Your Whole History: A Review of The Deep

the-deep-24I happened upon Rivers Solomon‘s  novella The Deep a few months ago and instantly felt drawn to it. The cover features a mermaid and, I have a thing for the water and aquatic creatures of myth and legend.

The Deep tells the story of the wajinru, aquatic descendants of enslaved African woman who were tossed from ships during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Transformed by a mysterious force into something new, these wajinru have constructed civilisations deep in the ocean, far from their ancestral homes. In fact, they are so intent on keeping their past behind them that they have sealed away their History into a single wajinru. This so-called history bears the weight of the wajinru’s human ancestry and their brutal beginning. Tormented by this History, Yetu, the current historian, leaves her people behind. But, try as she might, she can never truly be free from her history, nor its consequences.

The concept of an aquatic people descended from the enslaved is some of the most unique worldbuilding I have ever seen. It is simple, yet powerful. Although I first met the idea of a single person holding the history of a society in the 2012 film The Giver, Solomon’s story didn’t feel like a rehash of that concept.

Yetu’s struggle is understandable. To feel alone in bearing the burden of the past amidst a people who only care to carry that burden when it is convenient to them is a terrible weight to carry. Solomon’s thesis statement, as it were can be summarized in a quotation from a character: “But your whole history. Your ancestry. That’s who you are.”

This message touched me because of my own personal journey to discover my ancestral roots. As far as I know, most of my ancestry hails from West Africa. But who were they? What did they believe? What, if anything do I retain from them?

Like the wajinru, who keep living despite not knowing where they came from, my fellow Jamaicans live on without knowing where we came from. Many (most?) of us aren’t even aware that the famous folklore figure Anansi is an Akan deity repackaged as a simple trickster. People protest our national language (Patwa/Jamaican Creole) being made our official language along side English, unaware that they are playing right into the hands of our racist colonial overlords, who saw us as uncivilized. In fact, the colonial power saw English as “the most important agent of civilization for the coloured population of the colonies.” (Language Education Policy, pg. 9)

Yetu’s struggle is the struggle of the African diaspora: The tug-of-war between the present and the past. And so, The Deep is a commentary of this post-colonial experience masterfully packaged in a Afrofantasy setting. I highly recommend it.

My biggest conlang gig so far!

Last month, when I was home sick with the flu, I got my first big constructed language (conlang) gig. Jim Wilbourne, creator of the Continua series, contacted me to create some basic language information for his world.

It was fun and beyond rewarding. Jim was a pleasure to work with, and it was a perfect opportunity to stretch my linguistic and creative muscles. Jim was even kind enough to leave a review:

From the beginning, he was quick to respond and walked me through the process of creating the perfect conlang for each of my cultures. I don’t think I could have created such a beautiful, lived in, and diverse world for my epic fantasy series without his help.

I’m glad to have been able to make a mark on the world of Continua. If you, like me, are a fan of fantasy realms, please check out Jim’s work. He has two free short stories for you to whet your appetite for his bigger projects!

If you are interested in my conlang services, please contact me, and let’s create something great together.


Facebook logo  instagram logo  twitter logo  fiverr logo  YouTube logo small

A New Video!

Greetings, everyone! This is just a short post to let you know that I uploaded a new YouTube video! This one is sort of a sequel, you might say, to my previous post, The Dominion of Anansi: Why Does Storytelling Persist?

Please watch. And if you enjoy it, please consider giving it a Like and subscribing to my channel. I plan to share analyses of films, series, and books and games, as well as information about the writing process.

See you there!

Facebook logo  instagram logo  twitter logo  YouTube logo small  fiverr logo

Review: Shuri

Shuri 1 Shuri 2 Shuri 3 Shuri 4 Shuri 5
Shuri 6 Shuri 7 Shuri 8 Shuri 9 Shuri 10

I’m not really into comic books. As a child, I sometimes got my hands on a few scattered issues of some of my older cousin’s favourite comic series. However, I was never given the opportunity to keep up with them, so I guess I just didn’t try. As such, I knew next to nothing about Black Panther before the 2018 film. That’s why I probably would not have decided to pick up Shuri if not for the fact that Nnedi Okorafor, an Africanfuturism author that I’ve come to greatly respect, is the pen behind it.

With as few spoilers as I can, I’ll share my thoughts on these this ten-issue series.

Shuri
Shuri as seen on the cover if Shuri #1, making the signature “Wakanda forever” solute

Plot:
T’Challa, the Black Panther, king of Wakanda, is missing, lost in a mission to outer space. In his absence, his sister, Princess Shuri has big shoes to fill. While coming to terms with her brother’s absence, she must deal with the pressure to take up the mantle of Black Panther, and to save Wakanda and the world from dangers that, in some ways, are her own doing.

Dr Nnedi Okorafor did a good job with the material given to her. Apart from a two-issue reprieve, she wrote all issues of Shuri. Okorafor has always had a vested interest in African representation, which is as clear in this story as the others I’ve read from her. With African characters from outside of Wakanda entering the story and impacting Shuri’s internal conflict, I would say Okorafor has succeeded. I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I was to see Ororo Munroe (AKA Storm) with her hair braided instead of the wearing the flowing, European-esque hairstyle she is usually given!

Shuri and Story panel
Storm taking to the sky with her braids floating in the wind, from Shuri #2 (Image: Marvel)

I would be remiss, of course, to ignore the contribution of Vita Ayala to this series. While Okorafor’s focus has been Africa, Ayala brought Shuri to Brooklyn, New York, allowing us to see another Marvel character that I have never seen in comics, Miles Morales, Spider-Man. The change in author for issues 6 and 7 were not at all jarring, and helped propel Shuri’s story forward admirably.

Shuri is about a young woman’s struggle to find her identity in the midst of adversity. Though she has her own unique powers, Shuri has always been comfortable as the technological mind behind the Black Panther. Now, she has not only lost her brother, but her powers as well. Shuri is not T’Challa, and she knows it. She uses her intellect and compassion in ways that make her a very different character from her brother, even while others try to make her into a copy-pasted Black Panther. Shuri is Shuri, and apologetically so, even as she takes the time to figure out how to be Shuri amidst outside pressures.

The most impactful aspect of this story to me, though, was how African it was. As a member of the African diaspora, I lament at the lack of decidedly Black/African representation in sci-fi and fantasy. Seeing characters attempting inter-African unification, as well as a visual unification of Afrocentric clothing, mysticism, and modern technology made this a favourite comic experience.

I am glad I decided to read Shuri.


Facebook logo instagram logo twitter logo fiverr logo

What The Lion King remake could have been

This post is many things rolled into one: A review, a lament, and, finally, a suggestion to Disney and other writers/artists.

When Disney’s live action trend started in earnest, I had little problem with it. It had started a quite a few years before with The Jungle Book (1994) and 101 Dalmatians (1996), and they were all so different from the original animated films that they made satisfactory entertainment.

By now, these films have become the veritable mid-life crisis of a massive film company. Of the more recent ones, my favourite is Maleficent; not because it was good (it was… okay), but because it was something new, something fresh.

I’ve watched the photorealistic The Lion King, a remake of the traditionally animated 1994 film. Yes, it got me to laugh. Yes, it got me to sing along with some of its nostalgic songs. But it was, in my humble opinion, a waste. A waste of the skill, time, and technology that went into creating these realistic animals and scenes; a waste of the talents of the voice actors; a waste of hours of my life.

There were interesting, even good, things in it, of course. The fact that Shenzi is the leader of the hyenas is a cool reference to spotted hyena social structure. The songs were enjoyable, if only for the nostalgia factor. The animals and scenes do look very real; kudos to the animators for that.

But it fails in so many ways:

The photorealism not only makes it hard to tell the lions apart, but for the audience to truly see the characters’ emotions. In animation especially, the acting is done not only by the voice actors but by the visual artists, too. Lions don’t emote the way that we humans do, and we humans are not that exposed to lions that we would be able to understand their nonverbal communication.

Many scenes and lines add little to the final product. For example, there is an exchange between Shenzi and Nala in the final battle that’s a callback to the time when Shenzi tried to eat Nala. There is no build-up to this scene, so it feels pointless. Then there’s the time Rafiki pulls out his staff (which he doesn’t carry around with him throughout the movie as in the 1994 film). Rafiki calls it his “old friend”; which is clearly a reference to the original film, but adds no value because we have no idea what this means for his character in this film. And then there’s a scene when an antelope acts skittish around the carnivorous Simba in Timon and Pumbaa’s oasis. However, this is just a throwaway line not resolved at all in the film.

TLK - Uninspiring thing
“…a rather uninspiring thing…”

The Lion King (2019) lacks what Maleficent (2014) has: originality. For the most part, it is a scene-for-scene remake of the 1994 film. It starts with the same opening scene, has the same songs (ha, the “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” scene takes place in full daylight!)… That, along with the aforementioned issues, makes it terribly lacklustre.

As a fan of the original, this remake saddens me. This live action trend itself saddens me. I have nothing against the idea of remakes themselves, but for a film like the original The Lion King, which remains a timeless classic, this new film was essentially pointless from an artistic perspective. It’s like watching the original, but… without the soul.

I think that if Disney wants to create quality remakes, it needs to take a step back. Do a lot more than scene-for-scene remakes. Marvel and DC have done a good job of this; the Superman my father grew up with is not the same one that I grew up with.

