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When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.

Told from multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

‘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.’

306 pages, Paperback

First published April 10, 2014

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About the author

Nnedi Okorafor

154 books15.4k followers
Nnedi Okorafor is a New York Times Bestselling writer of science fiction and fantasy for both children and adults. The more specific terms for her works are africanfuturism and africanjujuism, both terms she coined and defined. Born in the United States to two Nigerian (Igbo) immigrant parents and visiting family in Nigeria since she was a child, the foundation and inspiration of Nnedi’s work is rooted in this part of Africa. Her many works include Who Fears Death (winner of the World Fantasy Award and in development at HBO as a TV series), the Nebula and Hugo award winning novella trilogy Binti (in development as a TV series), the Lodestar and Locus Award winning Nsibidi Scripts Series, LaGuardia (winner of a Hugo and Eisner awards for Best Graphic Novel) and her most recent novella Remote Control. Her debut novel Zahrah the Windseeker won the prestigious Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. She lives with her daughter Anyaugo in Phoenix, AZ. Learn more about Nnedi at Nnedi.com and follow Nnedi on twitter (as @Nnedi), Facebook and Instagram.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,268 reviews
Profile Image for Nnedi.
Author 154 books15.4k followers
November 5, 2013
I had so much fun with this one. :-). Welcome to Lagos.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
June 13, 2018
this is a science fiction novel in which aliens descend upon lagos. i have read plenty of african fiction, but this is the first time extraterrestrial life has ever been a part of the story. fortunately for sci-fi noob me, the aliens are not metallic chitinous types toting advanced weaponry, and the story has more of a folktale feel to it than anything more traditionally spaceshippy. since folktales frequently make their way into african fiction, or any other culture's fiction where there is an emphasis upon oral tradition, it was not terribly jarring for me to get into the swing of this story.

and like most folktales, this story is a little allegorical twist that simultaneously tells its alien invasion story alongside the story of modern lagos; its social ills and potential, and the strength and failings of its people.

the aliens in this case set up camp under the sea. strange aquatic species begin to appear in the waters, sonic booms fill the air, and a wave crashes over the beach. three people are taken by this wave, four are returned. adaora is a marine biologist, anthony is a celebrated rap sensation from ghana, and agu is a soldier. these people were chosen to become intermediaries between the aliens and the humans, and the fourth body that washes out of the wave is one of the aliens themselves - a shapeshifting being who takes the form of a human woman, named ayodele by adaora, after a childhood friend.

the four of them go back to adaora's home, where she has a lab set up, and they run tests and begin to plan their next steps. ayodele's promises of peace and security are undermined as more people begin to find out about her presence - religious groups fear her and accuse her of being a marine witch, the military wants to destroy the aliens, the local drug lords want to kidnap her for profit, and the lgbt community wants to use her as a spokesperson. add to this adaora's husband's jealousy, a sick president, various crimes where people are taking advantage of the chaos to loot and riot, and things just aren't going to go as planned.

there are many different voices in this novel. some appear for only a chapter or two, and some recur with greater frequency. some chapters are narrated by creatures like spiders or swordfish, and some chapters end with the death of its narrator. it gets a little confusing to have this mishmash of perspectives, and the story itself kind of balloons out past what is comfortable or recognizable as a cohesive narrative, and there are parts in dialect (helpfully translated at the end, discovered too late for me to have used it during my reading) but it's hard not to like for all of its confusion.

it's more of a celebration than a story - a shining a spotlight on the many different elements that make up a city, and how all these conflicting elements would appear to an outsider in all their harmonious disarray. even when i was unsure where the story was taking me, i enjoyed being enfolded in it, so i will definitely check out more of her work.

if that's not enough for you, there is a road. and it eats people.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
January 14, 2020
Kurt Vonnegut had commented that when his early writing was given the label of science fiction, many critics and readers stopped taking his work seriously. He was lumped into the pulpy but fun drivel of the 50s and 60s.

I never understood this because I never considered his writing science fiction. But even if I had, I would have taken it seriously, at least as serious as I can when I’m laughing out loud and being instructed by his biting but playful wit.

And so I come to Nnedi Okorafor’s 2014 novel Lagoon.

What is it?

First of all, I would not call this science fiction. At least, not just that.

I guess we are taught at an early age to strive to categorize. We must label, we must narrowly define; we must begin an explanation with a fitting into place of all the puzzle pieces.

But in doing so, do we prevent ourselves from really appreciating the art and vision of the writer?

OK, here’s what I can say. This is about Nigeria. Lagos Nigeria. It is about the people who live there and the culture and language that has arisen there from time immemorial, being created, generation after generation, as the evolution of any group.

It is about the sea, about the animals and creatures, great and small, that live and eat and die in and around Lagos and it’s adjoining water.

It is about aliens, and a first contact between that group and humanity. And there, of course, is as far as some readers get. There is the LABEL.

But it is more, and Okorafor has crafted it to be more. It is about the gods and legends and myths and history of the Nigerian people. It is about humanity, what we want, who we are, and how we try, feebly and incompletely to put it all together.

Lagoon is about a mystery, one that cannot be fully explained or described, and Okorafor uses magic realism and parable and peripheral elucidation – and yes, science fiction and fantasy - to get as close as she can; but this proximity is her vision of a subject that cannot be fully and accurately described and for her to do so would have made the creation, the art, less.

Did I get it? No. There were parts of it that were maddening, annoying, troubling, and difficult. Not until I got to almost the very end did I even get to the point where I could write this, lame as it is at reviewing this extremely talented artist’s work. I had to set it down several times, had to stop, think about it and then come back. I had to decide again and again how I wanted to approach this novel and maybe never did completely come down to one that works – only at best resolve to just like it for what it is, whatever it is.

One thing that I know for sure, though, I will come back to read more from her.

Profile Image for Chichi.
303 reviews17 followers
August 24, 2015
Dear White People who read this book and thought it was awesome,
This is not Lagos.

This has been an appalling waste of time and the only reason I finished was so that this review could be written.
Now, maybe, just maybe this book would have received a 2-3star from me had it contained no dialogue whatsoever.
But it did.
Terrible dialogue.
Terrible dialogue masquerading as pidgin English.
Adding o at the end of a sentence does not make it pidgin. It makes your characters sound retarded.
'Na wao' every now and then does not make it pidgin, see above comment.

Now, to the main characters. Depending on who you decided was main since there were bloody loads of those.
Somehow, they all start with A's. Fair enough, she 'explained' it.
But surely, she could have found more, I don't know, IMAGINATIVE names?
Nonso Dauoda? Fred? Kola? Moziz? Oh and I didn't even know Father Oke had a surname until it got randomly tossed in somewhere after the middle.

