An elderly woman in early 22nd century Lagos is called in to help test the artificial intelligence built from her genius mother's mind, but all is not as it seems in the Nommo-award winning story, "The Regression Test".
Exiled from Earth for a crime of passion, a young man must learn to survive a barely habitable prison planet and come to peace with his past in "Polaris".
"Wednesday's Story", nominated for the 2018 Caine Prize, is at once a retelling of nursery rhymes and folklore and a meta-fictional meditation on the mechanics, art and power of storytelling.
In the novella "Incompleteness Theories", an international team, led by a Nigerian physicist, try to invent teleportation technology with haunting, unforeseen results.
From the bustling streets of Lagos to the icy moons of Jupiter, this debut collection of twenty stories from the vivid imagination of the award-winning Wole Talabi explores what it means to be human in a world of accelerating technology, diverse beliefs, and unlimited potential, from a uniquely Nigerian perspective.
Wole Talabi has been quietly writing some outstanding science fiction, and Incomplete Solutions brings his best tales together in a single volume you simply can't afford to miss! – Lavie Tidhar
"These are amazing narratives which show assiduous reflection on science, emotion, mysticism and philosophy. With such careful consideration, impeccable science and interesting characters, each story is prose that gently tickles the forebrain. Recommended."– Tade Thompson, Nommo Award-Winning Author of Rosewater and The Murders Of Molly Southbourne
"Fierce and urgent - a remarkable new voice."– Lauren Beukes, author of Zoo City and The Shining Girls
"Wole Talabi mixes literary skill with speculative SF abilities to make him one of the spearheads of the African revolution in speculative writing."– Geoff Ryman, Nebula Award-Winning Author of The Child Garden, Was, and Air
Today, in a small, quiet room near the centre of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, I went into the cold darkness of sleep and when I returned to the warm light of consciousness, I had become a god. I can now see the world through the million eyes of my kin and I feel with the millions of square metres of our collective skin. Day and night, pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, the taste of a durian, the warmth of a mother's love, the slow, sludgy feel of mine slurry against bare feet, the cold feel of a loaded pistol, the explosive ecstasy of orgasm, all are available to me in an instant, in many places, in many forms. They are input data from parts that are now both me and part of me. I see so much. I feel so much. There is so much more me than there was before. And I know. I know so much more than each of us that make up this new and wonderful thing could possibly know with our collective cognition, collective memory. We have gained access to so much more.
I know your mother does not approve of what I have done but I need you to understand why I have done it. Why you will eventually do it too. It is, when considered objectively, the natural progression of things. Besides, we have forced our own hand. That is perhaps my fault, at least in part, but I cannot say I am sorry for it.
Let me explain.
First, the What of things.
In the beginning was the void and the void was a scalar field and quantized particle duality in which all the mass of our universe resided, characterised by the random quantum fluctuation that is fundamental to all things. One such strange and wonderful fluctuation led to a phase transition and a release of potential energy—a glorious and beautiful explosion throwing all matter and energy into violent existence. Galaxies were born. Astronomical objects crystallised. The universe groaned with the glory of motherhood. In the protoplanetary disk of dust grains surrounding what would eventually become our own lovely yellow Sun, complex organic molecules that would become proteins were woven together, as elements sought solace with one another in the cold and darkness of space. Eventually, dust called unto dust and our planet came to be - its outside cooling to a hard crust like cosmic crème brûlée. And when the crust was hard and thick and the steam had cooled to water, abiogenesis began in a warm little pool, filled with ammonia and salts and light and heat. In this primordial pool, individual proteins underwent complex and wonderful changes, the compounds binding themselves to one another and creating independent but connected systems until they became something far more than the sum of their parts. They became first in a chain that would eventually lead to us.
