certain Sort of Warm Magic is a love story, conventional in every way yet worth reading just the same. In the post-Singularity, post human-AI war, neural interfaced world of Necessary and Sufficient Conditions a man travels to the home of the murderer of his mother to exact revenge.

Tales within tales within tales saturate Wednesday’s Story, a meditation on the art and purpose of storytelling taking as its inspiration the rhyme about Solomon Grundy, here half-Nigerian, as told by a creature from outside time, who along with his six siblings is named after a day of the week.

An object falls from the sky in front of a pre-teen African girl in The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi. When she touches it she becomes fluid, inhabiting two places at one time. In Crocodile Ark the protagonist becomes the front man for a revolution on a theocratic habitat orbiting Mars. He knows the history of revolutions and their children, though. Told mainly in the second person, Nested follows a chain of deaths towards the ultimate creator.

Two years after an event when green light fell from the air and water rose into the sky The Last Lagosian scours his home city in search of the water he needs to survive. In If They Can Learn a cyborg police officer has killed a young black man without good reason. The Borg had been programmed with neural nets using input mostly from human twentieth- and twenty-first century US police officers. Nneoma is a stealer of souls who manifests as “the kind of woman that entire religions, cultures and civilisations concoct elaborate legends and myths to warn men like me about.” She appears again in I, Shigidi where she pairs up with that Yoruba god.

Polaris is the life story of Tunde, a convict exiled to Mars, a dumping ground for those Earth has deemed undesirable. Connectome, Or, The Facts in the Case of Miss Valerie Demarco (Ph D) is the tale of what happened when Connectome made the first memory map of a human brain. An entity calling itself Valarie Demarco holds forth from the lab’s loudspeakers. (We must infer that different spelling of Valerie is deliberate.)

In The Regression Test a woman is called on to perform a confirmatory Sorites test on the copy of her grandmother’s personality stored in a computer, while Eye is a philosophical exploration of the benefits and drawbacks of having true foresight.

Mars is inhabited by human and alien immigrants in Home is Where My Mother’s Heart is Buried. Tinu is influenced by her Chironi lover to let her younger sister go her own way. The longest story in the book, Incompleteness Theories, is a traditional SF tale about the extension of teleportation technology to living beings.

Finally, in When We Dream We Are Our God the internet has become conscious and gone on to ignore humanity except for those few humans who have become networked together themselves via a process called Omi Legba.

Talabi certainly can write and while not all the stories here are equally successful Incomplete Solutions is one to add to the growing presence of SF from beyond its historical bounds in the Anglo-American imagination.

The following did not appear in the published review.
“She started to explain with a question, such a uniquely Nigerian thing to do,” is a sentiment expressed twice here. Is it unique to Nigeria?
“Fela Kuti was on a small make-shift stage singing something socially scathing while simulating strange, savage sex with a sweaty, skinny seductress to scintillating sounds from a splendid saxophone,” takes alliteration a bit too far.