So, the characters all have superpowers. Thanks for letting us know as the book was rounding itself up.
"Oh, by the way, here are some superpowers for your convenience"
Fantastic Four.

Anthony dey crase: a lyrical genius who was so smart, he really couldn't coin a better name for himself, or indeed a better catchphrase than I DEY CRAAAAAASE.
Yes, I dey crase. For actually reading this book.
Oh and everybody in the fucking country had his albums. Let's not forget how suddenly hardened gunmen and soldiers get shy because a man who sings I Dey Crase is there.
Uh huh.
Oh and my fellow Ghanians, I am sorry for the stereotypical 'chale' thrown in every now and then to remind us that the charming chap is Ghanaian. The Ghanaians I know (and I know loads, and they're Twi!), say Kwasia more than chale. But no. Chale it is.

Agu and Adaora. I almost cried at the forced romance. He's a buff ting innit.
And Adaora that was born a fish, or was she a fry? No she was born a tadpole. But I digress.

Fisayo: thank you for reminding us her hair was damaged. We really didn't get it the first time.

Now, my well-meaning people of the abroad,not every young man in Lagos is into 419. Just putting it out there. In case you were beginning to think it was all our young men did.

I won't even begin to talk about the inconsistency in the story telling. It maybe I would.
So Moziz and his crew are driving slowly to avoid drawing attention, but hey, let them put on masks, because that is VERY NORMAL on the streets of Lagos. Oh yeaaaa...
Oh and I like how one minute the Bar beach is deserted the next, it's filled with hungry Lagosians feeding on a whale.

Ah before I forget, the journalist Femi.
Please what part of Lagos lets you upload a file on YouTube as quickly as ten minutes? I want to go live there. Permanently.

Ah the Bone Collector; great dialogue. "I collect bones." No shit. I thought he collected plastic for recycling.

Oh oh and Ijele.
Yes, the most fearsome masquerade in the whole of Eastern Nigeria somehow entered a Chisco night bus and found himself in Lagos all to enter a computer in the form of smoke with a man.

Oh oh and Legba. I get it. You know about him/it. Good for you.

Ah the President. Who is supposedly a Northerner with a nephew named Benson.
Oh and Praise Allah? Not Alhamdulillah? If you're going to include religion, at least do it right.
And and describe the aliens as Star Wars like.
"Ah this alien looked like that Star Wars character".
Thank you. But you see, ain't never seen Star Wars so I don't know what you varied aliens fucking look like!

Oh oh and abroad people, we're not all brainless religious nuts. Some of us have common sense. Honestly.

The only character well written was the American lady, and thus have concluded the writer should stick to writing about a place she's conversant with (or do her homework properly before butchering a whole megacity).

I can go on all night writing about how poorly written this book was, but I think you get the gist.
Good idea, terrible execution.

Taking this from someone who lived a huge part of her life in Lagos,

This was not Lagos.

I don't know where the writer took you people to but please tell her to bring you back. And collect the money you used to buy the ticket.

You're welcome.
Profile Image for carol..
1,566 reviews8,218 followers
December 12, 2015

"We are change," Ayodele calmly responded. "The sentiments were already there. I know nothing about those other things."

When I was young, I read every fantasy-like book I could lay hands on. Dragons, fairy tales, books about witches, Greek myths, folk tales, origin stories, 'just so' tales, you name it--if it wasn't real, I read it. By far my least favorite were the parables, particularly Aesop's Fables. The overt messaging and the general lack of a plot quickly led to waning interest.

Lagoon doesn't seem to know what kind of story it wants to be, but feels mostly like a woven series of morality tales. Beginning with a giant swordfish determined to kill the 'snake' polluting the coastal water, it headed in an interesting direction. Three people who are drawn to the water's edge are similarly pulled in and transformed. Following them out of the water is an alien who assumes the form of an attractive woman. It seems to settle into a first-contact story of how the three people and the alien come to believe in each other. Before long, the alien presence ripples through the local population. Another team of characters are introduced, and almost everyone but the three has an angle to play the alien.

Once the narrative starts expanding past the three main characters, tone and plot starts to feel more didactic, more 'just so' type of story demonstrating consequences. The most complexity is probably obtained with a character who is determined to use the alien for personal gain--but is also a member of a LGBT group who wants to capitalize on the opportunity for positive change. Most characters don't have enough time to be more than a type, but at least there is a wide range of them. It might be that Okorafor's intention is to demonstrate the wide variety of types in the African people; if so, she certainly succeeds.

Interestingly, Okorafor makes use of ubiquitous phone technology in her story. Cell phones and YouTube have a tremendous impact on information-sharing and understanding, much like current places in Africa with unreliable and expensive electricity. Setting is well-written and integrated well. There's a lot here that gives a sense of place, from the "garden eggs" the alien enjoys to the cafes where the 419 scams are run.

Language is generally lovely and is one of the reasons I remain attracted to Okorafor's writing. "She had piercing brown eyes that gave Adora the same creepy feeling as when she looked at a large black spider. Her mannerisms were too calm, fluid and... alien." However, a couple of the narratives use a slang dialect, and it absolutely did not work for my read. I ended up setting it down until I had time to pay closer attention. On the plus side, it reinforces the idea of tremendous diversity, as well as lending the sound of a youthful perspective.

I wanted to like this much more than I did, because I love the idea of it. I love the concept of basing a story around forced change, but I'm not sure a cohesive plot was ever realized. I did run into a conceptual bump or two--it was odd to me the way that alien 'Moom!" noises would end up destroying so many small fish when aliens were clearly uncomfortable with killing. I also wasn't sure about how the aliens changing sea life wouldn't lead to fighting against alien-changed humans. And, while I liked the inclusion of a couple local deities, their inclusion seemed to make it more of a 'just so' story. In the Afterward, Okorafor states that this story had its genesis in her reaction to District 9. I didn't see it, but a synopsis I read makes it sound like Africans were heavily stereotyped. So perhaps my problem lies in a narrative that is more of a movie script feel. Still, high praise goes to any writer who can create in perspectives of a swordfish, a spider and a bat--and make me care.

Three and a half star... fish.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,100 followers
November 5, 2015
Having been a fanboy of Anansi in the past, I loved seeing Anansi the storyteller being our narrator here.

As a SF, it was a fairly traditional first contact story dovetailing into a christ image into a deeper story about the building of a world and its stories. Confused? I'm just referring to bare-bones. Beyond that, I was enraptured in the immersion of Nigeria. It was spicy and exciting to me, even though I've read some good African stories in the past, I can rank this up there with them all, and favorably, too.

