Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor. ★★★★
A mysterious object crashes off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city. Three people – Adaora, a marine biologist; Anthony, a hip hop artist; and Agu, the solider – are inexplicably drawn to Bar Beach, where they are the first people to encounter the aliens. Lagoon interweaves many different threads, but ultimately it is a portrait of Lagos and a story about change.
I would not call Lagoon a plot based book. Instead of sticking closely to a single group of characters and story line, it prefers to give a wide perspective of how Lagos reacts to the arrival of aliens. We see from the point of views of a large number of characters, some of whom have only one appearance. We follow everyone from the main three characters to a street prostitute who witnessed the original event to an evangelical church lead by a conman to a student LGBTQ organization to a mentally handicapped boy.
Spoilers for this paragraph – The only problem I had with the organization of Lagoon was it felt like the the thread following the LGBTQ group was dropped when I didn’t know if the characters were still alive or not, given that we last saw them being beaten on the street. Also, the group was mainly seen from the perspective of a straight transvestite who’s story line ended with him getting shot when his friends found his dresses. If you’re going to include queer characters and issues of homophobia, why the heck do you kill them all off or forget about them?
Lagoon also combines some of the local mythology and folklore of Nigeria, especially closer to the end as the land itself changes with the presence of the aliens. It’s not a hard science book and is much less focused on the “how?” than the “what if?.” There’s krakens and chapters from the POV of a bat and road monsters and living mythological figures.
As soon as the news about the aliens breaks out, there’s chaos in Lagos. There’s violence on the street, sexual assault and people getting killed. I think the violence and chaos was believable for the situation but be aware that Lagoon goes into some dark places. It also deals some with domestic abuse.
Lagoon is probably the most original first contact story I’ve ever read. After all, why is it that aliens always seem to land in New York? Why not Lagos? It was a breath of fresh air. It’s a complex book but ultimately a valuable one that I would recommend.