Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Review: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Hardcover, 304 pages

Published July 2015 by Saga Press (first published April 2014)

British Science Fiction Association Award Nominee for Best Novel (2014)

The Kitschies Nominee for Red Tentacle (Novel)(2014)

James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List (2014)

I love a good story, no matter how they are told, and most novels feel like novels. One of the most impressive things about the work of Nnedi Okorafor is that her stories, short or full length novels have more of a folklore feel than a trope laden genre novel. As corny as this might sound they feel like they are being told on a porch or around a campfire. This is true of her Benti books despite being space opera, I mean that is a literary magic trick.

In the last week the world of this author and the wider one of Afro-futurism has exploded with the release of Black Panther. I have seen dozens of posts of people looking for novels in this marketplace. Nnedi Okorafor is no doubt the most exciting active voice in this world. I have read her novel Who Fears Death which is in development at HBO with George RR Martin as a executive producer. My favorite work of hers is the Binti Trilogy. (NOTE:I have not quite gotten to book three yet- soon)

This novel is somewhat of a alien invasion story but more of a first contact tale set in Lagos, Nigeria. The setting is one NO understands as it is a city she often visited. My first interest in this book came when I heard the author on the excellent now defunct podcast Midnight in Karachi. The idea of setting the traditional contact and arrival sci-fi story in this setting with non-American characters sounded awesome. The change in setting often can help a story in a well explored sub-genre shine. It is clear that happened in this case.

The story starts as our point of view characters witness the arrival of the extra-terrestrial beings who are living below the water off the coast of Nigeria. This alien takes a human form and as the waters rise flooding the city the characters have to learn to communicate with the alien and take it's message to their president. These visitors came with a offer that is hard to refuse.

This is not a shoot-em up alien invasion story so if that is what you are looking for you might want to pass. This is an inventive science fiction novel but accessible. There are so many elements of this novel that defy expectations. One by one the characters strengthen the book from Adaora, the marine biologist who has a complicated and richly told conflict with her husband. The novel finds moments to confront patriarchy. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa presents a type of African character most American readers have not been exposed too. He is famous in Africa, home grown star. Agu, the soldier opens the book to the internal conflicts of Nigeria.

The story is spread between multiple points of view and the narrative is expertly woven, building to perfect effect. I read this book quickly and could have read a longer version. I rarely feel that way. As an author NO is also so creative that you feel like you are stepping into a world of it. The city is the ultimate character. You can feel the deep feelings she has for the place. I highly recommend this for all sci-fi fans, and anyone interested in African fiction.

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