Science fiction Shona novel print version

Beaven Tapureta : Bookshelf

Science fiction is a sub-genre of speculative fiction which in Zimbabwean literature is an uncommon type of writing because of the assumed limitations of the indigenous languages. With the rapid technological exploits happening in the world today, local language experts have met the vexing challenge of adopting new technological terms into the local languages.We are yet to have a wide range of complete dictionaries of technological or scientific terms translated into local languages to help writers explore their different worlds of the imagination.

Motivating indeed it is to note that a first step towards such an ‘expansion’ of our local language has been taken by UK-based Zimbabwean writer Masimba Musodza in his trailblazing feat in the science fiction genre.

His novel “Munahacha Maive Nei?” (Belontos Books) is the first science fiction or speculative fiction novel in Shona language. The novel first appeared five years ago as an e-book before its print edition and now it is available in the new paperback, hardback and e-book editions. Hopefully, the reading public in Zimbabwe will soon have a chance to buy personal copies in local bookstores.

Musodza said in a recent press release that he has re-published his novel due to ‘a renewed international interest in speculative fiction from the margins of the western tradition’.

There is an awareness of the language problems haunting African science fiction writers and his novel, he says, seeks to break that barrier. He told award-winning British speculative fiction author and university lecturer Geoff Ryman in an interview that “Muna Hacha Maive Nei?” was actually written in response to a belief that it was impossible to write “complicated stuff” in ChiShona, a belief held by many Zimbabweans’.

However, he observes that speculative fiction particularly by African writers is now being taken seriously.

“We (African writers of speculative fiction) have been around for a while, though. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think novels about social, political and economic issues affecting the whole or a part of Africa are a problem. The problem comes in believing that they represent the sum of African literature, or how these issues ought to be written about. Speculative fiction writers have been looking at the same issues- but approaching that looking at very differently. Finally, the rest of the world is beginning to sit up and take notice,” he says.

Musodza, a devout Rastafarian, credits the all-time mind-shaking book “Decolonising the Mind” by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, which he read as a Form One student, for shaping his views on his native language.

Normally, science fiction breaks away from the comfort of the familiar world and is set in the distant future. Yet whatever is happening to the characters in science fiction, it is based on some real or possible scientific discovery and invention. But how does Musodza articulate his Shona fiction story with science as his field of inquiry?

To help the reader, the novel “Muna Hacha Maive Nei?” comes with a supplementary paper on the origins of speculative fiction in ChiShona. The paper traces “the genre to the legend of Nhururamwedzi, the attempt by the Kalanga Empire to reach the moon during the reign of Chirisamhuru in the 1830s” and the author slot in this and the influences behind it into his own work.

However, his interest in science has its seed in his childhood. He says that as a child, Musodza dreamed of becoming a scientist. Although as a teenager, he then wanted to be a recording and performing artist, his sci-fiction Shona novel is proof of a process that no doubt started earlier in his writer’s psyche. Born in a book loving family, Musodza, aged ten years, purchased Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and, he says, “The book not only inspired an abiding interest in not just horror and science-fiction, but also in scientific research, such that for much of my childhood, I wanted to be a scientist. It was only when I was at secondary school that I realised that I was going to be a writer.”

According to the novel’s blurb, the story in “Munahacha Maive Nei?” circles around “the spectre of famine, and its potential to emerge as a geo-politically strategic weapon, illegal bio-engineering experiments by an international corporation colluding with corrupt local officials, villagers fearful of an ancient mythical creature, and two young girls’ quest to find the truth themselves.

Chemicals from a research station conducting illegal experiments begin to seep into the local ecosystem, causing mutations in the flora and fauna. When a child is attacked by a giant fish, the villagers think it is an affronted mermaid-traditional custodian of the ecology — and seek to appease it according to the prescription of folk-lore. However, the reality of what is happening soon becomes evident, a reality more terrifying than any legend or belief”.

Just this summary may reflect a story in which you possibly will meet animals transforming into strange, frightening creatures. The given Shona blurb, loosely translates to a story about a mermaid living in the main river of a certain village. Everyone is frightened to get close to the river.

The animals in the vicinity are behaving strangely. (Oh, how we wish we could read the whole novel on our own!).

Last year, Musodza published his ChiShona ‘bone-chiller’ titled “Shavi Rechikadzi”, a tale of sexual violence and the evocation of Lilith to wreak a terrible revenge on behalf of those whom the justice system has failed. He says that later this year, he will be switching to English with “Herbert Wants to Come Home” which is a tale of his exiled generation and the anxieties about returning to Zimbabwe.

Born Julius Masimba Musodza, the 40-year-old writer did most of his primary, secondary education and film making in Harare before re-locating to the North East England town of Middlesbrough (UK) in 2002. Musodza’s literary works have been published online, in Zimbabwe, Jamaica, South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom and other places, making him one of the most widely read Zimbabwean writers.

In 2011, he was named Writer of the Year in the Zimbabwe Music and Arts Award Literary Arts Category. In 2015, Culture Trip named him one the 10 Best Writers from Zimbabwe. He writes mostly speculative fiction, but is also widely known for the “Dread Eye Detective Agency” series. In his acting career, his first professional appearance was in Edgar Langeveldt’s “No News” (Theatre-In-The-Park, Harare) in 1997.

More recently, he was an extra in ITV Studio’s “Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands” in which he plays a Vani warrior. He also has a cameo appearance in the video for Nigerian-British urban artist Finest CK’s “Shake am.”

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