My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor says she was so pissed-off at Neil Blomkamp’s depiction of Nigeria and its traditions in ‘District 9’ that Lagoon was the result, “a story about humanity at the crossroads between the past, present, and future.” The novel “touches on political and philosophical issues in the rich tradition of the very best science fiction.”
Apart from ‘District 9’, I think Lagoon can also be seen as a response to Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2011. Both novels engage in a dialogue with Amos Tutuola and D.O. Fagunwa, commonly referred to as “the fathers of African fantasy”.
So how successful is Okorafor? It took me a while to get into the rhythm of this novel, which is written in short chapters from multiple viewpoints (Okorafor has indeed said that the novel started out as a screenplay idea).
Yes, Okorafor does thrown a bit more light on the Yoruba religion, said to be one of the world’s oldest and most widely practised religions (its influence can be seen as far afield as Santería in Cuba and Candomblé in Brazil).
Unfortunately, this takes the form of some stock Yoruba figureheads such as Mami Wata – in a ‘deleted chapter’ included at the end, a character refers to “some X-Men shit in Africa”. However, the Yoruba mythology sits uncomfortably with the alien invasion of Lagos, where the Elders, replete with tentacles, reminded me of a half-assed Lovecraft pastiche.
Okorafor also does not know what to do with the more outlandish aspects of Nigerian society, such as the pervasive corruption, bad traffic and 419 scams. In the end she resorts to broad satire, with such scenes as a Yoruba spirit animating the Lagos-Benin Highway and an alien creature appearing to the Nigerian president in the form of Karl Marx.
Once you get past the episodic nature of the writing and the short shrift given to the SF elements, this does gel into quite an enjoyable and eccentric take on First Contact. Nigeria is such a conflation of the bizarre and the mundane, not to mention being such a perfect example of the worst stereotypical perceptions of Africa, that at the end Okorafor fails quite spectacularly in refuting Blomkamp. Still, an exciting and notable entry in the sub-genre of ‘Afro-futurism’.