5bat! Review: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

April 12, 2014 Review 1

5bat! Review: Lagoon by Nnedi OkoraforLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on April 10, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Source: NetGalley
Sexual Content: N/A
Reviewed by: Megan
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.

In LAGOON, Nnedi Okorafor poses the question: what if first contact with aliens took place not in New York, London, or Tokyo, but the beach city of Lagos, Nigeria? The answer is something that is both utterly human and uniquely African. In addition to stunning detail of both city and marine life, Okorafor fills this novel with a dozen points of view, but rather than confusing the narrative, those sections allow the reader to experience all sides of the encounter that leads to some of Nigeria’s darkest days, and to understand why different people react so differently to something ‘alien.’

It’s pretty rare to find sci-fi and fantasy that isn’t Western-centric, and even rarer to find genre fiction built around African culture, both past and present. That alone is a great reason to read this book, but what really makes LAGOON special is the way Okorafor writes Lagos, making the city itself one of the main characters. She doesn't try to glorify Nigeria, or denigrate it, but writes about a real place full of real people that, in many ways, could be any city in the world. There are so many wonderful scenes of powers, people's reactions, and Okorafor even gives a voice to the marine life in the titular lagoon. The Pidgin English sections are a little hard to translate, but Okorafor stands by the submersion method, and I did get the hang of it after awhile.

It's a challenging book in many respects, including the language and the scattered PoVs. Normally, I'm not a fan of novels that leave unanswered questions, or present a situation without explaining its cause, but in this case, I liked the pragmatism. It's not about figuring out where the aliens come from so they can be sent packing, or even investigating why they're here. Despite overtly hostile acts from both sides, LAGOON is not about war with aliens. The aliens come, and they want to stay, and everyone moves on from there. And when the three main human characters realize they were chosen as the welcoming committee, they act accordingly, despite the chaos that surrounds them.

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