In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Nnedi Okorafor to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “Spider the Artist.”
Okorafor tells us that the story is about a Nigerian woman changed by her own creativity and how human beings often suffer the consequences of their choices. “One day a lonely but artistically gifted woman named Eme unexpectedly finds a way to communicate with lethal machines built to guard the oil pipelines,” Okorafor says. “Her life is nourished and changed by her encounters with this one unique machine.”
The summer Okorafor wrote this story was a summer of spiders. “They seemed to be lurking all over my house,” she says. “I’m terrified of spiders. Irrationally terrified. Alan Dean Foster and I are always talking back and forth via email and one day he said, something like, ‘You should write a story about them.’ So I got to thinking. Then I saw the film Transformers. There was a moment where one of the Transformers got its head knocked off and the main character kicked it some feet away. The head sprouted legs and scrambled away like a spider. That image was the genesis of the Zombies in ‘Spider the Artist.'”
The story is personal to Okorafor because as a Nigerian and a human being, she finds what is happening in the Niger Delta and in Nigeria as a whole when it comes to oil is disgusting. “The Biafran Civil War of the late 60s and early 70s which resulted in the death of a million Igbos—a Nigerian ethnic group. I am Igbo—was one of the world’s first wars over oil,” she says. “My parents immigrated because of this war. They had not intended to stay in the US when they initially came here for medical and post-grad school.”
Nigeria is one of the top oil producing countries in the world. “Yet this fact has been more like a curse than a blessing,” Okorafor says. “The Niger Delta has one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on earth, yet it is an environmental, political and social mess. Oil spills, gas flares, pipeline explosions, poor land management, human rights abuses, the oil companies and the Nigerian government could care less about the land or people. Mind you, Nigeria is the United States’ fifth largest oil supplier. So I’m interested in this issue for many reasons.”
Okorafor says that the idea that the Nigerian government and foreign industries would create murderous robots to protect their money-making endeavors at the expense of civilians is very believable. “And the idea that such a plan would backfire in some unsuspected way, well, that’s quite believable, too,” she says.
Much of what Okorafor writes tends to have an environmental theme and tends to be politically charged in some way. “The current situation in Nigeria is highly volatile,” she says. “There are militants in the delta region who are kidnapping and sometimes killing oil workers, they are blowing up pipelines and assassinating officials. When things heat up over there, gas prices go up here in the US. This kind of situation cannot last long. Change is inevitable.”
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