I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Published by Saga Press on July 14 2015
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
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The nitty-gritty: An atmospheric and violent tale of alien invasion, where the human characters steal the show.
Adaora went into her lab. As she descended the stairs, she could practically feel it. Yes, people had been down here. The broken lock made that clear. As soon as she’d turned on the lights, she turned them right back off again. She’d seen all she needed to see. Nothing was on fire. But the floors were wet from the smashed aquarium, the limp bodies of her beloved fish already drying. The television and computer were gone. The place was ransacked. They did all this while we were fighting for our lives in the front yard, she thought. What kind of people would do that? But she knew the answer. It didn’t take much in Lagos. All it took was a semi-peaceful alien invasion to destroy everything she held dear.
Alien invasion stories seem to be everywhere all of a sudden. Or perhaps I’m just noticing them more. The last two books (including Lagoon) I’ve read have been about aliens, and I’ve also just started reading Undertow by Michael Buckley on my Kindle (not on my schedule but boy it’s sucking me in!) which is another take on aliens invading our planet. And I’m loving this trend! The best part about reading all these different versions of alien invasion is that they are all different, and they each bring something unique to the table. Nnedi Akorafor’s tale seems familiar at first glance, but soon becomes “alien” in more than just the obvious way. This book was an uncomfortable story at times, but I’m so glad I had the chance to read it.
Lagoon is set in the city of Lagos in Nigeria, Africa. One night on Bar Beach, three strangers meet as a sonic boom announces the arrival of an alien race. Adaora is a marine biologist who has just had a fight with her husband. Agu is a soldier who took a beating after trying to stop his fellow officers from raping a woman. And Anthony is a famous rap artist known as Anthony Dey Craze. All three have been drawn to this spot by…something, and what happens next will tie their lives together in ways they never imagined.
When a giant wave sweeps the three under water, they are introduced to the aliens who have landed their space ship in the bay. A human-like woman who calls herself Ayodele becomes the spokesperson for the aliens, and she enlists Adaora, Agu and Anthony to help her meet with the president in order to spread the word to all the people of Lagos.
But is Lagos ready to welcome an alien race?
Lagoon isn’t so much a story of alien invasion as it is a story of the people of Lagos, a city where danger lurks around every corner, even without aliens who can turn humans into a bloody mist with only a thought. The class structure is such that the poor are extremely poor and the rich extremely rich, and the middle ground between the two is hazy at best. Adaora is a well-educated woman, but even with a respectable job as a marine biologist she’s found herself in an antiquated marriage, where her husband Chris rules the household. When the story begins, Chris has just hit Adaora for trying to go to a rap concert with her friend (coincidentally, Anthony Dey Craze!), and Adaora, in shock, has come to the beach to clear her head. Bar Beach is a place where the lowest and most dangerous members of society flock: drug dealers, prostitutes, and the homeless, and its waters are riddled with rip tides and not safe for swimming. When the sonic boom occurs, it’s not surprising that many of the citizens of Lagos think that it was caused by a suicide bomber.
I found myself mostly drawn to the human characters, whose lives are vivid and sometimes horrible, but always mesmerizing. I could not look away, even when the violence ratcheted up and people started going crazy. Adaora was probably my favorite character. I loved her strength and the way she takes Ayodele’s presence in stride—being a scientist, of course she’s fascinated by an alien race. She’s also a mother with two young children who are witnesses to the horrors that are about to unfold, and even though she’s running around with Ayodele, Agu and Anthony, her children’s safety is always front and center.
Although I did connect to most of the characters, even the violent ones that made me cringe, the actual aliens—of which Ayodele is the only one the reader gets to know, the others are simply background characters—come off as distant and unreal, and their odd and violent natures are rendered even more distant by Okorafor’s disconnected third person style of writing. It was almost as if Okorafor was poking fun at alien invasion tropes, and even though Ayodele never actually said the words, I swear I could hear the over-used “We come in peace” in the mechanical monotone I associate with aliens in fiction and movies.
I had a little trouble with the characters who spoke Pidgin English, a common dialect among some of the people of Lagos, but even while struggling with the dialog in these sections, I couldn’t help but love the flavor they added to the story. The atmosphere in Lagoon was so vivid, and I definitely was out of my comfort zone while reading this book, lost in a foreign country where nearly everything felt unfamiliar.
One of the more interesting things the author does is to tell her story from many points of view, including several animals that witness the alien’s landing and are affected by their presence, including a bat, a tarantula, and a swordfish. The author literally takes us up into the sky with the bat, who has been given super powers from the sonic blast, to the murky waters of the bay, where a swordfish grows in size and power and is delighted with her new abilities. These magical moments were some of my favorites in the book.
I chose the quote at the beginning of this review because to me, it sums up everything about this book in one, neat paragraph. Lagoon is indeed a human story and shows us at our very best and very worst. When the aliens make contact, they unleash all the feelings the people of Lagos already have and bring them to the surface. Fear, anger, rapture and disbelief all crash into each other, and the result is quite frightening. Okorafor has taken the concept of “alien” and used it in more than one context, and as her characters have proven, she challenges us to decide which we should fear most—alien invaders, or ourselves. I, for one, have yet to make up my mind.
Big thanks to Saga Press for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.