Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon

Read December 2015
Recommended for fans of first contact
 ★    ★    ★   1/2

 

“We are change,” Ayodele calmly responded. “The sentiments were already there. I know nothing about those other things.”

When I was young, I read every fantasy-like book I could lay hands on. Dragons, fairy tales, books about witches, Greek myths, folk tales, origin stories, ‘just so’ tales, you name it–if it wasn’t real, I read it. By far my least favorite were the parables, particularly Aesop’s Fables. The overt messaging and the general lack of a plot quickly led to waning interest.

Lagoon doesn’t seem to know what kind of story it wants to be, but feels mostly like a woven series of morality tales. Beginning with a giant swordfish determined to kill the ‘snake’ polluting the coastal water, it headed in an interesting direction. Three people who are drawn to the water’s edge are similarly pulled in and transformed. Following them out of the water is an alien who assumes the form of an attractive woman. It seems to settle into a first-contact story of how the three people and the alien come to believe in each other. Before long, the alien presence ripples through the local population. Another team of characters are introduced, and almost everyone but the three has an angle to play the alien.

Once the narrative starts expanding past the three main characters, tone and plot starts to feel more didactic, more ‘just so’ type of story demonstrating consequences. The most complexity is probably obtained with a character who is determined to use the alien for personal gain–but is also a member of a LGBT group who wants to capitalize on the opportunity for positive change. Most characters don’t have enough time to be more than a type, but at least there is a wide range of them. It might be that Okorafor’s intention is to demonstrate the wide variety of types in the African people; if so, she certainly succeeds.

Interestingly, Okorafor makes use of ubiquitous phone technology in her story. Cell phones and YouTube have a tremendous impact on information-sharing and understanding, much like current places in Africa with unreliable and expensive electricity. Setting is well-written and integrated well. There’s a lot here that gives a sense of place, from the “garden eggs” the alien enjoys to the cafes where the 419 scams are run.

Language is generally lovely and is one of the reasons I remain attracted to Okorafor’s writing. “She had piercing brown eyes that gave Adora the same creepy feeling as when she looked at a large black spider. Her mannerisms were too calm, fluid and… alien.” However, a couple of the narratives use a slang dialect, and it absolutely did not work for my read. I ended up setting it down until I had time to pay closer attention. On the plus side, it reinforces the idea of tremendous diversity, as well as lending the sound of a youthful perspective.

I wanted to like this much more than I did, because I love the idea of it. I love the concept of basing a story around forced change, but I’m not sure a cohesive plot was ever realized. I did run into a conceptual bump or two–it was odd to me the way that alien ‘Moom!” noises would end up destroying so many small fish when aliens were clearly uncomfortable with killing. I also wasn’t sure about how the aliens changing sea life wouldn’t lead to fighting against alien-changed humans. And, while I liked the inclusion of a couple local deities, their inclusion seemed to make it more of a ‘just so’ story. In the Afterward, Okorafor states that this story had its genesis in her reaction to District 9. I didn’t see it, but a synopsis I read makes it sound like Africans were heavily stereotyped. So perhaps my problem lies in a narrative that is more of a movie script feel. Still, high praise goes to any writer who can create in perspectives of a swordfish, a spider and a bat–and make me care.

Three and a half star… fish.

 

 

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About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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6 Responses to Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

  1. fromcouchtomoon says:

    I was also kind of surprised by how bland it felt in the first part, but I thought it might be Okorafor’s attempt to “try on” the classic, didactic scifi style. It was too short to give much dimension to all those characters, but I think you’re right: this was an effort to showcase the diversity of Lagos. The audio version really brought it alive for me, so I think this is best suited for performance. Wow, it just occurred to me that this would be ideal for a movie. I haven’t seen a real movie in years, but I wouldn’t hesitate to go see this.

  2. thebookgator says:

    It was very interesting to read your review and realize it was based largely on the audio, as another friend listening to it found it almost insurmountable. It does seem to be the kind of narrative that lends itself to performance.
    I was guessing on the diversity angle, bc the summaries of District 9 sound like mostly people were warlords/kingpin or prostitutes. Huh–just looked it up again. It was banned in Nigerian bc of representation issues.
    I haven’t been to a theater in ages–I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  3. Pingback: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. Or, Watch for Jellies. | book reviews forevermore

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