Disney has traditionally done well with retellings of public domain properties. The Little Mermaid (1989), Tangled, and even Mary Poppins are all good retellings of older works. Both the 1994 and 2016 versions of The Jungle Book are retellings as well; new spins on the story, rather than simply remaking (regurgitating the plot, lines, etc. of) the 1967 film. However, Disney seems to have fallen down when it comes to their newer remakes. With this new adaptation of The Lion King, they had the opportunity to do something new and interesting with their property:

Ken Kwame Twitter

Christina Holland, former Cracked writer, tweeted:

oh no no no, Lion King should have been the thing that got remade with humans wearing the (amazing) costumes from the stage musical, and Cats should have been the one remade with CG photoreal animals, I’m not even joking

In response, I tweeted:

Yes! A fantasy story with a (fictional, maybe) African people who use lion iconography in their clothing, architecture, and art, or something.

This is just a suggestion, but think about how much depth that would add to the story: Audiences would get to see a new civilisation. How would they writers choose to have Scar kill Mufasa? Would he still use a stampede? If so, would Mufasa and Simba being human change how the stampede scene plays out? How would the non-royal characters relate to the royals since it isn’t a predator-prey relationship in this version? Why does this people use lion iconography? Is there a lion god in the stars, perhaps, where the late King Mufasa dwells with his ancestors?

As writers, I think we should take this approach to retellings. We could easily rewrite old and classical stories that fall within public domain, or even remakes of our old properties, but why not stretch our artistic muscles?

Like Tin Man, a 2007 miniseries that re-imagines The Wizard of Oz in a fantasy steampunk setting; or Black Sands: The Seven Kingdoms, a comic series that re-imagines ancient Egyptian gods as fantasy warriors (and even as children). We as writers could benefit from asking how our favourite old stories would be impacted by different settings, and different situations. That way, our readers, our audience, will find something new and (hopefully) interesting in our stories, even if they are familiar with the originals.


Facebook logo  instagram logo  twitter logo  fiverr logo

New YouTube video

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a new YouTube video, but I finally did it again! This one is about the highly anticipated Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield games for the Nintendo Switch to be released later this year.

Thumbail 2
The video thumbnail!

In my video, I discuss something I want to see in Sword and Shield. It isn’t a plotpoint, battle mechanic, or anything of the like, but it is something that can have a tremendous impact on the gameplay experience.

So, please check out my video! Also, like, subscribe, and share if you think it’s worth it! For my next video, I’m thinking about either discussing Yu-Gi-Oh!, Black Panther, or The Dragon Prince. We’ll see!

Thanks, and see you next time!

~Ken

Comic Review: Black Sands

If you know me, you know that I have always been a fan of Egyptian mythology. So, you can imagine how excited I was when I happened upon Black Sands: The Seven Kingdoms. Published by Black Sands Entertainment, the comic is an indie project that, as creator Manuel Godoy says, “our community needs”. After all, “we barely ever learn anything about African achievement in history before slavery.”

Black Sands
My birthday gift right after I opened it!

This review has been a long time coming. I received a limited edition signed copy of the first three chapters as a late birthday present. As an aspiring indie writer myself, I had to support! And as a fan of Egyptian mythology, I was not disappointed!

Written by Manuel Godoy and illustrated by David LenormandBlack Sands is unique in many ways. Unlike other depictions of Egyptian mythological figures, it depicts Osiris, Isis, Set, three of the most famous Egyptian gods, as children, rather than adults. The story is set up as much as a coming of age tale for these super-powered characters as a tale of impending danger to their kingdom.

black sands characters

Secondly, the comic avoids the names for the gods that we English-speakers inherited from the Greeks. Young Osiris is called Ausar, his sister is called Auset, and their kingdom is called Kemet, rather than Egypt. This gives an authentic feel to the story.

Third, Black Sands features African civilisation outside of Egypt as well. The kingdom of Kush is important to the story, and even the little known warrior god Apedemak graces the pages with his presence.

Without revealing too much, I will say this: Black Sands chapters 1 to 3 do a good job setting a foundation for what is to come. We see the motivations and flaws of the characters and how they may just help to carry the story along. Ausar, for example, is an impulsive child set on proving his worth to his overbearing grandfather Rah we well as to everyone else that he is worthy of his royal bloodline and abilities; even at risk to his own person and (unfortunately) those around him.

As these children strive to grow in maturity and their supernatural abilities, though, we see an impending doom as invaders arrive at their shores. Even with the powers that the royal family possesses, we get a feeling that these strangers pose a true danger to the nation of Kemet.

Black Sands creatively remixes ancient tales and figures from Northern African myth into a beautifully crafted (and drawn!) work of art. I would recommend it to any fan of comics and fantasy, specifically Afrofantasy. My hope is that efforts like this will pave the way for more and more stories that depict stories set in and inspired by African nations, peoples, and cultures much lower down than Egypt.