“SunDown” by Acan Innocent Immaculate – A Review by Joseph Omotayo
“SunDown” creates a mesh of social concerns with humanity in the middle. Humanity in this story is in a paradoxical fix. It needs saving even as it prioritises its own saving. With greed, social stratification and politics, this humanity destroys itself in saving itself. This is a beautiful apocalyptic story. Really beautiful and simple. This story is not lost to desperate exaggerated futurities that shut out most readers from science fictions. “SunDown” by Acan Immaculate is believable and clearly shows the traps our present is in and what our immediate future (?) may be. 2050AD is not that far away.
Acan Immaculate captures pain with a rare simplicity that comes with an assured storytelling. You get the feeling this writer is not aiming to force another sci-fi gobbledegook down on you. Acan Immaculate knows what to write about, and she entertains doing that. “SunDown” does not only show speculative fiction as a projection of humanity, but also as a tool for social commentary.
The earth as it were is doomed. Humanity needs to migrate to another planet. There are only few spaces on the space ships. Then, selection becomes a convenient choice. Only the best are chosen to go. The disadvantaged are discarded, left on a dying earth. In the Mass Exodus that ought to save humanity, these few are left behind on earth to rot. Red Sun, Nyambura, Askari and the dwarf are collateral damage for the survival of humanity elsewhere. This writer does not tell us where. Perhaps this is because humanity isn’t sure of where it will “stumble” on. Humanity on the new unnamed planet needs to continue its race with the best. Red Sun, Nyambura, Askari and the dwarf do not fit in. Red Sun is an albino, Nyambura is above age limit, Askari is an invalid, and the dwarf…well, you know, height.
When Red was six, the Mass Exodus had begun. There was only room for half of the world’s population, they said. They had to take only the crème de la crème of the race, they said, because it was crucial that when the ships finally stumbled on a habitable planet, humanity put its best foot forward in the race to propagate and continue the race. So the old, the cripples, the diseased, and the people with the genes that had gone haywire… those would have to be abandoned. A sacrifice, for the greater good of the race as a whole, they said.
When Acan Immaculate introduces us to the story, Red Sun, Nyambura, Askari and the dwarf are the people we meet on this failing earth. In a way that alludes to the Noahic flood story, this story reflects humanity in its grace and despicableness. Humanity has always been biased. As Noah prepares for the Great Flood, he picks a few of everything to replicate life after the rest are wiped out. The Great Exodus does the same thing in “SunDown”. Red Sun, Nyambura, Askari and the dwarf are not worthy of the Ark. This is where Darwinist survival of the fittest holds true. It has always been the survival of the best. Even the biblical story confirms this—the best it ‘conveniently’ tags the obedient. Humanity in “SunDown” may not altogether be biased after all. It is perhaps being itself, perpetuating its very characteristics.
Acan Immaculate stretches the feelings of loss and abandonment to prove the mettle of compassion. Amidst the ruins of the dying earth, there is still. companionship and everything that is human. And you begin to wonder if humanity isn’t shooting itself in the foot by ditching them. If the humanity in Nyambura, Red Sun, Askari and the dwarf are not what humanity needs, then what does it?
Bemusedly, he looks down at the colourful scarf covering her greying hair and a spurt of rage overtakes him. The people in charge of the Mass Exodus should have taken Nyambura with them on their big exclusive space ships. It shouldn’t have mattered that she was above the age limit they had set, or that she was no genius with perfect genes. She is the perfect embodiment of what the soul of the human race needs; compassionate, loving, altruistic and an expert at wielding an iron glove when the previous qualities do not yield the desired results. Of course, to the single-minded scientists, politicians and environmentalists in charge, those weren’t the qualities required to be allowed onto the ships…
I have read the stories on the shortlist of the Writivism short story prize and this is my favourite. This short story shows contemporary African speculative fiction is in good fettle.
Joseph Omotayo is a book critic, a webmaster and a lover.