by Akumbu Uche
The internet has changed a lot of our attitudes towards communication, made information more accessible and continues to do so. Thanks to this invention, I am always being introduced to new authors (to me) and my literary scope continues to widen. Case in point: Dallas-based Nigerian science-fiction writer, Uche Obieri whom I discovered through the blog Curiosity Killed the Eccentric Yoruba.
My brief foray into sci-fi literature had begun during my childhood with H.G. Wells and ended shortly after with Jules Verne. However, Uche Obieri’s Six and Fifty-four, though short showed me how much more advanced the genre is today and has whetted my appetite for similar tales.
Recently, I conducted an email interview with the author and she was kind enough to talk about her literary taste, creative ambitions and thoughts on artificial life with me.
Below is a transcript of our conversation:
Your story, Six and Fifty-four fits tidily into the science fiction genre. How did you get introduced to the world of sci-fi?
I’ve always been interested in stories about impossible or improbable things, and though there weren’t many sci-fi books around while I was growing up, I tended to gravitate towards both fantasy and science fiction. A couple of the schools I went to had libraries with a good amount of both, and I read as many of them as I could.
What were the earliest sci-fi books you read?
The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds, both by Scott Westerfeld; Memory and earlier books in the Miles Vorkosigan Series by Lois Bujold; Foreigner and the rest of the atevi series by C.J. Cherryh. I’d read a few other SF books before these, but they left the biggest impression. The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds particularly struck me because I hadn’t read such a deft combination of hard SF and romance before then.
What other genres of literature do you read?
I read a lot in the Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and Young Adult genres, and occasionally also in Romance. I particularly like cross-genre books that straddle two or more of those categories. Recently I’ve also been reading a metric ton of manga, mostly shoujo (targeted at young girls) and josei (targeted at women). I’m kind of a manga noob, so I’ve been happily churning through all the classics, but I’ve already got a few series that I’ll wail over if they’re dropped. I’m into series like Wallflower, Crimson Hero, Skip Beat! and much more. Currently I’m mourning the unfair dearth of shoujo-style sports manga with female main characters.
When did you decide to start writing your own stories?
I’ve kind of always had little stories going in my head for my own entertainment. In high school I started putting them to paper, mostly so I could fix the details down in a way that would let me remember the coolest bits that I thought up.
And how long have you been a writer?
Since my early teens. That’s when I think I actually started writing things down and trying to make them make sense as a story. I still remember the first thing I seriously tried to write– it was a play based on Romeo and Juliet and set in an Igbo context. I had so much fun working on it and sharing it with my friends that I kept going. We never did perform that play, but I’ve been writing ever since.
How long did it take to write this particular story?
The first draft didn’t take more than a couple of days. The edits maybe took two or three more days, stretched over the months where I either forgot about the story or despaired of getting it to work how I wanted it to. I had a really tough time with the ending; it was pretty abrupt in my first draft, and finding a way to finish things off satisfyingly without explaining too much or leaving the reader hanging was difficult.
I thought it was unique the way you gave the characters numbers as names. What inspired that?
The title – that was the first bit that I wrote down, taken from a couple of numbers that my writing professor had mentioned in class. The whole idea behind the title was that the numbers referred to people, so that’s why the characters ended up having them as names in the story.
There is a notion that androids are metallic and mechanical. The ones in your story eat, drink and even wear clothes. They could be humans.
They actually sort of are humans, from my perspective. My thinking was that they were just very, very modified for the sake of their jobs, and that adding faster reflexes, highly changeable appearance and internal networking to someone wouldn’t change the essence of who they were. Or at least, wouldn’t change it very much.
The musician Janelle Monae is known for using the imagery of cyborgs and androids to explore the state of modern society. What are you trying to achieve? Do you these beings have anything to teach us?
[Laughs] Not exactly. I simply find them very interesting to write about; there’s something about strong people struggling to break out of the mould or change their circumstances that really intrigues me as a writer. I think it’s the fact that the list of things they could do is longer and crazier than that of an average person; it’s fun for me to imagine that list and write scenarios from it.
You are a self published writer who has embraced e-publishing. Doesn’t the popularity of file sharing make copyright difficult to ensure?
Currently, I don’t worry about file sharing and piracy and all that. If I ever find myself in the situation where I’m not earning what I feel is enough from my work and that situation is directly attributable to random people illegally downloading my stories and nothing else, then there’ll be hell to pay and numerous lawsuits to file. For now, however, I think that making my stories available in convenient formats at a reasonable price is probably enough to keep things under control.
Some book lovers are strangers to sci-fi literature. What books or authors would you recommend to get them interested in the genre?
Generally, I’d recommend trying to find sci-fi that has themes they enjoy, for example, Military SF for people who like reading about wars and space operas for people who enjoy dramas. For specific recommendations, though, I’d probably fall back on these two authors: Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies and Tamura Yumi’s 7 seeds series, for an excellent apocalyptic survival story, mostly so that whoever’s reading these doesn’t forget that SF comes in a lot of mediums, manga included.
What next can we expect from you? How soon?
I’m currently working on my first novella, The Wrong Sort*, which one of my first readers classified as “romantic action”. It’s set in the future, and it’s about a woman dealing with the thorny police investigation of her employee, as well as her inappropriate feelings for the investigator in charge. I’m aiming to have it ready to publish sometime during April of this year.
Do you have any other creative pursuits?
I used to be really interested in singing, to the point that I entered in one or two vocal competitions in Nigeria, but all I ended up doing is singing a lot at home and buying way too much music. These days, I blog sporadically at flo.dreamwidth.org, and occasionally get to exercise the few Photoshop skills I picked up in college. I’m really proud that I managed to make the cover for Six and Fifty-four by myself, and I don’t doubt that the covers for most of my future works will start as a terrible mock-up on my computer even if I do end up paying someone with more experience to make them.
*Uche has kindly offered to send me a review copy of this book, so look out.