Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria's legendary mega-city, they're more alone than they've ever been before. But when something like a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they could never imagine.
Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world...and themselves.
'There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.'
©2014 Nnedi Okorafor (P)2014 Hodder & Stoughton
Praise for Who Fears Death:
"A fantastical, magical blend of grand storytelling" (Publishers Weekly)
"Beautifully written, this is dystopian fantasy at its very best" (Library Journal Review)
"Both wondrously magical and terribly realistic." (Washington Post)
I was first attracted to Lagoon on Audible by the dramatic cover art which incorporates a myriad of sea creatures into the title word. The book is expertly narrated by Adjoa Andoh and Ben Onwukwe who between them portray many Lagos residents, a smattering of aliens, and also several magical beings from Nigerian folklore. From her initial chapter, spoken as a swordfish who is vandalising an oil pipeline, Okorafor doesn't let up for a minute. The science fiction storyline of alien invasion is fairly standard, but her inventiveness and understanding of human nature makes Lagoon a cut above the norm. I could easily visualise each location from their detailed descriptions and would love for it to be possible to visit that beautiful underwater world! There are some fabulously memorable characters populating this frightened yet vibrant Lagos. Father Oke is great and so true! I sympathised with poor overlooked Philo and even Adaora's husband Chris is stuck in an all too understandable predicament. Plus I don't think I've ever felt sorry for a tarantula before! I did initially have trouble keeping up with the pidgin english, but could generally work out enough to get the gist without having to replay the sentences. The environmentalism and the message of change are nicely done without being preachy and I liked the unusual ending. Nice touch.
The story started off well, seemed very engaging and mysterious but what should've have been a great afro-scifi got lost amongst the multiple narrators. Perhaps i lost focus somewhere in this recording because of that, so it might be better to read this story than to listen to it.
"Colorful magic realist science fiction"
There aren't a lot of sci-fi/fantasy writers who use Africa as a primary setting, but Nnedi Okorafor is a noteworthy voice in this small subgenre. I enjoyed 2010's post-apocalypse coming-of-age, Who Fears Death, though I found the plot a little disjointed. Lagoon, her most recent work, shows her strengthening her skills as a writer and storyteller.
Here, when aliens come to set up a new home on Earth, they don't pick New York, London, or Tokyo, but land their ship in the ocean near Lagos, Nigeria, flooding the coast. Immediately, their technology, which is advanced to the point of near-magic, begins to wreak changes on the local marine life. For reasons that don't become clear until later, three people, strangers to each other, a marine biologist named Adaora, a popular Ghanaian rapper named Anthony, and a soldier named Agu, are attracted to the beach. A wave pulls them all into the water, and some time later, they return with a fourth individual, an ambassador from the aliens who has taken human form.
At this point, had the story been set in the US, the government would have swooped in, set up a tight military cordon and whisked away the visitor. But, this is Nigeria. Instead, Adaora conducts a few tests, footage ends up on the internet, and different parties, from a charlatan witch-hunting preacher to some enterprising kidnappers to a unit of trigger-happy soldiers, converge on the scene. Meanwhile, the strange events unleash religious fervor, rioting, and other chaos throughout Lagos. The aliens, like gods, can be benevolent in their way, but also seem to be judging humanity and are dangerous when provoked.
This definitely isn't conventional sci-fi. There are some strong mystical elements to the story, which lend it, at times, a magic realist flavor reminiscent of Salman Rushdie. The aliens, it seems, have awakened old spirits and powers lurking just beneath the skin of Lagos (including a man-eating road!). I very much enjoyed the colorful writing and the honesty about Nigeria's conflicted, multifaceted personality that emerged in the book's many short vignettes, each from the perspective of a different denizen of the city. Okorafor's creativity especially shines in the sequences devoted to animals changed by the aliens' energies. Audiobook narrators, Adjoa Andoh and Ben Onwukwe, who do an astonishing range of accents, demonstrate just how much the spoken-word experience can enhance a book.
It's not that there weren't annoyances, though. The central plot, which concerned the main characters' mission to get through the chaos to meet up with Nigeria's ailing president, gets a little tedious in its one-thing-after-another action overload. Also, the author over-relies on the device of having many of her characters coincidentally know other characters who are important to the story. And, as much as I loved the voice actors, some of their accent were incomprehensible to me. The pidgin English dialect was like listening to an amped-up Jar Jar Binks.