Before things got dangerous and weird, I was pretty damn impressed with the introduction of so many types and kinds of people. They almost read as a litany of motivations from the sublime to the most base, and when things blew up, I was thoroughly ashamed to call myself human. That's kinda the point, though, and it set us up for the whole christ theme. It wasn't too tired. Sure, it's one of the most overdone subtypes, but the focus was a lot more heavy on change rather than culpability and redemption.

That's good, because the storytelling was always pretty damn on target for just that. The world always changes, whether from outside or from the inside or for good or ill. This was pretty damn satisfying.

The aliens weren't extremely original, but that's not really the point. This whole book could have been written as our subconscious coming to life, magically, to provide us both a mirror to ourselves as well as being the catalyst to something more.

My only real complaint is one I've already made my peace with. Special powers for our MCs? I wanted to blow a raspberry. Fortunately, it all eventually made sense so I let it go.

Good novel, and quite entertaining. I'm going to definitely read more by this author! It is a real eye opener.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,114 followers
February 22, 2016
"There were aliens in the ocean, and they were going to come out soon."
How I love when I read a science fiction novel and it is full of elements I am not expecting! I had really enjoyed an earlier novel by Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death, which I think I was first prompted to read when it was on the shortlist for the Nebula Award in 2010. That year, it was my favorite novel in that category and I was surprised not to see it listed on my best books of the year. In retrospect I'd go back and add it to that list because of how many times I have recommended it, referred to it, etc.

I like to read first-contact stories that aren't military sci-fi. I like science fiction set in places other than the UK or United States, preferably by native authors. This fits both of these categories and more. Aliens are coming out of the ocean in contemporary Lagos, and this is the story of everything that happens surrounding the start of those events. Intertwined in that story are a handful of Nigerians with special powers, mythological beasts (from Igbo and Yoruba mythology), feminism and the changing roles of women, political corruption in Nigeria, even a little bit of environmental issue coverage (although I would not classify it as "cli-fi.") One example of Igbo mythology:
"The creature was every color of the rainbow, glowing deep and powerful in the night. And it made music. The creature's cloth quivered with the beat it sent into the ground. The sound was impossible, I swear. The sound of life, the beginning. Holy shit, this was Ijele. The Chief of all Masquerades, Igbo royalty. Ijele does not ask the small or big masquerades to leave."
To me, this is wholly original and I never knew what to expect. I can't ask for more from a science fiction novel (in fact in realizing that I have bumped it from 4 stars to 5... I would still say I like Who Fears Death more but I shouldn't penalize this one since it is still very enjoyable to read.) I have read several novels set in Nigeria, specifically in present Lagos, so it was a lot of fun to imagine these aliens on top of that setting!

I have only one tiny minor complaint, something I noticed probably because I devoured the book in a few days. The word undulate or undulating is used 11 times in 300 pages! So often I really noticed it. On the other hand, while we're discussing word choices, the author writes some of the dialog in Pidgin English. This really added an element of reality to a tale of transforming ocean aliens. It was somewhat easy to grasp after my year of reading Oceanic lit (where this is also used sometimes) but there was a glossary at the end with the important words. The hardest word to keep in mind was "na" which means "It is," since that's what I use to tell my dogs "no." I loved when the aliens spoke in Pidgin English!

Discussed even more on Episode 052 of the Reading Envy podcast.
Profile Image for Leah Bayer.
567 reviews214 followers
March 18, 2015
Have you ever felt guilty for disliking a book? While I was slugging through the first third of Lagoon, I legitimately felt bad for how much I hated it. I mean, I really should in theory be supporting female scifi writers. But like The Girl in the Road I could barely bring myself to finish this.

The plot is pretty simple: aliens arrive in Nigeria. That's... pretty much it. Aliens arrive, they pick 3 special people to work with their alien ambassador who wants to see the president. The entire book is spent getting said alien to the president. Oh, well, there are half a dozen side stories and plots that go nowhere so this is stretched out over 300+ pages. Seriously, there are over 5 characters who we get perspectives from... who add NOTHING to the plot. In fact, most of them don't even get to the finale, and have nothing to do with it.

I think the problem with Lagoon is how much it tried to do in a relatively short amount of space. Racism, sexism, homophobia, religious mania, sexual violence, domestic abuse, reincarnation, the oil crisis, online scams, animal sentience, ecological damage, multiculturalism, disability, prostitution. These are SOME of the themes Lagoon tries to tackle. It's too much for one book. Maybe if it was 500+ pages, but this seriously reads like Tumblr, The Book. Cramming in as many social issues and as much diversity as possible while neglecting the plot, worldbuilding and character development.

Our man players are a rapper, aliens, a female scientist, a gay pride society, several different religious factions, the military, a handful of street gangs, a disabled young boy, a hooker... and more. It's SO much. There are story threads all over the place. We get everyone's perspective. Most of them don't pan out into anything important. And we also get some of my least-favorite tropes like insta-love/lust. Two characters make out in a car for no reason. While the world is ending. Of course, like every other side story, this is never followed up. Why did they kiss? Do they like each other? Who the heck knows.

So many questions go unanswered. We find out nothing about the aliens. We never know why all the main characters have names that start with A (which MUST be relevant). There's unexplained magic. We've got aliens, witches, magic, science, gods, Loa, meta chapters talking directly to the reader, sentient locations, the apocalypse. It's full of potential but nothing comes of any of this. The sentient location? A road that eats bones. Awesome, right? Except it has nothing to do with the plot, and we get several chapters about it that lead to... nothing. That plot just ends. There are also 4 languages to keep track of, in case there wasn't enough jam-packed in here already.

Honestly, I would rate this a 2 for effort if there weren't glaring research issues. Example:

She has no words for color because she is a bat and bats do not see colors.

At this moment, she is the only bat on earth seeing the stars in the sky.

Both of these are just wrong. Fruit bats can see color, and all bats can see light.

The writing style is also not something I ever got comfortable with. It was stilted and stiff, and switched between heavy, distracting usage of peoples' names to absolute pronoun confusion. Plus a lot of telling, not showing.

Adaora grasped her son Fred's hand as they watched Father Oke, who stood a few feet away. Someone had thrown a rock at him.... now the tall, sour-faced man who'd initially thrown the rock stood before Father Oke. The woman who'd been splashed with Coke and broken glass stood behind them, glaring angrily at Father Oke.

Father Oke raised his hands, pleading, "I . . . I didn't throw-"

The man slapped Father Oke hard across the face. As Father Oke went down, two of his followers surged forward."