Pedant’s corner:- “that allowed her function” (that allowed her to function,) “the network of pipelines, cables, equipment, and rigging, that kept” (doesn’t need those last two commas,) (ditto in “space, time, energy, matter, spirit, and life, are considered”) (ditto in “ fire, lights, and panelling go by,) (ditto in “remained visible, from high above, a spectre”) “before continuing. ‘… That” (comma after continuing instead of full stop,) “in a smiled” (in a smile,) Adadevoh drive (spelling is sometimes Adedevoh,) “the solar systems economy” (system’s,) “the short man pretending to Mwanja Mukisa” (pretending to be Mwanja Mukisa,) “the squad that had meet then” (that had met them,) “where the fire raged most fierce” (fiercely,) “a large group …. were” (a large group … was,) “the cluster nearby asteroids” (cluster of nearby asteroids,) bioplasium (previously bioplasmium,) “‘my ships interface’” (ship’s,) “the middle of control deck” (of the control deck,) “‘Its drift-flux.’” (It’s,) “the ships basecode” (ship’s,) “trying to recall her what he’d been taught” (no ‘her’,) “allowed him access even the deepest layer” (allowed him access to even the deepest layer, or, allowed him to access even the deepest layer,) “the ships hardcoded path” (ship’s,) “and he edges” (the edges,) crenulated (crenellated.) “Under of all that hair” (Under all of that,) “allowing my tongue dance a private gentle waltz” (allowing my tongue to dance a private gentle waltz,) “mindless watching something silly” (mindlessly watching something silly,) “allowed them sink in” (allowed them to sink in,) “other times like brisk and efficient agent” (like a brisk and efficient agent,) “‘I just need you acknowledge your crime’” (‘I just need you to acknowledge your crime’,) “‘a nation of African people are the dominant hegemony’” (a nation of African people is the dominant hegemony’.) “The sharpness of its arcs flare and wane” (The sharpness of its arcs flares and wanes,) “his daughters initials” (daughter’s,) “the wood-carvers hands” (wood-carver’s,) like talon (like a talon,) the hunters head (hunter’s,) maw (it’s not a mouth!) “with he and his wife” (with him and his wife,) “went home the hunter” (went home with the hunter,) “the sphere that was chasing the ship matched their manuever [sic]” (matched its manœvre,) themselves (themselves,) to allow something like explosion to occur” (like an explosion to occur,) “allowed her senses re-engage” (allowed her senses to re-engage.) “The fear she’d developed for her mother” (the fear … of her mother was meant,) “made her pull hand away” (made her pull her hand away,) solider (soldier,) “as anyone who as ever read” (has ever read,) “one of the prophets many VR centres” (of the Prophet’s, lower case ‘prophet’ occurs frequently. In all cases since it is a particular individual it ought to be ‘Prophet’,) artic wasteland (Arctic,) “of the Earths destruction” (Earth’s,) “letting it explode like bomb” (like a bomb,) “what I imagined to be stately voice” (to be a stately voice,) vocapohone (vocaphone,) “how disengage from orbit” (how to disengage,) wold (would,) “they might have even succeeded” (they might even have succeeded,) Arinamaka (the spelling starts off Ariannamaka then begins to vary between the two forms,) “the Prophets records” (Prophet’s,) “‘Do you remember wat came before your birth?’ He asks. ‘If there was nothing before, why do you all believe something mist come after?’ He inquires further’” (Both those ‘He’s ought to be ‘he’,) “it finally it roared into life” (has one ‘it’ too many,) “beyond deaths reach” (death’s,) “like gates of a city” (like the gates of a city,) “pointing his gun Chuka’s face” (at Chuka’s face,) “allow him wrap his thick, veined hands around” (allow him to wrap,) “that don’t make a lot sense to me” (a lot of sense to me,) “the presence of things far and unseen reaches me” (the presence … reaches me.) “The bright, strobe lights” (the bright strobe lights,) “gathered the gathered the sheets around me” (remove one ‘gathered the’,) “it was written in wetness of her eyes” (in the wetness,) lay (lie, x6,) “to allow myself be recruited” (to be recruited,) shrunk (shrank,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth,) vermillion (spelling used a page later is vermilion.) “The real madness when I still worked for you” (the real madness was when I still worked for you,) “allowing everything that was me become fluid” (to become fluid,) “in readiness for was sure to come” (in readiness for what was sure to come,) “as he allowed her unzip his corduroy trousers” (as he allowed her to unzip his corduroy trousers,) seven unindented new paragraphs, bidurnially (bidiurnially?) “Synthesized water began to take back what was their ancient, ancestral home.” (Synthesised water began to take back what was its ancient, ancestral home.”) [He] “allowed himself forward to the control panel” (I know what it means but it’s a very odd construction.) “He pressed the pressed the ‘transmit’ button” (only one ‘pressed the’ needed,) “something that resembles like a bony ridge” (either, ‘something that resembles a bony ridge’, or, ‘something like a bony ridge’, not ‘resembles like a’,) “her sons life” (son’s,) “with fist full of naira” (with a fist full,) “I allowed myself feel” (is this missing ‘to’ after ‘allowed myself’ a Nigerian idiom, then?) “She brushed a stray strand of her from her cheek” (of hair, I think. Brushing a strand of her from her cheek would be in a different story entirely,) “a doctor with a kind smile and bald head whose name was Arogundade” (the head has a name? ‘a bald-headed doctor whose name’,) “clear sliver fluid” (silver, methinks – but if it was it could not have been clear as silver is not transparent,) “allowing it connect” (here is that missing ‘it’ again,) one doubly indented new paragraph, a paragraph continued when it puth ti have been a new one for a fresh speaker, “on her laps” (on her lap,) “‘I don’t want do this’” (want to do this,) “had been bleak affair” (a bleak affair,) “that would-be worm meal” (that would be worm-meal,) “to allow herself think” (again a missing ‘to’ after the verb allow,) “allowing …. fade and abrade” (yet again, ‘to fade’,) “in your way your progress” (‘in your way’, or, ‘in the way of your progress’,) was the point at which they were at” (remove one of those ‘at’s,) a logical followership of the facts presented” (followership? Following, surely?) laying (lying.)

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