- Title: We Won’t Fade into Darkness
- Author: T J Benson
- Publisher: Parrésia Publishers Ltd
- Number of pages: 138
- Year of publication: 2018
- Category: Fiction
‘Gone are the days when people set up their own business for personal gain and profit, the business of a dying world is survival. Now we all work to save our nation from extinction’.
We Won’t Fade into Darkness is a dark, haunting collection of short stories about a post-apocalyptic Nigeria, where the air is impregnated with a poisonous gas called Nigerium that causes sperm cells to rot and kills people. It is a place so bleak, so disaster-struck that people are reduced to the most basic versions of themselves, with the instincts for self-preservation, sex, hunger, the desire to wander and death dictating the terms of existence.
But all hope is not lost. Love is shown to be the faint glimmer of light in the surrounding darkness. For instance, in ‘Jidenna’ an abusive father journeys to find his son, stopping at nothing to protect him from the evils of a world where healthy men are harvested for their sperm. By way of contrast, lust is used as a tool to gain power, as depicted in ‘Room’. The wages of both love and lust are dire, be it the unlikely love between a man and a jaguar in ‘The Killing Mountain’, or the tension-filled lust between B and a female in ‘Room 101’.
One noteworthy journey is that of Alarinka, the protagonist in the story of the same name. She is a traveller whose purpose is only revealed to her after innumerable tribulations. In ‘Pretty Bird’, the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn is demonstrated by two lovers who decide to begin a life together after a war in which machines have destroyed all the food and fauna on earth. Their story is almost clinical, right up to the point where the plot takes a surprising twist, revealing the human ability to manipulate trust in a bid to survive.
It would be wrong to say that this collection only celebrates the resilience of human nature as it also highlights human frailty. This book will provoke readers to wonder what they might do if faced with such impossible situations as presented in the book. The book preaches understanding for people going through post war-like situations as these are terribly bleak and bordering on hopeless. ‘Light’ is notably ironic as it discusses not only physical darkness but the darkness in the heart of a man who has resorted to a ‘kill-or-be-killed’ mentality in order to protect and provide for his partner. The inexorable logic he confronts is that whomever you leave injured may recover and come back for you. The story questions the subject of culture in the following conversation:
‘Cannibalism is not our culture!’
‘Your culture has been dead for a century’, he retorted.
In ‘Passion Fruit’, the author imagines that Nigeria’s Independence in 1960 was reversed by the British following the 1966 coup, in order to avoid a war ‘that could potentially have torn apart the entire nation’. The British then proceed to treat Nigerians as little more than slaves. When they die they are buried as trees. The average Nigerian wishes to be planted as an orange tree by the gate of the coloniser’s home to welcome guests, showing that even in death they are still bound by the mental shackles of servitude. Today, many Nigerians flee to Western countries to be little more than second-class citizens rather than stay and fight to improve their nation.
We Won’t Fade into Darkness provides 138 intrigue-packed pages filled with relevant themes woven skilfully into alarmingly direct stories that echo their titles. The different characters also reflect the themes. The use of simile, metaphor, anthropomorphism and personification is commendable. The vivid imagery evokes several emotional reactions, painting exceedingly detailed and alarming pictures in the mind of the reader, as can be seen in ‘Room 101’, where ‘[T]he tip of her stiff tongue moved into his mouth and electricity shot through him and made him convulse. Everybody rushed to separate him from his dead lover’.
The minimal use of euphemism in this collection is worthy of note. The theme of death is trivialised. Death is a common thread throughout the collection, be it the death of a situation, a nation, an animal, emotions, humanity or sperm. In ‘The Killing Mountain’, people simply go to the mountain and jump off to die in atonement for their sins, without a fuss. In ‘Life on Earth’, a scientist and a witch attempt to answer the question, ‘How did we die’? Their different perspectives prove to hold water in different instances.
The final thread that skilfully ties this book together is the theme of hope. Everything seems lost in this post-apocalyptic Nigeria where just one whiff of Nigerium guarantees death. Nonetheless, hope remains as long as there is life, as illustrated in ‘Nana’:
After we destroyed ourselves in a war whose cause no one can remember, we retreated with the animals to the wild and they have been teaching us all they know. They are preparing us for what they believe will be the end of the world for they had been listening to the earth’s song for a long time, through the ages.
This book succeeds as science fiction because it embraces the macabre, along with the use and misuse of technology. It plays with the mind of the reader, creating fantastical as well as implausible scenarios. It provokes thought and urges the reader to question existing norms, push the boundaries of their minds and exist in a state of a mature consciousness.
We Won’t Fade into Darkness is not for the close-minded, the queasy or the feeble-hearted. It is for those willing to question existence, the brave-hearted, those willing to challenge societal norms and those who fancy science fiction. It is both didactic and instructive and offers a glimpse of what could happen if Nigeria continues on its present path of destruction.
Photograph: ‘poisongas’ by joshua twentythree
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