Here’s a new article of mine that’s just been published by cyberculture legend R. U. Sirius on his webzine; Acceler8or. This article is entitled ‘Developing Worlds: Beyond the Frontiers of Science Fiction‘, and here’s the opening paragraph:

Imagine a young African boy staring wide-eyed at the grainy images of an old television set tuned to a VHF channel; a child discovering for the first time the sights and sounds of a wonderfully weird world beyond city limits. This is one of my earliest memories; growing up during the mid-nineties in a tranquil compound house in Maamobi; an enclave of the Nima suburb, one of the most notorious slums in Accra. Besides the government-run Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, only two other television stations operated in the country at the time, and satellite television was way beyond my family’s means. Nevertheless, all kinds of interesting programming from around the world occasionally found its way onto those public broadcasts. This was how I first met science fiction; not from the tomes of great authors, but from distilled approximations of their grand visions.

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Be sure to check out some of the other interesting articles on his site as well. Also, I’m currently on holiday in London for a few weeks, and anyone intetested in meeting up a coffee and chat can feel free to buzz me on my gmail. Any time I lose here is being made up for with tons of sci-fi inspiration from this mind-boggingly surreal post-industrial megapolis. I’ll be back with more updates and comments on this insightful experience.

Writing a novel is like watching a tree grow in real-time. It can be a genuinely wholesome and fulfilling experience, but it’s mostly a slow and agonizingly painful process, especially after you’ve come to love the little world you’ve created and can’t wait to share it with the big one. This month marks exactly two years since I got an itch to write a sci-fi novel, and even though I’m still months away from the finish line, at the current stage of development, I’ve never been so close. The next few months should mark the final stage of this arduous journey. In the meantime, I happen to be a firm believer in shameless self-promotion, so in this blog post I’ll be dropping a few hints of what you can expect from the upcoming novel.

Which shall henceforth be known as Accra.

Unless my publisher comes up with some bright ideas. But I’ve recently started to consider taking the path less traveled–that of self-publishing. Since my father’s untimely passing just over two months ago, I’ve begun to have the sneaking suspicion that life may in fact be too short to sit around waiting for some benevolent cartel to lend me a printing press, when technology empowers me now more than ever to circumvent that quaint bit of bureaucracy. I know there’s a much higher commercial risk involved in self-publishing, but it seems more in tune with my personal values to continually adopt emerging technologies and evolve beyond outdated models. Either way, I’ll be giving the idea a lot of thought in the coming months.

And now, for a brief description of the novel.

Accra is a speculative fiction novel set in the year 2057 AD, at a time when neuroscience has reverse-engineered the brain to uncover the inner workings of the human mind. Two-thirds of the world’s population have been implanted with biocores–organic microcomputers that interface between the brain and cyberspace, linking billions of people worldwide to the wireless Grid.  The novel is a threefold narrative that weaves together the stories of a desert soldier, a data thief, and a cyber-crime investigator who are thrust into the heart of a dark conspiracy in one turbulent night on the fast-paced, hi-tech streets of Accra.

And a similarly brief synopsis.

A teenage girl leaves her home in a coastal village to find work in the city of Accra, but after months of failing to find employment she is led into the dangerous world of cyber-crime, where her life quickly begins to spiral out of control. A retired cyber-crime investigator is called in by the Accra Police Force to deal with a cyber-terrorist threat, but the series of inexplicable occurrences that follow lead him to the blood-stained trail of a sinister plot in the corridors of power. These two stories are inextricably linked with a third; the gradually unfolding memories of a mercenary soldier, narrating a life of struggle and oppression in the heart of the Green Sahara; a story which culminates in a star-cross’d quest for freedom and justice, where all roads lead to the city of Accra.

A traditional cyberpunk dish prepared with African spices and served by the fireside.

Accra is equal parts mystery, thriller, and adventure, corresponding roughly to each protagonist’s storyline. The Sahara Desert will be prominently featured in the novel, incorporating some minor techno-ecological adjustments, as you might  imagine. Naturally, the Accra metropolis will be the setting for the most part of the novel. My love for Africa and it’s unique heritage will be conspicuously evident on a page or two, but my vision of a future Africa is by no means boiled down to guns and roses. Accra is an earnest attempt to paint a plausible and comprehensive near-future scenario for the continent as a whole, and that means working out the nitty-gritty implications of diverse existing trends into the future and documenting the results; be they good, bad, or ugly.

About the writing process and final product.

Most of the time I have spent on this novel has gone into developing the story world, as well as the plot and narrative structure, which form the centerpiece of the story. It should be complex and labyrinthine enough to make your head spin, but simple enough to make you go ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the end. It should ultimately leave you with more questions than answers, or conversely, with more answers than questions. Expect lots of action, drama, hard science, black magic, dark romance, and transhumanist philosophical quandaries, but above all, expect the unexpected.

Whatever that means.

I hope I haven’t given away too much, or conversely, that I haven’t been too cryptic. There’s a lot more that I haven’t said or even hinted at, but like any writer who’s worth his ink, I’d do well to save the best for last. Finally, I have a serious question for anyone reading this: Would you advise me to search for a traditional, prestigious paperback publisher, or be a cowboy and self-publish online? I’m not trying to skew the results, but the latter would mean the novel being available by the end of this year.

Yours Truly,

AfroCyberPunk

What does it really mean to say that we live in a fast-changing world? The meaning of this well-worn phrase seems to have narrowed greatly over time to focus mainly on economic development while glossing over the many social implications of technological progress. The world has only just begun to grasp the importance of this aspect of development early in the 21st century, and there is so much more we can discover by paying attention to the critical new developments that are occurring all around us.

