Monday, 31 August 2015

Lagoon / Nnedi Okorafor

4 out of 5 stars
When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself. Lagoon expertly juggles multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives with prose that is at once propulsive and poetic, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

At its heart a story about humanity at the crossroads between the past, present, and future, Lagoon touches on political and philosophical issues in the rich tradition of the very best science fiction, and ultimately asks us to consider the things that bind us together – and the things that make us human.

H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds meets Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, all taking place in modern Nigeria.

Speaking as someone who reads a fair bit of science fiction, Lagoon felt refreshingly original. Not that the theme of aliens coming to Earth is a new one—it’s actually very common. What was so welcome was that said aliens did not land in North America, but in Lagos harbour in Nigeria. Just that tweak, and the story becomes so much more interesting.

Okorafor’s familiarity with Nigeria is what makes this book. Her parents are Igbo Nigerian and presumably she still has family in the country. She admits in her acknowledgements that she had help with the local dialects that some of the conversations are written in. For the North American audience, these sections may be the largest barrier, but with a bit of perseverance, I got into the swing of it. It is certainly no more difficult than the Nadsat slang in Clockwork Orange or the devolved English of Riddley Walker. Aliens as seen through the lens of different Nigerian factions—all the 419ers looking for their way to make a buck on the event and the predictable kidnapping attempt—what a treat!

Also fun was the role of social media in the tale—how inevitable it would be to have all kinds of cell phone video of events circulating on the internet and the frenzy of speculation that would ensue, including the disbelief of the developed nations that aliens would choose Africa for their first contact.

Another plus—a strong, well-educated female lead in the person of Adaora, the marine biologist. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really get another woman to truly interact with, unless you count the visiting alien, who takes on human female form (when it isn’t sulking about human behaviour while re-shaped as a monkey). But since we can't be sure that these aliens even really have genders, I can’t unequivocally say that Lagoon passes the Bechdel test.

If you are a fan of first contact stories, you shouldn’t miss Lagoon.

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