I’ve always wondered something. Ha, always! That’s not true. But anyway, I digress. I’ve always (ahem) wondered why, whenever they show up to invade planet Earth, aliens always seem to choose one of the world’s superpowers as their landing site. There’s got to be a range of better choices to touch down upon (or to hover menacingly above.) Why choose the world’s foremost military powers, in the places most likely to be able to organise an immediate response, or at least an immediate planning session?
Nnedi Okarafor’s Lagoon makes more sense than that, and gives extraterrestrial intelligences, capable of travelling across the vast distances of space, their due. Initially told from the perspective of a swordfish(!), the novel is, quite frankly, brilliant. There is a sonic boom, and the waters start to rise in the lagoon from which Lagos, Nigeria takes its name (it’s Portuguese for ‘lagoon’) The waves rise up and snatch away three ordinary Nigerians, Adaora, the marine biologist who’s husband Chris has been ‘born-again’ as a Christian (in one of those Nigerian evangelical numbers that “suffer not the witch to live” and stone adulterers), Anthony, a famous rapper, and Agu, the soldier tormented by the corruption and violence of his superiors in the military.
There was no time to flee. No to time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.
The novel is seething, coming-to-life between its pages, as it captures the feeling of its host city, from the face-to-face apartment blocks (the buildings are so small it feels like you and your neighbours are always face-to-face) to the gated suburbs and the rich evangelical ministers that roll past extreme poverty in polished Mercedes-Benz. The sense of confusion and fear carries the novel, as the spider-god (cousin to Anasi in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods) weaves together the strands of the story to best amuse itself.
After the attempted kidnapping of the aliens’ ambassador (once again, one alien is a curiosity, two are an invasion), things begin to get worse, as the aliens have interacted with the sea-life in strange new ways…
I thought this was a fantastic novel, combining mythology, superpowers and an alien invasion with the chaotic swirling of a city that feels real through the page. I flew through this book, and it combines the best elements of anthropological science fiction with a realistic city and its equally believable inhabitants. Scatterings of pidgin dance through the novel, giving a further sense of the character of the city, and although this may alarm some, it is easy to pick up (even easier if you use the glossary) in the same way that English words you have heard before are easy to pick up. It’s all about context.
If you’re a fan of science fiction writers like Ursula K LeGuin, or of Gaiman’s American Gods then I highly recommend Lagoon. You’ll love it.