Still, the overall theme of human worthiness of redemption, in the face of our many abuses of nature and one other, resonated for me. Okorafor is one to keep an eye on. The same (well, ear) goes for Andoh and Onwukwe.
"Lagos, where nothing works and everything happens"
Lagoon By Nnedi Okorafor is the World Fantasy Award winning author’s first novel for adults since 2010′s Who Fears Death. Narrated By Ben Onwukwe (known for his role in London’s Burning) and Adjoa Andoh (known for her roles in Dr. Who and EastEnders) for Hodder & Stoughton, the audiobook is really well done. Onwukwe handles most of the mainline narration, with Andoh providing the introduction and filling in for a few vignettes as well as providing all of the female voices “inline” with Onwukwe’s reading. Both narrators display quite a range, from multiple “American” accents to diverse African (Nigeria, Ghana, pidgin English) to British ex-pats and more; from simple dialogue to guttural screams, both actors give fantastic performances. At first, the “inline” insertions are a bit jarring, but as the audiobook progresses it becomes more natural and seamless to the ear. Inspired by “Wizard of the Crow, Under the Dome (the novel), Nollywood movies, and District 9″, Lagoon is a story of first alien contact, Lagos, Nigeria, and (principle among the protagonists) Adaora, a marine biologist. Okorafor’s aliens are different — upon high-magnification examination, Adaora discovers that they are not composed of cellular material at all, but rather billions of tiny metallic crystals — who can shapeshift, read thoughts, and are quite serious when they say that they bring “change” — a keyword refrain that I read as an homage to Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Written with a cinematic sensibility, along with the primary thrust of the story (Adaora, rapper Anthony, and soldier Agu trying desperately amidst the chaos of rioting Lagos to bring alien ambassador Ayodele together with the popular but ineffective Nigerian president) there are many, many sub-plots afoot, from a “born-again” church’s bishop hoping to use Ayodele, to small-time 419 scammers preparing to upgrade to kidnapping, to (as is perhaps a defining characteristic of Okorafor’s work to date) the intersection of science fiction and mythology: ghosts, gods, trees, animals, the ocean itself. Highly recommended.
"What if the UFOs landed in Nigeria?"
Things I liked: Setting an alien invasion in Lagos Nigeria, all the characters are Africans (with a couple of African-Americans thrown in), the way animals just accept the changes introduced by the aliens vs the humans rejecting the aliens. I really loved the use of language, particularly the passages in Pidgin English. Even though it was sometimes hard to understand, it really grounded the book and made the characters feel very real. I also liked the lyrical way the author wrote in the voices of the animals as in the following two passages (the first is from the point of view of a bat, the second is a spider). Also, I have to say, this book had some of the best cover art ever.
“She flies higher than she’s ever flown before, maybe she is trying to leave the earth. She isn’t sure, she isn’t thinking about it. She’s far in her mind, deep in her own thoughts, the air on her wings feels amazing, she is swimming, rolling through the air as if it’s water. She lifts her head as she flies and lets out a series of loud chirps. And that’s when she sees it. The largest bat ever. Flying faster than any hawk or eagle or owl, roaring like some sort of monster. She doesn’t know the human word ‘dragon’ otherwise she would call it that. There is no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek, and no pain. It is like being thrown into the stars.”
“I am the unseen. For centuries I have been here, beneath this great city, this metropolis. I know your language. I know all languages. . . . My cave is broad and cool. The sun cannot send its heat down here. The damp soil is rich and fragrant. I turn softly on my back and place my eight legs to the cave ceiling. Then, I listen. I am the spider. I see sound. I feel taste. I hear touch. I spin this story. This is the story I’ve spun.”
I was a bit confused when several new characters were introduced quite late in the book and they didn’t seem at all integral to the plot. Also I sometimes found it hard to understand what was motivating some of the characters. I wish the animals’ point-of-view had come into the book more earlier, more frequently, and with a bit more explanation; I think that would have given the book more context.
