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Interview: Wole Talabi on “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi”

Wole TalabiTell us a bit about “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi.”

“The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” starts with an incredibly destructive battle in a far-off corner of the universe between a super-sentient being and an unspecified enemy over a powerful artifact. There is an explosion and the artifact is flung to earth, specifically, Warri, Nigeria in the early 1990s where a precocious young girl named Ejiro discovers it. As she explores its powers, she finds that it allows her consciousness to be in multiple places at once, and, when a political protest led by her father threatens to become violent, she finds that it allows her consciousness to merge with others, forming a powerful kind of pseudo-hive-mind.

 

What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I wrote the first 1000 words of this story back in 2013. I knew I wanted to set a story in early 1990s Warri (the time and place I grew up) and the character of Ejiro came very clear in my mind from day one. Even the opening scene with the insane space chase and explosion that created the object was a clear vision when I started… but I could never quite figure out how the alien object would affect Ejiro once she encountered it. Early last year, frustrated at how increasingly divided much of world seemed to be, I remembered the story and went back to it, considering ways in which all of humanity could communicate and be more understanding of each other. A sort of separate but shared consciousness seemed like one natural evolution state of empathy. The object seemed perfect for this purpose. After that, the story came quickly.

Nick Wood’s excellent novel Azanian Bridges (about an empathy enhancer) was also an influence, I read it just after I finished the second draft of the story.

I should also mention that before I wrote this story, I used to think that stories about people finding powerful magical/mystical/alien objects were a bit cliché but then I read James Alan Gardner’s The Ray-Gun: A Love Story which is quite wonderful. And what I learned from that story was: the object and how it’s found don’t really matter for the story, what matters is what the character does with it and how it affects their lives and the lives of others.

 

Was “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Well, like I mentioned, the story is set in an industrial housing camp in early 90’s Warri, Nigeria. I grew up in a steel company housing camp in the 80’s and 90’s so a lot of Ejiro’s environment and the descriptions of Ejiro’s life come from my own memories and experience. There’s a lot of personal nostalgia in the story (e.g. reading Cyprian Ekwensi novels, rewatching The Princess Bride, sneaking sips of Gulder Beer…) and I really enjoyed writing it.

 

The conclusion that your story reaches, that humanity will bring an end to conflict and build a better world if we meld together into a unified, shared consciousness, seems to criticize much of popular sf, which tends to have a more individualistic message.  Could you talk about these differences, how you came to the conclusion in your story, and how you see your story in conversation with the broader sf field?

Well, I already mentioned that when writing the story I was thinking about how poorly humanity communicates, how much we misunderstand each other and easily we fragment. To my mind, one of the major problems with humanity as a group is lack of trust. Many of us fundamentally want the same things but we don’t know for certain what any other human in the world is thinking or feeling and why (unless they are similar enough to us for us to approximate this or in love with them enough for it to not matter) and so it is easy to mistrust others and come into conflict with them in a bid to protect ourselves. In engineering terms, our overall group efficiency is pretty low. I wanted to begin to explore the concept of a partially shared mind as a way of improving understanding between people. While I’m not the first to do this, as you noted, often, in much of (western) SF canon the concept of a group consciousness is typically treated negatively probably due to its association with insects (and perhaps communism?) and often implies loss of individuality, identity, and personhood. Species exhibiting these traits are often represented as zombie-like (e.g. Star Trek’s Borg). These are all fair criticisms but to primarily consider the concept of a group consciousness as negative and dismiss its benefits is over-simplistic. There can be balance. Not a hard line between myself and themself but a soft one. A sort of dual state. An ability to share consciousness while maintaining a sense of self should be something we aspire to because a shared mind/consciousness can be extremely valuable in improving knowledge, resolving conflict and quickly establishing trust and understanding between individuals. This story is one science-fantasy experiment in this line of thinking. I further explore this concept in another soon-to-be published story When We Dream We Are Our God as well and will probably continue to do so. Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster and Netflix’s Sense8 come to mind as stories that also take a more complicated view of group consciousness. I don’t dismiss the potential downsides of a shared consciousness (some readers may pick up on a mildly sinister tone I occasionally use in parts of the story) but just because historically, much of human development has been attributed to individual efforts or to small groups imposing their way on others, that does not mean it is the best way or that it should continue. We would probably have developed more, better and faster if we’d been more effective as a group. So I think a kind of shared consciousness or something like it is an important component for an improved, future humanity and should be a more prominent part of the greater SF conversation.

 

What are you working on now?

Well, I just finished the manuscript for my first fiction collection to be published by Luna Press in early 2019. I have a few stories that will be published later this year and so now I’m trying to finalize an SF action-thriller novel I’ve been working on for a while. I keep a list of what I’ve written, along with links to read on my blog so folks can keep updated. https://wtalabi.wordpress.com/published-fiction/

 

“The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.htm

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