“Lagoon”: Aliens, shapeshifters, and revolution in Lagos, Nigeria


lagoonLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., April 10th, 2014 (Urban Fantasy / Contemporary Fantasy / Science Fiction)*

My rating: It’s complicated (but probably I’d go there again) (3-4 stars)

Lagoon takes place in contemporary Lagos, Nigeria. Three main protagonists, one a marine biologist, one a soldier, and one a famous Ghanaian musician, come together when aliens land in the Lagos Lagoon. Called by a mysterious force to Bar Beach, Adaora, Agu, and Anthony are briefly kidnapped by the aliens and subsequently become the alien ambassador’s main contacts with the human world. They navigate the human, geographical, and alien consequences of the disruption of Lagos by the alien spaceship.

Nnedi Okorafor weaves dozens of perspectives (including those of bats and spiders!) into an intricate tapestry that depicts the story of a city turned upside down and inside out by a peaceful-ish alien invasion. Although Adaora, Anthony, and Agu are the three major narrators in this novel, it is arguably the city itself that is the main protagonist. We, as readers, never really become deeply involved with any of the characters – the most important character development takes place as the city changes under the influence of the alien invasion. Although the aliens come relatively peacefully (but not without their own determination to thrive on Earth, mingling with humans), chaos ensues when the lagoon level rises, flooding the Beach, when sea creatures grow enormous and more threatening, and when the news that aliens would settle in Nigeria reaches the citizens through inexplicable uses of human technologies.

Nigerian folklore mixes with superhero talents and anthropomorphism, spirits and of course, aliens, to create a fascinating blend of elements that add to the complexity of the multiple narratives. It feels like magical realism from Africa instead of Latin America.

Lagoon is unique not only because the main character is really a city, or because it combines so many different elements and perspectives, but also because it sets contemporary science fiction in an African culture and city. This novel expanded my horizons in the sense that I have rarely read science fiction set in Africa. I probably imagined some things incorrectly, given my lack of knowledge of Nigeria and Lagos.

My personal preferences for science fiction include more detail and plot surrounding the extraordinary talents of the three main protagonists (that’s Adaora, Anthony, and Agu, not Lagos), and more about the aliens – where did they come from, how did they get here, what does their ship look like, and how do they shapeshift? Although that last was answered, I would have liked to read more about it. Throughout, we really only get to know Ayodele, the alien ambassador – we only get peripheral glimpses of other aliens. I would have liked to read more about how other aliens were integrating into human society.

All in all, this is a fascinating novel about the way outsiders can affect an entire city; about how a city and her citizens deal with an explosion of change; and about one possible outcome of extraterrestrial sentient life landing on Earth. A unique and exotic science fiction story written in prose that makes you think it might be the kind of story told around a campfire, or over several nights in a snowed-in common area, it brings diversity to the genre. While not exactly my cup of tea, it brought me out of my reading comfort zone and expanded my ideas of what science fiction can be.

I recommend it to those who have been looking for more diversity in their science fiction, and anyone who enjoys a mix of science fiction, magical realism, and folklore.

*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Read-alikes

For the same magical realism feel, if you haven’t checked out the classic 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, do!

100 Years of Solitude

For a Russian take on folklore, urban fantasy, and magical realism, I highly recommend The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia.

The Secret History of Moscow

Are there any books you could consider similar in any way to Lagoon? Feel free to comment!

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