Shutterstock /Pavel Chagochkin
COURTTIA NEWLAND’s Cosmogramma is one eclectic mix of tales. The anthology jumps between thrillers, sci-fi and cosmic horror to tell stories from a world with robot armies, circuses of cyborgs and mysterious, other-worldly happenings.
This is Newland’s second work of speculative fiction, having released his first – A River Called Time, which featured parallel versions of London – earlier this year. The book begins with “Percepi”, a story about companion robots that end up forming their own armies. Androids and humans alike are forced to choose between siding with the rebels and the government that wants to get rid of them. In an interesting twist, we learn that the androids can feel pain, just like the people fighting alongside them.
Stories across the collection are united by Newland’s talent for depicting a world shaped by, and through the eyes of, the African diaspora. In “Nomma”, for example, he draws on Malian folklore to create an incredibly moving and engaging story about undersea beings and their quest for survival.
The couple at the centre of it, Ray and Fari, are lured to an underwater palace and asked to join a society descended from ancient aliens. They are given just days to decide whether to stay on land or to live away from the rest of human society. The problem is that they must make their decision together, and the ensuing disagreement reveals cracks in their relationship.
Another story, “You Meets You”, is about personal growth through addiction. Written in the second person, when we, as the main character, meet the younger and older versions of ourselves, we are forced to examine the way that we live, our addictions and our traumas. Each version of us has a story to tell, and we see first-hand what we will become if we don’t get help.
Several of the pieces in Cosmogramma have an intense emotional element, asking questions about what people would do for their families, loved ones and other people in a dystopian future.
Across the collection, the fiction element of science fiction is most effective – but in “The Sankofa Principle“, genuine science creates a backdrop for a futuristic landscape. Newland mentions notable scientific events – such as the detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in 2015, and the idea that black holes may create wormholes – to help create a reality where time travel is possible.
Politics is a common theme throughout the anthology, with some stories explicitly mentioning political events like Brexit or depicting the horrors of anti-immigration raids. This form of realism has been one of the most notable features of Newland’s writing since his first novel, which depicted experiences of being Black in London, was published in 1997.
Overall, the combination of excellent world and character building and the rising intensity of each story as the book progresses means Cosmogramma is hard to put down. Stories feel almost unfinished, often leaving the reader on highly emotional cliffhangers, but this is one of the best things about Newland’s storytelling.
The unfinished feel gave me time to consider what exactly might happen next in a world I was introduced to just 10 pages prior, and kept me engaged and in suspense for the majority of the anthology.
Cosmogramma is a collection that you will want to read again and again, both to better understand the complex storylines and to simply enjoy the African-futuristic worlds that Newland has created.
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