Do you think the name Father Oke is in there enough?! Yet there are paragraphs about two female characters where "she" is used and it is unclear who exactly is performing the action. It's obviously a stylistic choice, but I found the writing style distracting.
919 reviews255 followers
January 7, 2016
I really, really wanted to like this - it sounded so promising, and there was so much potential all the way through, I just couldn't deal with the awkward writing and weird pacing. Parts of this book were beautifully written - the prologue, for example, hinted at something fantastic to come, but for some reason most of the book read like a high-school english class fan-fiction. The plot and setting combination was original and different from a typical sci-fi, and it's so great to read sci-fi that isn't set it the U.S or U.K - I just wish Lagoon had lived up to its potential. I'll still try another book by Nnedi Okorafor but this one really wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews185 followers
December 16, 2015
I really wish I could say that I loved this book.
It started out so well. A mysterious sonic boom in Lagos, Nigeria? A rushing wave that swallows three strangers brought together by fear? An alien presence that has arrived upon the shore? I was hooked from the first page.
But all too soon, my enthusiasm had disintegrated.

I can't decide if the core of my issues with the book was the plot or the characters. Okorafor set up a diverse cast. I particularly appreciated the subplot involving Black Nexus, a LGBTIA group. However, all too many of the characters fell back on tired tropes, such as the evil, scheming, prideful, wife-beating Christian minister who serves as one of the major antagonists. The main characters, in particular, felt like little more than ciphers who served to push the plot along. Adaora, Anthony, and Agu felt particularly wooden to me, a set of ill-defined catalysts rather than full-blown characters. Okorafor tended to spell out their reactions and actions first, then explain their reasoning with a bit of backhistory that wasn't provided until after the reaction, increasing my sense of disconnect from the characters. It was fortunate that their emotions were spelled with an "X loves Y" level of directness, because I honestly wouldn't have predicted their emotions or reactions from any intrinsic understanding of the characters themselves. I am hard pressed to think of a romance that involved less chemistry between the characters, either in friendship or love.

I think that the core problem is that there are so many ideas in this book, so many different paths for the plot to take, that none of them are given full justice. Social justice is a theme throughout the book, yet the plot threads supporting it quickly divert into another story before petering out altogether. Domestic abuse also makes an appearance, yet I found the resolution not only disatisfying but thoroughly distasteful. I found some of the events in the book really creepy, yet no one actually in the story simply accepted the offered explanation--if any-- and moved forward without question or analysis. With an impending alien invasion, I'd expect an interesting exploration of morality and imperialism, particularly given some of the aliens' actions that I found to be disconcerting and morally questionable. With characters given supernatural powers, I'd expect some sort of backstory that explains how the supernatural can touch reality. With sentient roads eating cars and figures from Nigerian myth, folktale, and religion stepping into the scene, I'd expect a deeper grounding and backstory of the mythopoetic, and the ways in which it interacts with the aliens. Unfortunately, these types of events simply happen in the book, stripped of explanation and exploration of consequences and causes. The overarching theme of the book is change, yet the causes and ramifications of change are barely explored.

In the end, I think the moment that really stuck in my mind was a scene where a bunch of African-American college students discuss events in Nigeria, trying to determine if they're real or not. They conclude:
"You think it's some Orwellian shit? [...] Look at the 'stars' of the show. They black. Even the heroes are black. You think they gon' spend they money to put somethin' together that looks this real and actually allow black folks to star in it? Real Africans? And then set it in Africa?" He guffawed with glee and shook his head. "Naw, man, not gonna happen. This shit real. That's the more likely scenario."

Lagoon is a promising story with a lot of interesting and powerful ideas. I just wish that Okarafor had limited her scope to a few of them and given them the time and attention they deserve.
Profile Image for Sarah.
687 reviews159 followers
November 16, 2018
Content warnings:

Through no fault of the book- this took me a month to read (work is crazy right now!). But every time I picked it up again I found it hard to put down. I really love Okorafor’s style and how much of her heritage she includes in her books.

This one is no different and you wouldn’t really expect Mami Wata or Anansi to pop up in a book about an alien invasion in Lagos, but they were there and every moment with them was fantastic.

This is a pretty epic narrative crammed into 300 pages. We have a multitude of viewpoints, a wide cast of characters, at least two languages (English and Pidgin English, though it is mentioned characters do speak other languages). The setting is fairly limited but wonderful to read. At times this feels like a love letter to Lagos despite it not being as advanced as say Germany (the books words, not mine, because I’ve never been to either country).

Though this is not the most original concept (alien invasion) Okorafor makes it her own. (Mild story related spoilers follow.) The aliens are peaceful, they want to coexist with humans and help them improve, especially in the areas of technology. It seemed like their primary goal was to move away from fossil fuels. The aliens are definitely the most unique I’ve read so far, and that part I won’t spoil.

I did feel at times, the narrative was a little too chaotic. I would have preferred to have less characters that I cared more about than so many characters that I felt a little “meh” about. But the mythological elements swept me away and far outweighed any chapters that I didn’t feel advanced the story much overall.

I would definitely recommend this to fans of Okorafor or someone looking for something unique.
Profile Image for Kaora.
585 reviews283 followers
December 27, 2015
Everybody wants to leave Lagos. But nobody goes, she said. Lagos is in the blood. We run back to Lagos the moment we step out, even though we may have vowed never to come back. Lagos is Lagos. No city like it. Lagos is sweet.

The story opens in the waters of Lagos, from the perspective of one of the sea creatures as an object crashes into the sea. I was drawn to the sea creature aspect of this story so it immediately sucked me in.

There were aliens in the ocean, and they were going to come out soon.

From there it moves to the perspective of the three people who are chosen, Adaora a marine biologist, Anthony a famous rapper and Agu a soldier.

The story was interesting enough to keep me turning the pages, although I did struggle a little bit with the mixed in Nigerian words and Pigeon English that some of the characters spoke. The cast of characters show quite a bit of diversity, from a man who likes to dress in women's clothes, to a prostitute, to a young mute boy. We are shown the story from a variety of perspectives which I found interesting and well done.

A college friend of hers used to say that everything human beings perceived as real was only a matter of the information their bodies recorded.

I'm just not sure where the author was meaning to go with her story. It seemed to be a bit of superhero fiction, a bit of speculative fiction and a bit of a strange dark folklore mixed together, but all in all it was a short and unique read that I enjoyed.
Profile Image for Robyn.
827 reviews132 followers
November 13, 2015
3.5 stars but not rounded up, as the book never quite coalesced for me. I think there were just too many things going on - characters with superpowers! Aliens! Nigerian folk tales! Commentary on Lagos politics and life! Eco-warriors! And so on. But it turned out I enjoyed the last third of the book quite a bit, and I always enjoyed the characters.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,921 reviews386 followers
December 11, 2015
H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds meets Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, all taking place in modern Nigeria.