[I listened to this as an audio book performed by Adjoa Andoh and Ben Onwukwe. They did a fantastic job! The accents they used made it easy to differentiate between the different characters, as did the fact that the male narrator read the male lines and the female narrator read the female lines]
"A "big picture" novel"
I don't know if it is coincidence or a trand for SFF, but lately I've read several books that tell a story from a cross-section perspective. There isn't just one or two protagonists who tell their story, though there typically is a few characters who are protagonists, but sections told from the perspective of minor characters and sometimes tangential characters (i.e. people whose story crosses the story being told at only one point). I'm not sure how to feel about this. On the one one hand it can be wonderful to have a new perspective on an event. It also keeps the focus on the themes and the broad strokes of a story rather than on an individual character's fate. On the other, it can be disorienting and make it difficult to connect with a book. After all, humans are social and we connect most easily to people/characters instead of events, themes, and places.
Lagoon falls on the end of the spectrum where this is a (mostly) effective technique. We follow three humans and an alien for most of the book as they go from first contact on a beach to worldwide exposure on YouTube. But the story isn't really about those characters or even the aliens, it's about Lagos and how it reacts to extraordinary circumstances. It isn't about how any individual behaved, it is about how a city full of people behaved. So getting a larger cross-section of perspectives made sense and worked once I had gotten to the point in the book where I realized that those side stories were equally important to the point of the book as the main characters. It's that transition in my own mind needing to be made that made this book less enjoyable than if I had understood from the beginning. I might have seen some of the less connected characters early on less as digressions and more as mosaic tiles.
In all, I enjoyed the book more when it was finished than I enjoyed listening to it in some of the middle parts, but will definitely be picking up more books by this author. Now that I know to go into her books with fewer expectations about pacing and structure, I think I will enjoy them more.
As far as the narrators, they do a great job only just falling short of perfect. Their minor character voices tended to be very similar and shrill, but I got used to it and enjoyed the narration overall.
"a book to remember for a long time"
I loved the range of characters, lots of memorable unique characters, perspectives, and narrators. If I mention some particular favorites, I will ruin the surprises for you.
The suspension of disbelief! Also I can't recall another book that so successfully blends horror, politics, cultural information, and the supernatural. I also loved the inclusion of the "Deleted Chapter."
Their performances were grand. I listened to some sections multiple times just for the beauty of their performances. The variety of different characters with distinct and consistent voices must have been very demanding. They captured the beauty of the language, nearly poetry at times, and added so much. I totally loved the listening experience. Would rate them higher than 5 stars if I could.
There were many cliffhangers in this tale (even close to the end) that made me not want to do anything but listen. But it's long for one sitting even on a hot summer night!
This listening experience took a little orientation time for me, but it was well worth the effort at the start. At the 3/4 point (and I can't tell you why), I was really impressed at how many layers had developed in this story with a bit of humor too.
"InterestingYet Muddied Waters"
There were some quite interesting and compelling parts to this novel... There were also some very uninteresting, poorly contrived, and disjointed aspects as well... The narration was good, although some of the accenting sounded like Pepe` le Pew at times, and others sounded like something out of the Mos Isley cantina;) The character construction and development was a bit haphazard and disconnected... The superpowers angle seemed a bit juvenile for truly thoughtful speculative fiction... I thought the prologues were fantastically done, and the story picked up after the first half of the book... It was hard slogging prior to that point...The weaving in of cultural myths was attention catching, but wasn't used to full effect...I found myself smiling a few times at the inferences to "The Gods Must Be Crazy" - TheWater is Life vehicle was interesting, but could have been more in depth... The action focused on the dirt dwellers, and the story might have had more punch if the water dwellers were gone into a bit more... They really only played a real role until the latter stages of the story...It was an average work, and I was expecting something a bit grander based upon reviews...
"All-around Awesome! !!"
Forget science fiction, there's so much ancient knowledge and truth in this tale. I'm going to order a hard copy for my bookshelf. The narrators were excellent, keep me wanting more.
"Fantastic Story with Amazing Narrators"
This far exceeded my expectations and hopes, even though this was s book that comes highly recommended. You CAN read this, but with these narrators, the story is a living woven tapestry. I do believe I have found another author that I will be preordering subsequent works!
"Well written and well read"
I enjoyed this book. Interesting setting. The reader did a wonderful job bringing it to life.
What if advanced, altruistic aliens landed in the waters of West Africa? The author takes you through an exciting scenario, narrating from different perspectives throughout the book. I loved the voice actors and the spoken melody of Nigerian accents mingled with pigeon English.
Excellent African sci-fi, done right!
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