Continuing my adventures in Nnedi’s Okorafor’s catalogue, Lagoon. I’m happy to say that this one was absolutely incredible. Okorafor seems to be hit or miss, when when it’s a hit she’s just remarkable.
Lagoon is a first-contact story about marine aliens who land in the waters off the coast of Nigeria. It’s also, somehow, magical realism. Sci-Fi magical realism is something I was skeptical of going in, but it works really well, especially since it starts hard sci-fi and them slowly tilts toward the more magical elements as things go on.
This book is about so many things. It’s about the disparate things the aliens mean to different people, from knowledge to salvation to power to freedom. It’s about those people’s lives, and how they intersect, if only for a minute, with something amazing. It’s about humanity’s tendency to fall apart, to panic, to incite violence, to release anger, but also to help, to come together, to sacrifice. It’s also about sexism, homophobia, transphobia, religious fanaticism, and hypocrisy.
The central plotline follows three people: Anthony, a Ghanian rapper; Agu, a Nigerian soldier; and Adaora, a Nigerian professor of marine biology. They are the three chosen by the aliens to meet with their ambassador, and the story largely revolves around them trying to deal with the consequences and do what’s right by the aliens. There are many perspectives in this story, though, from the world’s most enlightened bat, to the roadway, to the bystanders, to the one who writes it all.
One of the things I really loved about this story was how hopeful it was. Too often sci-fi focuses on stupid ‘humans bad destroy everything’ morals (indeed, I criticized Okorafor’s Book of Phoenix for exactly this), but I thought Lagoon was much more real, more honest about the good and bad inside all of us. The alien ambassador initially loves humanity after observing it from their ship. She’s amazed by the variety of people and the ways they live. But the fear of the aliens takes hold and people start to break down into looting and violence, she decides she hates humans and doesn’t want to live on this planet anymore. I thought one of the book’s most powerful scenes was two little kids explaining that not everyone is bad, and most are good, and it’s wrong to paint everyone with the same brush. The implication is: tomorrow will be alright. Our future will be better than our past. People, en masse, may do bad things, but a person is good. Even though they’re afraid of the aliens, humans save them from danger, offer them dinner, sacrifice for them, cry over them. Even those who are the most lost can find their way home.
A lot of the reviews were giving the ending flak, but without spoiling too much, I’ll say that I really liked it. I think the point was that a) the story was bigger than the characters we met, who were going to be fine no matter what and b) the real conclusion hasn’t been written, and the onus is on us (as in much sci-fi) to write the ending ourselves, to be more open and understanding, to make love not war, so to speak.
Anyway, I don’t want to give away too much, but this was unique and enjoyable and really great. Check it out!