Speaking as someone who reads a fair bit of science fiction, Lagoon felt refreshingly original. Not that the theme of aliens coming to Earth is a new one—it’s actually very common. What was so welcome was that said aliens did not land in North America, but in Lagos harbour in Nigeria. Just that tweak, and the story becomes so much more interesting.

Okorafor’s familiarity with Nigeria is what makes this book. Her parents are Igbo Nigerian and presumably she still has family in the country. She admits in her acknowledgements that she had help with the local dialects that some of the conversations are written in. For the North American audience, these sections may be the largest barrier, but with a bit of perseverance, I got into the swing of it. It is certainly no more difficult than the Nadsat slang in Clockwork Orange or the devolved English of Riddley Walker. Aliens as seen through the lens of different Nigerian factions—all the 419ers looking for their way to make a buck on the event and the predictable kidnapping attempt—what a treat!

Also fun was the role of social media in the tale—how inevitable it would be to have all kinds of cell phone video of events circulating on the internet and the frenzy of speculation that would ensue, including the disbelief of the developed nations that aliens would choose Africa for their first contact.

Another plus—a strong, well-educated female lead in the person of Adaora, the marine biologist. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really get another woman to truly interact with, unless you count the visiting alien, who takes on human female form (when it isn’t sulking about human behaviour while re-shaped as a monkey). But since we can't be sure that these aliens even really have genders, I can’t unequivocally say that Lagoon passes the Bechdel test.

If you are a fan of first contact stories, you shouldn’t miss Lagoon.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,016 reviews1,182 followers
February 24, 2021
Okorafor truly is a unique writer: I have never once picked up a book of hers that didn’t surprise me with its inventiveness and willingness to go to unexpected places. Reading the back cover of “Lagoon”, one expects a few things: after all, first contact stories often end up with similar elements, and they are there, but the angle from which Okorafor chose to approach them makes this little novel much more human and moving than the average sci-fi story about aliens.

Adaora is a marine biologist who went out to clear her head after a fight with her husband turned violent. Agu is a soldier who stopped his superior officer from committing a heinous act and got beaten up as a result. Anthony is a famous rapper who needed to clear his head after a performance. They are all three of them on Bar Beach when something strange and world-changing happens: a strange sound, a huge wave and the arrival of a woman who looks human but is anything but. Going by the name Ayodele, this “woman” is the ambassador for the race of aliens waiting under the water just off the coast of Lagos. And she needs their help.

The three main characters are connected in more ways than they think, and this is beautifully illustrated by the way we see the events of the story unfold through the eyes of many varied characters. I actually wished we could have spent more time with some of them, as their perspectives, and their lives, were so interesting and unexpected. The setting is also incredibly vivid: this book made me curious about Lagos the way no other book I've read set in the city has managed so far.

I find that Okorafor’s stories are better when she really gives herself time and space to flesh them out, and this little book is the perfect length for her: the pacing never drags, there is always something interesting going on, and the short chapters make it a breeze to read. I also really love the way she artfully blends science fiction and Nigerian folklore, creating a narrative that is both thought-provoking and educational.

A wonderful little book by a marvelous story-teller!
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews967 followers
July 19, 2016
We are technology

Lagoon concerns the arrival of shapeshifting marine/water-loving aliens in the waters of Lagos. It’s made clear that the extraterrestrials deliberately selected Nigeria to enter the world they want to share with humans, though the exact reasons for this are at least partly left to the imagination. It’s also very clear that the newcomers are not colonists; they are immigrants, and although from their position of power they insist on being allowed to remain, they declare and enact their intent to “nuture your world” and commune with the spirits of the land, such as the arch-masquerade Ijele and the life-gobbling road monster.

To me the shapeshifting powers of the aliens suggest software metaphors. Human technologies are easily manipulated by them, often in ways that make me think of hacking. Since it’s hard to hack the hardware, the possibilities of limitless reconfiguration fizzle out at the borders of matter for us. Human ingenuity, undeterred, has already invented 3D-printing and who-know what will come to pass in the future, but we remain subject to injury and aging and can change our bodies only In limited and often painful ways. The potential offered by Ayodele and her kin of limitless reconfiguration of matter is recognised by the Black Nexus LGBT group, a particularly interesting set of characters.

One of the things I like most about the book is its inclusive use of testimony; in parts it is like a compilation of eyewitness accounts. Along with the diversity of the characters/witnesses in terms of age, origin and socioeconomic position, this creates a sense of mass participation. On the other hand, a tension is set up between hierarchy and anarchy that doesn’t align either with good/evil care&cooperation/self-interest. Ayodele says “take me to your leader”, but the aliens give the people of the sea (earthly marine life) “what they want” and it’s suggested that the same bodily wish-fulfilment will be extended to humans. Ayodele protects the people with her from the sea animals, but she makes no apology for giving them deadly powers.

The aura of high tech co-existing with inequality and imperfect infrastructure in Nigeria makes it the ideal venue, literally speaking, for an encounter between the recalcitrant-bodied humans and the aliens who can reorder themselves with a sickening sound of ‘metal balls on glass’, who can transform us into ‘wriggling lumps of raw meat’ or plantain trees, who can become fog and lodge themselves inside us like virus particles, meme-like, overriding the need for consent. Ayodele is serene and compliant, but only because her supreme power means she can afford to behave that way.

That the animals rebel and communicate, sounding ‘like that group, Greenpeace!’ gives the book an urgent relevance to climate change, but is the benevolent ‘invasion’ to be taken as a deus ex machina for environmental stability? Following Naomi Klein, I’m particularly worried about the line of thought so commonly followed, that our climate and ecology will be rescued by some technofix. I consider this dangerous firstly because it allows people to think we can keep calm & carry on emitting while some smart folks figure out how to save the world, when actually what’s needed is Plan A, a shift to renewable energy and recovery of political power from corporate polluters, an effort that pretty much requires everyone to pitch in somehow. Secondly, there are some folks who think we should pump extra crap into the atmosphere to block the sun or dump heavy metals into the sea to make algae go crazy and absorb CO2, and other terrifying crackpot ideas that are impossible to test or reliably predict the consequences of. If we screw up, we can’t just reinstall the biosphere.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews158k followers
July 15, 2015
Two Okorafor novels in 2015 - we must have been good to deserve this! Lagoon is about humanity's first contact with alien life. Once word gets out that aliens are on Earth, everyone is trying to be the first to get their message out to the world, while the government decides if it should just wipe the visitors out. It's up to a rapper, a soldier and a biologist to keep both these things in check. This is wonderful fun, and about how I envision an alien visitation going.

