SciFi Month 2016 – Short Stories: SPIDER THE ARTIST, by Nnedi Okorafor
Short stories are a difficult matter to handle: on one side, they might not give the same satisfactory “density” of a book, on the other they afford you a glimpse into a world, a setting you know you would enjoy – but end all too soon.
Every time I read about some fellow blogger reluctance about reading short stories, I understand, but at the same time I see these smaller offerings as a way to sample authors I have not read yet, without committing to a full book.
For this mont of November dedicated to science fiction, I’ve decided to look up some of the short stories offered online by many sites, and see what I could find. It was a somewhat difficult search, because not all stories were to my taste, but what I found made it all quite worthwhile: my heartfelt thanks to all those online magazines that allowed me to sample such an incredible variety of stories.
Spider the Artist, by Nnedi Okorafor – from Lightspeed Magazine
In a not-so-distant future, the Niger Delta is exploited for its oil, pollution running rampant through crops, waters and people. In one of the many villages lining the pipeline lives Eme, whose only means of escaping the rigors of such a life is playing her father’s guitar. The pipeline is protected against sabotage or simple theft of oil by mechanical, spider-shaped guardians, that people have started calling “zombies”: when a Zombie finds someone tampering with the pipeline, it kills in a brutal and gruesome way. One night, as Eme is playing her guitar outside her home, one of the Zombies approaches her and listens to her music: it’s the beginning of a very strange, silent friendship that will have unexpected consequences.
The true horror of this story does not come so much from the terrible living conditions of the villagers, or the reports of mindless killings operated by the Zombies, that more often than not are unable to distinguish between thieves and saboteurs and mere children playing near the pipeline: these events, as terrible as they are, pale against the depiction of Eme’s everyday life, and the shock is not engendered by what she relates but rather by her quiet acceptance, the resignation that’s plain in her words and attitude.
As Eme reports in the very first sentence of the story, her husband beats her, taking all his despair and frustration on her, and all she can do – besides passively accepting it all – is bear it day after day, almost not realizing that every desire for a better life is slowly dying.
No matter my education, as soon as I got married and brought to this damn place I became like every other woman here, a simple village woman living in the delta region where Zombies kill anyone who touches the pipelines and whose husband knocks her around every so often.
There is a form of quiet desperation (to quote from a Pink Floyd song) in Eme that reaches out from the pages and grabs at your soul with incredible strength. So it’s almost not surprising that she might find a kindred soul in a mechanical construct that seems to care about the beauty of music much more than the flesh-and-blood people around her do.
It’s a peculiar story, but a fascinating one, and I will need to explore this author further in the near future