Lament for the Fallen has been a long time coming.
I wrote its first words thirty years ago, when I was twelve, and – while the detail and texture of the story have changed as I matured – it was always about a man escaping from a prison in space back to a planet on the cusp of social upheaval.
Science fiction is at its most beautiful and challenging when it places us within the transition zone between here and there. The technologies presented in the novel are all as expected from any work of speculative fiction. It is less common to place those tools somewhere real, rather than breaking an existing place, and let people behave as they will.
Geographic necessity placed Samara’s fall close to the equator in Nigeria and serendipity took me there, to walk the streets of Calabar and meet its people, before I returned to the final writing push.
I drew on a host of sources, and you will find much more of the complexity, wonder and terror of Nigerian culture and traditions in these books:
Cross River Natives, Charles Partridge (1905);
Efik Traders of Old Calabar, edited by Daryll Forde (1958);
Life in Southern Nigeria – The Magic, Beliefs, and Customs of the Ibibio Tribe, P. Amaury Talbot (1923).
Amaury Talbot was a colonial administrator who travelled far and wide in the then British colonies of Southern Nigeria in the very early 1900s. He and his wife photographed and described everything he saw without embellishment and with the wonder and reverence of a truly impressive social historian.
Efik Traders of Old Calabar is something even rarer: the diaries of Antera Duke, an Efik chief and slaver who lived in Calabar, and covering the period of 1785 to 1787.
If you wish to experience the food described, try Arit Ana’s A Taste of Calabar (2000).
While I certainly drank deep from these sources, I have moved things around and restructured the landscape and people to meet the needs of the story. My intention was not to produce a work of Nigerian literature, merely to capture a sense of people and place. The usual storytellers’ prerogative of saying that no names or places should be inferred as being about real people or events prevails here.
I am thankful for where this story has taken me and the people I have met, particularly the kindness and patience of people in Benin City, Calabar and Lagos who, inadvertently or not, helped inform my research. Far too many of the anecdotes featured here are real, and I leave it to you to separate them from the imagined.
If you would like to immerse yourself further, here is the music playlist along with the relevant scenes where they belong:
The following is the closest I can get on Spotify:
There was no ‘her’ when I began this tale, but she was always there and she always knew. I am grateful.
started 1986 in South Africa, completed, by way of Nigeria, Pakistan and the Philippines, 2015 in England.