Listen in to our weekly All The Books podcast, dedicated to all things new books: http://bookriot.com/category/all-the-...
Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews192 followers
July 3, 2018
Lagoon is an afrofuturist first-contact novel set in Lagos, Nigeria, and it's as beautiful as it is messy.

Lagoon began as a response to the film District 9, in which Nigerians are heavily stereotyped. This novel, with its constant PoV switches, portrays a multifaceted, dynamic society without shying away from the negative aspects: Lagos is a multicultural city and the aliens chose it for its potential, but it's also a place of corruption, bigotry, religious fundamentalism and scammers.
It is, more than anything, a place of change. The aliens chose three people - marine biologist Adaora, soldier Agu and Ghanaian rapper Anthony - to bring change to Lagos. Ayodele is the first alien they meet, and her arrival will send Lagos into chaos, and the city will be reborn. Lagoon's Lagos is a place where aliens walk side-by-side with humans with superpowers, figures from Igbo and Yoruba mythology, and ordinary people.
Nnedi Okorafor tried to represent as many aspects of Lagos' people as she could. The result is a messy novel in which every character is a stereotype, and while the overall narrative stands out for its originality and message, the single parts do not.

First of all, some of the many (too many) characters we follow are a disabled* boy who exists only to get killed, a sex worker who dies, and a cross-dressing man who exists just to get outed and shot by homophobic people (I didn't understand if he died, it was a confusing scene, but we never see him again...). It's not even fridging, because it doesn't advance the story at all - it was completely unnecessary.

Also, the constant PoV switching got tiring very quickly. Not only every chapter was in a different perspective, sometimes the PoV changed from one paragraph to the other. It was confusing to read. In a way, it made sense because it's the story of a city, not of some of the people who live in it, but for me it didn't work.
I read the Italian translated edition. It wasn't one of the best translations I've ever read, but at least the fact that some characters were talking Nigerian pidgin wasn't always lost (which is usually what happens, because it's difficult to translate an idiom without losing that it is one).

The sci-fi and magical aspects of this story were my favorite parts, with creepy descriptions of marine horror (I love horror sea creatures), mythology references near to pop culture ones, and the future and the past mixing together.
It's a book about the web of stories and the place Lagos has in it. The modern web - the internet - keeps the world together, and stories thrive in a society that has never been so connected.

Lagoon is a very fascinating, ambitious novel, but some parts of it were deeply flawed. It's the kind of book in which the whole was more than the sum of its parts, because if I were to judge the scenes themselves and not the way in which they are connected, and their meaning in relation to the others, I would have given this a much lower rating - there were two, maybe three scenes in the whole book that I actually liked, but I ended up liking the book.

* He is described as "mute and mentally handicapped". "Mentally handicapped" is already - as far as I know - not the nicest way to say in English that the boy has some mental disability, and it was translated with the Italian word for "retarded". Yay ableism?
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,275 reviews228 followers
November 28, 2015
This book is hard to describe. It's an alien invasion novel, sure. But the world being invaded is Lagos, a city of 8 million people in Nigeria, which is a different sort of setting for this type of story. And this author's conception of it is steeped in something akin to a cross between magic realism and a superhero story.

Three individuals, a Nigerian marine biologist and mother, a Nigerian soldier and a Ghanian music star meet at the same time as the first huge sonic boom from the alien space craft is felt on Bar Beach, Lagos and are enveloped and dragged into the water to be brought to the aliens. When they return with the alien's ambassador things start to tip towards the crazy almost right away. The various tightly-balanced components of the city all react leading to riots and fighting that only gets worse as more aliens arrive.

The aliens are one thing in this story, but the place that they're invading has weirdness of it's own, from individuals that appear to have superheroic powers (or maybe they're just witches in the Nigerian parlance), to actual African gods and genii loci. All of these with mundane response from the corrupt local religions to the government and army.

I loved this. The book is saturated with ideas and brilliant plot points where the aliens even say that they bring change, and do exactly as they say. Where it falls down is towards the end, where the wrap-up seemed weak. I didn't think it mattered that much as the journey was well worth it, although the mix of super-science magic and actual traditional gods is a strange one that not everyone is going to love.

Wonderfully imaginative and probably Okorafor's best one yet IMO.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 110 books754 followers
February 18, 2015
I enjoyed a number of things about this first contact novel. Multiple perspectives don't always work for me, but here they added to the feeling that the city of Lagos is the main character. The overlapping structure, in which we see the same event from multiple viewpoints, was very effective. I loved being in the perspective of a swordfish, a bat, a road, a spider-storyteller. The monsters are great. I liked that Okorafor let characters speak pidgin English when that was accurate to the characters, untranslated and unitalicized, and I loved the range of characters we were shown. This was their story, theirs to tell in their own voices.
I'm not sure why the main four characters all had names that began with A. That got a little messy for me at times. I also had an issue with how a couple of characters were portrayed. I'm not a huge fan of "blam!" type onomatopoeia either, but the note that this originated as a screenplay may excuse some of that.
Anyway, other than that, I dug it.
Profile Image for Rick Berry.
6 reviews3 followers
September 10, 2023
An alien 'invasion' story that's very different to any other I've read. Very much focused on the culture of Lagos, Nigeria, at least as much as it is on the aliens themselves, which is really interesting. Just as you want a great alien novel to do - shine a light on aspects of humanity as they face this unique challenge. The novel does it brilliantly.
Profile Image for L.S. Popovich.
Author 2 books342 followers
December 29, 2019
This book is loud. I do not mean that as a bad thing. A lot of books are not quiet. A book full of voices need not be silent.

This reminded me in some ways of Black Leopard, Red Wolf. This has a similar aura, but a different tone. (Those 2 things are different in my mind). It takes place in Nigeria, where an extraterrestrial entity has appeared. What follows is an unconventional series of events, some political, some reminiscent of family sagas replete with religious symbolism. I found the shifts in perspective distracting, but this seems to be the trend today for a lot of literary fantasy, or fantasy with an edge, which this is, I think. The author is clearly talented, and the dialects were uncannily done in the audiobook version, which made for a steep learning curve as far as the characters were concerned. Yet, the setting and ideas to back up the genre elements were worth including, frequently surprising and creative, even if they make use of tried and true descriptions. It was cinematic and enthralling, when it wasn't overly engrossed in its own action set pieces.

