Saturday, September 9, 2023

A Dream of Electric Mothers, by Wole Talabi

Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction, Sheree Renรจe Thomas (editor), Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (editor), Zelda Knight (editor), Tordotcom, ISBN 
9781250833006, November 2022

Brigadier-General Dolapo Abimbola Titilope Balogun is the youngest member of the cabinet of what I think is the country of Yoruba, with what is currently Kenya again separated into Yoruba and Dahomey. (I was intent on the story, and I'm not 100% sure I picked up the political detail correctly, except that Dahomey is definitely "the other country." If someone can correct me, please do.) They are facing rising tensions with Dahomey, over a border dispute, and are seeking a solution that neither surrenders the territory in dispute, nor results in war. So far, they're not having success.

Someone proposes consulting the Electric Mothers, the combined electronic memory of all the people of the country who have died since its creation. It's the Electric "Mothers" and not Elders or Fathers or something else, because when accessed, it manifests as the united voices of many women. This might be because the designer of it was a woman--Balogun's great-grandaunt, in fact.

Balogun is skeptical of the need to consult the Electric Mothers at this point. She feels they haven't been deliberating very long, and they shouldn't rush to seek the electronic ancestors' aid quite this quickly. They can surely work it out themselves.

But, as mentioned, she's the newest and youngest member of the cabinet, and also the only one who has never experienced communion with the Electric Mothers before. She does not carry the day. Even with one  of the oldest cabinet members sharing her reservations, they do not carry the day.

They go through some (not all) of the usual formalities, and enter the chamber where they will consult the Electric Mothers. All the cabinet members will commune with the ancestors; they will all experience it individually, and they will all ask the same one agreed question. It won't take long; no such consultation has ever lasted more than five minutes.

Balogun sticks to her duty on that one question, but it turns out she has her own personal question to ask, not at all related to her duty. While the response to the agreed, official question is unexpected and somewhat disturbing, it's with her own question that we learn the most about Balogun, her motives, and about the Electric Mothers. Also, of course, about this African country in a future that's not next week, but also, not the distant future.

It's a very good story, focused on my favorite thing, good, interesting characters in their own setting. I'd love to read more set in this background.

I received this story as part of the 2023 Hugo Voters Packet.

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