Short interview: Wole Talabi

Wole Talabi

WOLE TALABI is an engineer, writer, and editor from Nigeria. He is the author of the nebula and BSFA award nominated novel SHIGIDI AND THE BRASS HEAD OF OBALUFON (DAW books/Gollancz) one of the Washington Posts Top 10 Science fiction and fantasy books of 2023. His short fiction has appeared in places like Asimov’s Science Fiction, Lightspeed Magazine, Africa Risen and is collected in the books CONVERGENCE PROBLEMS (DAW books, 2024) and INCOMPLETE SOLUTIONS (Luna Press, 2019). He has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, BSFA and Locus awards, as well as the Caine Prize for African Writing. He has won the Nommo award for African speculative fiction and the Sidewise award for Alternate History. He has edited five anthologies including the acclaimed AFRICANFUTURISM: AN ANTHOLOGY (Brittlepaper, 2020) and MOTHERSOUND: THE SAUÚTIVERSE ANTHOLOGY (Android Press, 2023). He likes scuba diving, elegant equations, and oddly shaped things. He currently lives and works in Australia. Find him at and at @wtalabi on Twitter, Instagram, Bluesky and Tiktok.

1) According to you and apart from the number of words, what is the main difference between a short story and a novel?

I think a short story is primarily asking one question or exploring one idea or illustrating one theme and as such it has just enough of what it needs (character, plot, etc.) to execute that effectively. A novel may have multiple ideas or questions or concepts, or even if it has on one main one, it will typically have others that it touches on, in service of that larger, main idea of theme and it carries as much as it needs to explore them fully.

2) What's your favorite short story?

The impossible question. There are far too many to list. So instead I'll just mention three stories I love. The ones that come to mind first right now. Those would be Exhalation by Ted Chiang, Spider The Artist by Nnedi Okorafor, and A Walk In The Sun by Geoffrey Landis.

3) What's your favorite short story written by you?

The second impossible question. This is like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. So instead I'll change the question to one that's different but has the same spirit. Which 3 of my short stories do I feel illustrate my writing the most? I'd say:

  1. When We Dream We Are Our God
  2. A Dream Of Electric Mothers
  3. The Regression Test

4) How does your African heritage influence your science fiction writing?

Well I grew up in Nigeria which is a fascinating place. The blend of languages, cultures, philosophies, religions, beliefs, economics and so much more all existing side by side is dizzying. And the modern country, especially in large urban centres like Lagos, full of young, eager people, tends to have a chaotic energy that’s hard to describe, something I try to capture in most of my fiction. I am also more specifically ethnically Yoruba and Yoruba culture has an intricate traditional belief system that includes a rich pantheon, complex philosophies and technologies, intricate rituals and so much more. While I grew up urban and Christian, I have always found Yoruba traditional belief and history fascinating and complex, and I try to incorporate as much of it as I can in my work right beside any scientific and technological development, I envision using my engineering interests. Sometimes I build my imagined future technology on a scaffold of Yoruba spiritual beliefs. This is because as much as I consider myself a “logical and scientific minded” person, I grew up in Nigeria where often the physical and spiritual are presented side by side seamlessly with no separation. In addition, I also acknowledge the vastness of what is not yet known in the universe and all the different ways in which people have filled those gaps. It is in the spaces between our knowledge or in the ambiguity of our perceptions that I try to fit the spiritual elements of my stories. Humans have had magical and spiritual beliefs since we formed societies and I believe we will continue to do so, therefore the blending of both seems natural to me, even when speculating about the future. So readers shouldn't be surprised to find some almost mystic-leaning elements in my science fiction, even in my so called “hard-SF” stories.

5) What themes or issues specific to Africa do you explore in your science fiction?

I'm particularly interested in application of the often ignored traditional African philosophies and sociocultural practices as frameworks for thinking about the future of humanity.

6) What are you currently working on?

l have two short stories coming later this year. One called “Encore” – a sequel to the first story in my collection CONVERGENCE PROBLEMS. Its about an AI-artist set 3 million years in the future and is one of my favorite stories I have ever written. It will appear in Deep Dream: Science Fiction Exploring the Future of Art, edited by Indrapramit Das, from MIT Press in October 2024.

Also in October, I have a horror-fantasy story coming from Subterranean Press called “Unquiet On The Eastern Front” which takes place across Africa during World War II as a British soldier comes face to face with the horrors of colonization, war, his own family legacy, and a stalking, terrifying creature. It will be available to read for free.

I'm also working on my second novel – a science fiction novel which is simultaneously a near-future thriller and a meditation on the nature of memory, legacy, and connectedness featuring assassins, aliens, AI, ancestral memory, and a lot more. No publicly available title yet, but I’m excited to finish this story I’ve been mulling over for years.

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