Author: Nnedi Okorafor.
I recently decided that Nnedi Okorafor is currently my favorite fiction author. Last year, right after I read Who Fears Death, I think I declared it my new favorite novel, and for sure, Onyesonwu (the main character of Who Fears Death) is my favorite fictional character at the moment, so it’s like Nnedi is just winning in my whole life right now. I’m trying to read all the books of hers I can get hold of, and since I’d heard so much about Lagoon already, I requested it from the closest public library. It was lit. So here, let me talk about several things I really liked about the book.
First of all, I loved that the main character was a middle-aged, married Nigerian woman with kids. This was unusual for me, not only for a novel, but for a science fiction one. Perhaps it shouldn’t be. Adaora (that’s her name) felt real and credible to me because of this. She was also a university professor (although her field, marine biology, isn’t one I’d consider quite ordinary for a Nigerian professor) which I know Nnedi Okorafor also is, and this made me happy, for goodness knows what reason. Also, she had a marine lab in her basement with computers and an aquarium and I don’t even know how you can get more badass than that.
The gradual revelation of the characters’ complexity was fascinating! I love background stories and things about people that are not always what they seem. On the surface, all the characters are rather unremarkable. It took the idea of random civilians to a whole new level because of how the characters’ careers were so diverse that it almost didn’t make sense what on earth they were doing together. Adaora, the protagonist, was a marine biology professor. Her companions, “Anthony Dey Craze” and Agu were a rapper and a soldier respectively. There’s an interesting way in which the extraordinary is composed of the unlikely placement of perfectly ordinary things. A story about a marine biologist, a Ghanaian rapper or a soldier would be a fairly normal one. But when all three are suddenly and randomly placed in the same context with a common interest, they begin to bring out the peculiarities in each other’s stories, while adding complexity to their collective story… and only when they were together did they begin to confess their supernatural fits.
They all had strange superpowers, and I loved it! All of their powers were quite logically related to their professions and that kind of blew my mind. I feel like that’s the best kind of superhero; the kind whose powers are not necessarily separate from their everyday lives, but which are rather part of their mundane realities.
Of course, I liked the onomastics. I love names. I think onomastics are my favorite literary device, if this thing can even be considered a literary device. I liked the emphasis on names in this story, the way Nnedi brought them to the forefront such that they were impossible to ignore:
“They all went. Adaora, Anthony, Ayodele and Agu… Adaora knew the soldier’s name now. His name meant “leopard” in Igbo. Her name meant “daughter of the people” in Igbo and she told them so.”
It was telling, how Adaora deliberated quite a while before settling on what to call her new alien guest: Ayodele. Have you ever heard of an alien with a Yoruba name? Nah, didn’t think so! LOL
The narration caught my attention. It was mostly omniscient, though it had a POV focus depending on which character was most relevant in which section. But it was the prologues to book sections and “interludes” that really intrigued me. At the very beginning, before Chapter 1, we had insights into the thoughts of a swordfish. Somewhere in the middle, the thoughts of a tarantula. And my favorite, near and at the end, there were first person sections from a character called Udide, who is the “master weaver,” the spinner of everyone’s stories, who lives underground beneath Lagos. Oh, and she’s the cousin of Ananse, hehee. Shout-out to spider families!
I felt like throughout the book, I could see Nnedi’s love for the animal kingdom shining through, and this made me smile. Something magical happens to stories when they radiate the author’s own loves. (By the way, the reason I know so much about Nnedi’s love for animals, particularly bugs – and her distaste for spiders, SMH – is because I follow her on Twitter. She has fantastic thoughts and things to share, so I recommend you do that too, even if you never read any of her books.)
I also really liked how easily I could imagine this book as an action/superhero movie! I don’t like comparison very much, but in my head, Lagoon’s movie is like a Lagos-based Avengers. (LOL, wait, the Avengers have been to Lagos! What if… Nevermind.)
Then. of course, there was the novelty. The aliens in Lagoon were the most unique kinds of aliens I’d ever read. Usually, I’m thinking of those cliché visions of small, bug-eyed creatures who can fly and whatever. But marine aliens? Creatures from space deciding to come through the water? That was different. They were shapeshifters too, capable of looking exactly like humans if they wanted, and that kind of reminded me of those aliens from the only episode of Star Trek I have ever watched, “The Man Trap.” If you know what I’m talking about, you know.
Lagoon gave me points to ponder about the reception of extraterrestrials here on Earth, and specifically in an African city/country. I noticed something fascinating among the characters: many of them chose to interpret the aliens’ arrival in a way that aligned with a worldview they already had. A lot of it translated into the religious. Two prime examples. The first is this pastor, Father Oke, who nearly immediately started to use the aliens to grow his brand, marketing their arrival as some agenda of God to bring even aliens to the Gospel. Another was of a fairly ambitious prostitute who already had internalized guilt about her method of income generation. And, in the course of the story, “she would become one of the loudest prophets of doom in Lagos.” There was a lot of relevant comedic religiosity in the book, only fitting for a story based in Lagos.
And lastly, I just want to say that in my personal opinion, “Anthony Dey Craze,” the rapper, the only Ghanaian character, the one with a superpower that manifested itself through his voice, which he called the “rhythm,” was the coolest character in the book, and one of the coolest characters I have ever read in my whole life. And I’m not just saying that because I’m Ghanaian, I promise.
I highly recommend Lagoon!