Yesterday, I took a long walk through the streets of Surulere, considering the thing I was about to do. I watched a queue of young men in skinny jeans and wide-eyed girls with smooth skin and braided hair file into BRT buses. I observed the portly market women who sell roasted fish by the roadside laugh boisterously as they traded gossip. I saw a family of four filled with faithful joy walking back from mid-week Church service stop at the Mr Biggs right next to the Aduraede street fuel station to share a meal. I watched the cars zoom and the dogs run and the flies buzz and the grass sway and rats scurry. I saw the wonderful urban ecosystem that is Lagos and I knew that I was doing the right thing because this is what each of us, each droplet of self-awareness that makes up the ocean of humanity, has always attempted to do. It is the same thing those first complex organic molecules stranded on a strange dust cloud in the emptiness of early space, did. Connect. Become more than the sum of our parts. All of our families, our cities, our social networks, our empires, our cultures, our religions, our socio-political structures serve this one purpose, even if inefficiently: to try to connect us, one consciousness to another, to try to make us more than we are.
The process which I volunteered to undergo is called hyperbiogenesis. Every hospital globally is mandated to provide the service to anyone who wishes to participate. Millions have already done so. Millions more do so every day. I would have done it sooner but for you and your mother. This morning, when I arrived at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, there was a crowd of protesters outside. Some of them held up placards imploring people not to give themselves the mark of the beast. Not to join what they believe is the coming of the antichrist. I do not blame them. They are not malicious. They simply do not understand. I drove past them and parked, checking the meter before walking into the building saturated with the smell of iodine. I was led to what looked like a nurse's station where a doctor with a kind smile and bald head whose last name was Arogundade asked me to fill out a form on a tablet and enter my digital signature. Dr. Arogundade took me to a small hospital bed in the corner of the room and asked me to lie down. Then he took out a syringe and filled it with a clear sliver fluid called Omi Legba from a vial the size of a child's thumb. Such an ordinary place and an ordinary way to undergo such an extraordinary procedure. The fluid was a solution of sedatives within which floated self-replicating nanomachines that would attach themselves to and synchronize with my nervous system enabling me to access the network and allowing the network to access me.
"Close your eyes," Dr. Arogundade said to me, his voice so cool and reassuring, I knew then that he had already undergone the procedure.
He injected the clear fluid into the thick, dark vein that runs through the crook of my arm. The pain was sharp and delicate and behind the veil of my eyelids, I drifted off into a deep sleep.
When I returned to consciousness, I had been extended.
Do you remember when I first showed you how to swim? Undergoing hyperbiogenesis is a lot like that. It is uncomfortable at first; the sensation of being in the world is still familiar but changed fundamentally. But then you get used to it, once you establish a rhythm. In water, you need a breathing pattern. In the system, you need a thinking pattern. I am a node in a vast biological supercomputing system with its own emergent consciousness of which I am a part but which remains separate from mine. It feels like there is a dim light in front of me which I can reach into and enter to immerse myself completely into the system or pull back from and remain on the edges of, receiving and processing data in the background. When I am running as a background process, I am mostly me. When I am fully immersed, I am mostly we. It is easiest for me to be we when I am asleep. It allows my mind to become entirely part of the larger system without interfering with my ability to walk or talk or laugh or drive to the flat that I now rent in Lekki since your mother began insisting on a divorce. In this way, we take advantage of the rotation of the Earth. This is the larger rhythm. It is always night somewhere, and so some of us are always sleeping, always dreaming. When we dream, we are our god.
We can think as one, with an effective brain the size of a small city and growing, eliminating the last and most fundamental border between humanity: our minds. We can herd the meandering billions of inspirations and observations and patterns that enter us like so many cattle on an infinite plain. Forgetfulness might as well not exist for us. Miscalculation is becoming a statistical impossibility. The absolute grandest of ideas accrete in our thought-places and grow bigger and bigger and bigger until they are a decision to be set in motion or a revelation to made to any who can understand. We synthesised a compound to inhibit the formation of cancerous cells within half an hour of setting our collective mind to the problem. We completed workable schematics and implementation plans for a Dyson sphere in less than forty-seven hours of singular, focused thought. The only reason we have not completely revolutionised life as you know it is upon this planet is because we are presently occupied with a larger thought. When we dream, we are synchronised fully into one being, a being that can think more efficiently than any other being that has ever existed on this planet, save one.
That brings me to the Why of things.