Review: A Killing in the Sun by Dilman Dila

Short version: 4/5 stars. I recommend that you read it.

 A Killing in the Sun is a speculative fiction collection by Dilman Dila, published by Black Letter Media. The titular story was shortlisted for the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

This anthology includes ten short stories and I read them in sequence. I found the copyrights page confusing because it refers to a story that is not actually in the collection (Fragments of Canvas). As in most collections the quality is uneven. To my mind the first six stories were enjoyable, but I struggled through the last four.

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The best story appears to be A Killing in the Sun. It is the most consistent and the most polished. It opens on the day of an execution by firing squad. The condemned man, Mande, appears to have been convicted for something he did not do, but finds his salvation to be almost as bitter as his previous fate. It also touches on one of the themes that run through the whole collection: being taken by authorities and somehow harmed. The other theme that runs through is that of the protagonist somehow changing state. The Leafy Man is an imaginative science fiction tale about artificially mutated mosquitoes nicknamed Miss Doe and is Promethean, with unintended consequences of innovation. The Healer is a fantasy story with magic and themes of loss. Itanda Bridge is a science fiction piece about extraterrestrials and while Diba does not show as much control of the material as he did in other stories it is creepy and enjoyable.

With The Doctor’s Truck flaws begin to show. This story is reminiscent of Christine by King in some parts. The explanation is satisfactory enough, however I found the motivation of the doctor difficult to accept in some parts. The ending appears too pat, slightly rushed and perhaps is a revenge fantasy. Lights over Water has an interesting premise, but as in most of the rest of the stories appears to need more work. A Wife and a Slave for example, builds up well, but the ending is again too neat. Things go too well for the protagonist and there is easy wish fulfilment.

The Yellow People had genuinely macabre moments and is a first class sci-fi horror story. It uses the image of the moving of a stone slab away from a cave, which has Biblical resonance for resurrection. The removal of thumbs makes one think of dehumanization since opposable thumbs are essentially what makes us human. The problem here is that the protagonists appear to be moving like chess pieces. It’s a story of alien contact and a serial killer. This story has great potential, but all the explanation seems rushed towards the end, which is disappointing.

Reading this anthology was frustrating, and not because Dila can’t write elegant prose. He can. Generally, I found the book poorly edited. The mistakes were annoying tense problems, syntax problems, unintentional repetitions etc. All avoidable if more care was taken. Apart from the copy editing issues, many of the later stories could benefit from continuity and story editing. Dila has good material and can clearly write brilliant speculative fiction. I just do not understand what the editors at Black Letter Media were thinking.

That said, I did enjoy reading the book. As speculative fiction and as a snapshot of life in sub-Saharan Africa it succeeds. I expect great things from Mr Dila.

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2 Comments

Filed under diversity, fiction, review

2 responses to “Review: A Killing in the Sun by Dilman Dila

  1. Pingback: Dilman Dila: ciencia ficción y compromiso ⋆ Wiriko

  2. Pingback: Praise for A Killing in the Sun – Dilman Dila

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