The sakawa phenomenon is one example that hits close to home, particularly if you live in West Africa, where the practice is known by several different names. The true meaning of the word is unclear to me, but I first encountered the term in reference to certain types of rituals performed by traditional priests with the specific intention of granting obscene wealth to the seeker. As a rule, the wealth comes at the cost of an early death along with a similarly prohibitive bill, livestock and alcohol inclusive. The practice has undergone a rapid transformation over the past few years, having been cut out from the past somehow and pasted into the future, in a unique fusion between high technology and centuries-old tradition.

The cyber-crime epidemic in West Africa has been the main driver of this change, luring untold thousands of young men and women to taking the fastest route out of the poverty trap. Despite the fact that these youth are growing increasingly sophisticated in their schemes, a significant number of them seem to be turning to traditional belief as a means to guarantee a high rate of success. Those who engage in this practice, dubbed sakawa boys, employ the services of traditional priests with the purpose of supernaturally enforcing the co-operation of their ‘clients;’ the potential victims of their online scams.

Sakawa boys have managed to hack Africa’s natural mystic; redefine her unique cosmology, and twist it to suit their purposes. As destructive as their activities are, we still can learn from this fascinating illustration the way in which cultural evolution occurs over time, mediated by technology, in constant exchange with the rest of the world, growing ever more nuanced and intricate with each step forward. I expect to see many more of such interactions between culture and technology in the near future, and I’m sure that if we pay more attention to such phenomena we will be better able to navigate through the turbulent waters of our near future.

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This article was originally published in the December 2010 edition of DUST Magazine. It’s just a thought to keep in mind for now, but I plan to deal further with the sakawa phenomenon in the near future.

The Ugly: Modern Day Slavery

Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (Naptip) said officials visited Mali this month to follow up “horrendous reports” from victims, aid workers and clergy in Mali.

They said there were hundreds of brothels, each housing up to 200 girls, run by Nigerian “madams” who force them to work against their will and take their earnings.

“We are talking of thousands and thousands of girls,” Simon Egede, Executive Secretary of Naptip, told a news conference in Abuja.

“We are talking of certainly between 20,000 and about 40,000,” he said, but did not give details of how the figure had been reached.

In a statement, Mr Egede said girls were “held in bondage for the purposes of forced sexual exploitation and servitude or slavery-like practices”.

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From Scotland, sans Love: The Toxic Waste Blues

Tens of thousands of tonnes of toxic waste from Scotland are being illegally dumped in Africa and Asia every year with the help of organised criminal gangs, according to an investigation by the Scottish Government’s environmental watchdog.

Mountains of broken televisions, defunct microwaves, worn tyres, contaminated paper and other waste exported from Scottish homes and businesses end up threatening the environment and endangering the health of people in Nigeria, Zanzibar, Ghana, Indonesia, Pakistan, China and elsewhere.

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Meltwater Foundation: Starting Up the Start-ups

“Phase (1) of MEST is a rigorous two-year program where fully sponsored students, known as Entrepreneurs in Training (EITs), receive hands-on education in software development, basic business fundamentals and entrepreneurship” . . .

“In phase (2), the incubator stage, the MEST entrepreneurs get seed funding and incorporate their companies. Their main focus in the incubator is partly to develop a commercially viable go-to-market strategy and partly to further develop their prototype, therefore enabling it for a commercial launch.”

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In South Africa: Gaming, Meet Security

Says Sergey Golovanov, Malware Expert at Kaspersky Lab; “The gaming industry has become extremely lucrative and has evolved into a fully-fledged economy with well developed demand and specific customer requirements, as trading in-game objects is now considered an essential part of any game in itself. It therefore comes as no surprise that fraud and overtly deceiving online gamers has long since become popular among cybercriminals.” . . .

Cyber criminals are engaging with gamers in various ways, either luring or direct intrusion – stealing passwords to gain access to accounts, exploiting game vulnerabilities and making use of malware. One method used by cyber criminals is to enter a game or a forum on a game server and offer a bonus, or help in the game, in exchange for other players’ passwords. The cyber criminal who makes such an offer is not as naive as he may initially seem.

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20 Essential Works of Cyberpunk Literature

A portmanteau of uhhh “cyber” and “punk,” the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction takes readers to the fringes of mainstream society. In worlds where technologies both benevolent and malevolent reign supreme (not to mention the occasional multinational conglomerate with pervasive political clout and the hottest machinery), writers lovingly dissect a number of different themes that question humanity’s interactions with its inorganic creations. . .

Any readers hoping to gain a thorough understanding of what the subgenre entails should make an effort to understand the beginning, middle and end rather than heading straight for the purely “cyberpunk.”

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I have quite unexpectedly been granted the privilege to appear as a guest on the Writers Project radio show, which airs this Sunday evening on Citi 97.3 FM, Ghana. The Writers Project of Ghana is an organization that promotes writing through workshops, public readings, and their radio show on Citi FM. I didn’t have any completed cyberpunk stories at the time I was contacted, so I have specially adapted the first chapter of my novel into a short story called ‘Virus!’

Those outside Ghana can listen to the show live on the Citi FM website from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM (GMT), so you can work out when exactly that is in your time zone. For those who are interested but can’t tune in for whatever reason, I intend to upload a podcast of the show sometime next week. While the full novel is still several months away from the bookshelf, this sneak preview should help to take a little edge off the long wait. This Sunday, I hope you all turn on, boot up, and jack in.