Book Review: Lagoon

LagoonLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aliens invade the Gulf of Guinea, to the south of Lagos, Nigeria, and the city responds. That’s the nutshell description of this light science fiction novel about “first contact” made exotic to most of us by virtue of its setting, which is a continent away from New York, Tokyo and the other non-African cities that aliens choose to inhabit or destroy in most science fiction novels. And as a story about Lagos the book is a success. The chapters are short and the narrative points of view many, and sometimes a character narrates for only one chapter, creating a pleasing tapestry effect. In one particularly wonderful section, the narrator is a spider trying to cross a highway. In other, an orphan boy. A scam artist. A cross-dresser. A bat that’s sprouted an extra eye. We get a glimpse of Nigeria’s languages, its two main religions (Christianity and Islam), and its many urban problems and delights. Lagos becomes a city of simmering energy. But I wish the novel had either diluted its viewpoints even more or picked different characters to follow, because the ones we end up sticking with are kind of a bore compared to where they live. The city overwhelms them. I understand they serve the story, but I kept wishing they’d disappear, eaten perhaps by a stretch of highway that consumes people (!), or fade away like the novel’s villainous Christian preacher (the characterizations follow very “progressive” tendencies). That said, the last quarter of the book, which does focus on the main characters, is wonderful, imaginative, vividly described and at times beautiful—and then the novel ends! They say that you should leave them wanting more, but I almost would have preferred the story to start where it ended and leave the beginning to my imagination. Then again, Lagoon is firmly a novel about Lagos and it ends just as the action begins to trickle beyond the city’s borders, so the author’s decision makes sense. It’s urban-scale science fiction. I loved the setting, enjoyed the fantasy and wished I’d gotten both with a different set of characters, i.e. more spiders and bats.

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