There are a lot of conflicts and much emotion to be found in this book, both positive and negative. There is plentiful food for thought as regards human significance and the progress of science versus the destruction of ecosystems. The setting made for an unsettling, and exotic experience, though I found that the whole left me cold and slightly confused. Set against the human terror and violence, the science fiction/ fantasy/ magical elements seemed almost inconsequential in places. The author has worked in genres before, but I am not very familiar with her work. This was an ambitious and personal endeavor, and an admirable novel in many respects, but it takes a certain palate to appreciate the stark social commentary, blunt brutality and strained metaphors.

Nonetheless, if you are intrigued by African folklore, and anything else described in this review, certainly give it a try.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,015 followers
February 1, 2016
Received to review via Bookbridgr

I’ve been meaning to pick Lagoon up ‘next’ for far too long, so hurrah, finally I have done so! I picked it up partway through New Year’s Eve, in fact, and finished it in one go: it’s a very lively, dynamic book, with various different points of view — including a swordfish who turns herself into a monster, the better to sabotage oil pipes on the sea bed. (It makes sense in context, I promise.) There’s a whole bunch of different people, people speaking Pidgin, LGBT people, a woman who is a marine biologist, people of all kinds of beliefs and none… and aliens, making first contact, for the first time, in Nigeria.

It’s an almost unique setting for a fairly common SF trope, in my experience: normally, like the big blockbuster movies, the aliens go to the President of the US, and don’t stop to wonder about the leader of Nigeria. And it brings in all kinds of elements that would be out of place in a USian setting: folklore and legends, witchy powers, superstitions about those (which aren’t gone in the “Western world”, but are different). All of this make it something fresh and different.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work for me — a bit too jumpy, a bit too chaotic, and perhaps I missed some key transitions or something, because I wasn’t always sure why one thing led to another — I described the narrative as ‘hopping’ when trying to talk about it to a friend. A slightly different storytelling style than I’m used to, perhaps. And I felt that some threads were just dropped: Ijele, for example, and the LGBT+ group who had a couple of chapters but then fizzled into nothing. (Which is especially bothersome to me when they’re used to ratchet up tension, and they’re actually in danger, and then the narration just… loses interest? Not cool.)

Lagoon is an interesting one, anyway, even though it’s not quite my thing.

Originally posted here.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,605 followers
February 6, 2017
Fascinating if flawed. Bursting with invention and vividly written, with exuberant language fun. I found the story itself a bit inconclusive, as I did Binti, and I wonder if that's the author not having got a grip on her plotting or me not getting what she's actually up to, because in both cases I felt the book was more interested in the journey than the ending. Maybe that's the point, that any series of events are part of a flow and the beginning and end points are always going to be arbitrary.

Or not. Remains an immersive, compelling read, even if I think it might have benefited from more structure.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,423 reviews246 followers
January 4, 2015
Three strangers on a beach; a marine biologist, a famous rapper and a soldier. Each has their own troubles but their world is about to change. A sonic boom hits the surface of the lagoon in Lagos and a wave swallows them up.

The narrative follows a collection of Nigerians in the wake of a life-changing event. Told mostly in third person, it occasionally veers into first person accounts from otherwise unknown characters. We hear the thoughts of the poorest to the most privileged, painting a picture of the political landscape against which first contact occurs. Let’s face it, there’s no reason why aliens would always pick America to announce themselves to. It’s refreshing to read science fiction interwoven with different cultures.

My favourite parts must be the few chapters told from the perspectives of some of Lagos’ creatures; a tarantula on a busy highway, a bat who is unfortunate enough to fly into the path of an aeroplane and not-forgetting the spider of folklore, who sits under the earth spinning tales. There are a few bits told from within the lagoon, but less than I was expecting, overall it wasn’t watery at all.

Lagoon doesn’t portray a particularly positive view of modern Nigeria; there are the 419 scammers that we’re probably all aware of, Area Boys who prowl the streets looking for trouble and plenty of abuse towards women. As the news of the aliens spreads, the characters show both the bad and the good that can come from a situation, but overall there is a sense of opportunism. Everyone’s looking out for themselves. Given an amazing event, humanity does not provide a very good impression.

I struggled to decipher the Pidgin English that was spoken by some of the characters. There is a glossary at the back which might be worthwhile reading first (of course, I didn’t think to look). I did get the gist of what they were saying at least but it probably detracted a bit from my enjoyment.

The ending lacked a little impact; it just sort of tailed off. However, I liked the point that stories kept being spun, that this is the start of something, not the end.
Profile Image for Joel.
638 reviews233 followers
February 19, 2016

It's certainly a relevant point to say that the SFF genre, as a whole, has a need for some diversity. We have no problem believing, accepting, and creating fanciful alternative worlds, continents, planets, the works - however, we always seem to create these in an caucasian-centric, Western-style world. Sure, Westeros, Elan, or any of the other magical worlds we know and love are interesting, unique, even extremely creative. But at the end of the day, they're still Western worlds, with Western people and cultures.

Which is all well and good, most of the time. It's tried and true, it's popular and it's worked, and us white folk are plenty comfortable with it, because it's what we know. However, at this point in time, it seems like we should be able to diversify a bit, and appreciate other cultures, appreciate their lore and customs, and appreciate the people and places that exist outside of our western world. And it stands to reason that we should be able to come up with some creative, non-anglo worlds, does it not?

One would think.

However, the unfortunate truth in my reading world is that many of these are not successful. I adore the idea of an African, Asian, or Middle-Eastern set and fashioned fantasy. There's a huge pile of untapped lore, culture, settings and styles that are waiting to be tapped and used in this genre of literature, and interesting and compelling novels are desperately needed in these areas. Some novels have come out in these settings that have been successful in my eyes - Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings was wonderful. Guy Gavriel Kay's River of Stars and Under Heaven are great, albeit not heavy on the culture of the area. Unfortunately, I've had qualms with many of the other books in Eastern/African settings - books such as Throne of the Crescent Moon, The Black God's War, or The Emperor's Knife offered a glimpse of greatness, the possibilities of these settings, but just did not *click* for me, did not put all the pieces together.

Alas, Lagoon again was full of potential - Nnedi Okorafor is someone who I've read about quite a bit, read samples of some of her work, and find her to be an interesting and cool person. She's the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, a scholar in many writing-related fields, and has won many awards for her work. Naturally, I had very high hopes coming into Lagoon, and hoped it would be a successful African culture fantasy that would help springboard me into more similar works. However, it didn't quite hit that mark for me.

