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There aren't a lot of sci-fi/fantasy writers who use Africa as a primary setting, but Nnedi Okorafor is a noteworthy voice in this small subgenre. I enjoyed 2010's post-apocalypse coming-of-age, Who Fears Death, though I found the plot a little disjointed. Lagoon, her most recent work, shows her strengthening her skills as a writer and storyteller.
Here, when aliens come to set up a new home on Earth, they don't pick New York, London, or Tokyo, but land their ship in the ocean near Lagos, Nigeria, flooding the coast. Immediately, their technology, which is advanced to the point of near-magic, begins to wreak changes on the local marine life. For reasons that don't become clear until later, three people, strangers to each other, a marine biologist named Adaora, a popular Ghanaian rapper named Anthony, and a soldier named Agu, are attracted to the beach. A wave pulls them all into the water, and some time later, they return with a fourth individual, an ambassador from the aliens who has taken human form.
At this point, had the story been set in the US, the government would have swooped in, set up a tight military cordon and whisked away the visitor. But, this is Nigeria. Instead, Adaora conducts a few tests, footage ends up on the internet, and different parties, from a charlatan witch-hunting preacher to some enterprising kidnappers to a unit of trigger-happy soldiers, converge on the scene. Meanwhile, the strange events unleash religious fervor, rioting, and other chaos throughout Lagos. The aliens, like gods, can be benevolent in their way, but also seem to be judging humanity and are dangerous when provoked.
This definitely isn't conventional sci-fi. There are some strong mystical elements to the story, which lend it, at times, a magic realist flavor reminiscent of Salman Rushdie. The aliens, it seems, have awakened old spirits and powers lurking just beneath the skin of Lagos (including a man-eating road!). I very much enjoyed the colorful writing and the honesty about Nigeria's conflicted, multifaceted personality that emerged in the book's many short vignettes, each from the perspective of a different denizen of the city. Okorafor's creativity especially shines in the sequences devoted to animals changed by the aliens' energies. Audiobook narrators, Adjoa Andoh and Ben Onwukwe, who do an astonishing range of accents, demonstrate just how much the spoken-word experience can enhance a book.
It's not that there weren't annoyances, though. The central plot, which concerned the main characters' mission to get through the chaos to meet up with Nigeria's ailing president, gets a little tedious in its one-thing-after-another action overload. Also, the author over-relies on the device of having many of her characters coincidentally know other characters who are important to the story. And, as much as I loved the voice actors, some of their accent were incomprehensible to me. The pidgin English dialect was like listening to an amped-up Jar Jar Binks.
Still, the overall theme of human worthiness of redemption, in the face of our many abuses of nature and one other, resonated for me. Okorafor is one to keep an eye on. The same (well, ear) goes for Andoh and Onwukwe.
17 of 17 people found this review helpful
Lagoon By Nnedi Okorafor is the World Fantasy Award winning author’s first novel for adults since 2010′s Who Fears Death. Narrated By Ben Onwukwe (known for his role in London’s Burning) and Adjoa Andoh (known for her roles in Dr. Who and EastEnders) for Hodder & Stoughton, the audiobook is really well done. Onwukwe handles most of the mainline narration, with Andoh providing the introduction and filling in for a few vignettes as well as providing all of the female voices “inline” with Onwukwe’s reading. Both narrators display quite a range, from multiple “American” accents to diverse African (Nigeria, Ghana, pidgin English) to British ex-pats and more; from simple dialogue to guttural screams, both actors give fantastic performances. At first, the “inline” insertions are a bit jarring, but as the audiobook progresses it becomes more natural and seamless to the ear. Inspired by “Wizard of the Crow, Under the Dome (the novel), Nollywood movies, and District 9″, Lagoon is a story of first alien contact, Lagos, Nigeria, and (principle among the protagonists) Adaora, a marine biologist. Okorafor’s aliens are different — upon high-magnification examination, Adaora discovers that they are not composed of cellular material at all, but rather billions of tiny metallic crystals — who can shapeshift, read thoughts, and are quite serious when they say that they bring “change” — a keyword refrain that I read as an homage to Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Written with a cinematic sensibility, along with the primary thrust of the story (Adaora, rapper Anthony, and soldier Agu trying desperately amidst the chaos of rioting Lagos to bring alien ambassador Ayodele together with the popular but ineffective Nigerian president) there are many, many sub-plots afoot, from a “born-again” church’s bishop hoping to use Ayodele, to small-time 419 scammers preparing to upgrade to kidnapping, to (as is perhaps a defining characteristic of Okorafor’s work to date) the intersection of science fiction and mythology: ghosts, gods, trees, animals, the ocean itself. Highly recommended.
17 of 18 people found this review helpful
The story started off well, seemed very engaging and mysterious but what should've have been a great afro-scifi got lost amongst the multiple narrators. Perhaps i lost focus somewhere in this recording because of that, so it might be better to read this story than to listen to it.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I was first attracted to Lagoon on Audible by the dramatic cover art which incorporates a myriad of sea creatures into the title word. The book is expertly narrated by Adjoa Andoh and Ben Onwukwe who between them portray many Lagos residents, a smattering of aliens, and also several magical beings from Nigerian folklore. From her initial chapter, spoken as a swordfish who is vandalising an oil pipeline, Okorafor doesn't let up for a minute. The science fiction storyline of alien invasion is fairly standard, but her inventiveness and understanding of human nature makes Lagoon a cut above the norm. I could easily visualise each location from their detailed descriptions and would love for it to be possible to visit that beautiful underwater world! There are some fabulously memorable characters populating this frightened yet vibrant Lagos. Father Oke is great and so true! I sympathised with poor overlooked Philo and even Adaora's husband Chris is stuck in an all too understandable predicament. Plus I don't think I've ever felt sorry for a tarantula before! I did initially have trouble keeping up with the pidgin english, but could generally work out enough to get the gist without having to replay the sentences. The environmentalism and the message of change are nicely done without being preachy and I liked the unusual ending. Nice touch.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful