Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor book review

Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon is an ambitious sci-fi fantasy from the author of Who Fears Death

Whether it’s UFOs blowing up the White House or Bodysnatchers infiltrating Middle America, it seems like the Americans always get to make first contact.

In Lagoon, Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor imagines what if the aliens landed in Africa.

Three strangers, a marine biologist, a troubled soldier and a famous rapper, find themselves bound together when a spaceship crashes off the coast of the Nigerian city of Lagos.

The trio must race against time to deliver an alien ambassador to the President, while corrupt officials try to intercept them and panicked citizens riot in the street.

While this premise might have been enough for another writer, Okorafor, a World Fantasy Award winner, also infuses Nigerian myths and folklore into the plot. So that alongside shape-shifting aliens and allusions to Star Wars, ET and X-Men, spider gods, psychic manatees, witches and man-eating motorways appear with little to no explanation.

If this mix of sci-fi and magical elements wasn’t strange enough, the story is also told from multiple perspectives – some of which only exist for a chapter and are never heard from again.

This can make for quite a jarring experience, and it becomes a hard read half way through as the novel inexplicably switches from third- to first-person narration, before finding its way back to the main plotline.

Lagoon is an ambitious novel that can be interpreted as a celebration of the ferocious life force of a city, a country or the wider human (and non-human) experience.

However, it is a disjointed tale and, with such a varied cast, we never invest in the three main characters, who despite love interests and internal conflict, never feel more than symbolic.