The plot of Lagoon centers around 3 main characters, as well as a handful of ancillary characters, of varying levels of interest. They happen to be at the same place at the same time, when mysterious aliens land outside the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Much of the book is spent introducing these aliens, and trying to complete their request of getting them to the Nigerian president. This is essentially the crux of the entire story.

It sounds interesting in theory, but unfortunately, the 'in theory' is the extent of it. Lagoon is a relatively short novel, however it attempts to wedge a lot into those pages. I say "attempts" simply because it's just not successful in this venture. So many cultural commentary pieces, human rights, political and religious corruption, human nature and a plethora of other social and ecological issues are introduced, but very few play a significant enough part, and it sometimes feels like ideas are brought up just so they are present in the book, without serving much purpose.

The biggest downfall of the book are the directional and writing decisions. Several characters are introduced into the story, but end up serving very little purpose - some of these even get POV-type chapters, but just fizzle out and get no resolution. Certain aspects are pushed and repeated over and over, in a very hamfisted manner - the most obvious of these are the anti-Christian sentiment. The Christian characters are presented as one-dimensionally misguided, the 'father' is presented as completely corrupt, going as far as to introduce him by "walking between his BMW and his Mercedes". I'm no fan of Christianity or religions as a whole, but they're presented in a very black-and-white manner in this novel.

So many of the plot pieces get explained very little, or explored very little. The aliens are omnipresent, but are explored almost not-at-all, and very little is filled in on them. There's a sentient road that eat bones, which people talk about constantly and there are seemingly whole chapters devoted to, yet nothing becomes of it and the plot line for that just ends. This is a repeat problem throughout the book with many of the threads that are started.

The writing itself is alright at points, but I had a lot of qualms with it. Nnedi seems obsessed with mentioning brand names at every turn, and it often comes across as extremely awkward. I don't know how many times "Youtube" was used, but it was a lot. People didn't pull out their cell phones, they pulled out Blackberries. I cringed at one point when "flat-screen high definition television" was used - how is all of that relevant? What did you gain by not just saying "television" there? It felt as though there was constant pop culture references, as if a desperate attempt to say "look at how relevant the book is! Look at all this pop culture!". It just came across to me as awkward. Also, apparently Drake is a "shitty, whiny rapper" - just in case you were wondering.

Some of the idiosyncrasies got a bit old as well. I seriously lost track of the number of times people sucked their teeth - I swear, probably 50+ in the book? It happened over and over and over, and after a while it was downright nails-on-chalkboard style for me. I cringed every time another person sucked their teeth, including one towards the end where a woman did it 3 times in one paragraph. I don't know if this is an African culture thing, or just a weird writing quirk, but it was infuriating after a while.

The repetition bled over into the prose as well - often character names would be repeated over and over and over in a short period of time, yet other time gender pronouns were used instead, over and over, making certain conversations very confusing. Characters would repeat dialogue phrases numerous times, whether externally or internally, and it became a bit grating, and left a lot of feelings of deja vu - I even went back and reread a portion because I thought I'd already read it.

The ideas and setting for this book are interesting, and really could be promising for future works. However, the execution was lacking on the writing and organizational side, as well as the editing front. This book either needed to be much longer, or needed to have a lot of pieces removed that did not fit with the rest of the story, or did not serve a long-term purpose. Lagoon was a novel with plenty going for it, but it just could not get it's act together enough to make it into a good book for me. Nnedi is still a fascinating author and person to me, and I've heard good things about some of her shorts, so I'm not going to write her off. However, I do have trouble recommending Lagoon to others.

Rating: 2 / 5
Profile Image for Athena.
240 reviews41 followers
March 1, 2016
I was thrilled to find a science-fiction-with-some-fantasy book about a first contact in Africa featuring, gasp, actual black African characters! About damn time, said someone (well, me). Living in a western culture, of course most of what has been available for me to read has a western cultural bias but since it's the 21st century now publishers really need to start broadening their author lists: English is commonly spoken in many non-western countries - well done, Hodder & Stoughton!

Ok, end publishing rant. I enjoyed Lagoon and learnt a bit more about Lagos but it never completely gelled for me. Okorafor tried to tackle practically every aspect of Lagos society in one volume and it turned into little snatches of this and that, most of which never went anywhere.

The concept of the aliens was interesting and I liked that not Every Little Detail about them was explained but they seem to be present only for catalyst effect for the stories of the humans rather than as content for First Contact. The attempt to link the alien arrival with the geo-mythology(?) of Lagos needs better integration, and the aliens' seeming ability to manipulate human lives before their actual arrival (the three main characters' life stories and their being drawn to the beach at the same time) was a contrivance that needed more realization in the finale. At the end I was left wondering 'Why' which is not the best ending of a stand-alone novel.

Okorafor uses Lagos pidgin-English frequently in the book and provides a glossary at the back which I'd've appreciated more if it had been placed before the text. The pidgin gave an effective feel to the book but it was very confusing in places. Is someone saying 'winch' for 'witch' because they're crazy, or uneducated, or is it just the way folks talk? By the end of the book I'd settled into the cadence of the language but there were places where a little bit of explanation would have given better context to a situation. In early spots I skipped chunks of large pidgin dialog just because I wasn't quite sure what they were saying so I jumped ahead to what they did to find out what they'd been talking about … making the whole dialog section irrelevant.

We're presented with the aliens as wiser-than-we but their described actions, while interesting, are just as damaging as the human behaviors that have so trashed our world. The aliens facilitate the longings of sea creatures to change their forms which would destroy the ocean's balance every bit as much as does human-created pollution (anti-pollution is one of the book's several messages). A giant swordfish eats far more of its food fish to survive than it would in its original body-form, causing less food availability for others of its species meaning fewer swordfish survive to maturity which ultimately causes lack of genetic diversity. Or it predates on something completely different and negatively impacts that population and whatever had been predating on it.

Such species-tinkering makes no sense from the benevolent-alien viewpoint. Star Trek may have been clunky SF but its non-interference Prime Directive absolutely works: planetary life systems have evolved to live in a precise balance and unless one is capable of understanding the entirety of a planetary balance, mucking about with planetary systems is a Bad Idea (i.e., human-caused species extinction, global climate change, etc.). Unless the aliens were ultimately wanting to take over the Earth? I don't think that's where she was going with this story but maybe it was. Or not? It doesn't gel.

Taken in total I'm glad I read Lagoon but it felt like the SF aspect was a contrivance to further the author's many varied social messages and the book ultimately couldn't decide what it wanted to be. A giant swordfish, maybe? ;)
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