Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon - Nnedi Okorafor
Aliens have arrived in the waters of Lagos and sent their ambassador to contact a few special, gifted humans to carry their message of peace and inhabitation to the national government. They have remarkable abilities, but also goodwill – which they share with the inhabitants of the planet
Whether they are human or not. And some of those inhabitants have no reason to love humanity
But no matter how peaceful the message, it still shakes the people of Lagos. People react to this amazing revelation – and chaos soon follows as disparate groups clash, people react in fear and anger and others seek to understand the implications. And other still seek what they can get as order begins to crumble…
Where to begin with this book? It’s almost impossible because while there is one person I would say is the protagonist, Adaora, we also have a huge number of other characters, some of which are almost as prominent whose eyes we also see through. We get the few days of the alien arrival through dozens of different viewpoints – some of them not even human. Each of which has a new take, a new opinion and a new reaction to the amazing things around them
The different viewpoints bring a lot of fascinating takes to the reactions to the aliens – as we see different people interpret the major events differently, see it through their own lenses and react with curiosity or fear or greed or hope or awe. Each reaction within is shaped differently and even people coming from a similar viewpoint – for example, religious people – react differently despite their apparent surface agreement. People from the same family can be divided by fear, greed or hope.

I’m particularly amused by the man who ends up inviting a much hated alien to dinner and hosting him because no matter his opinions are he has good manners.
I think the reactions are so very real – which means this book full of aliens and wonders has a powerful sense of reality to it. Do we think people would be rational when faced with the presence of aliens? Do we think people would be irrational in the same way? Too often we tend to see stories that divide the population into the fearful/haters and the compassionate/realists. But it’s shows humanity in all its messy glory – people terrified of the aliens and thinking they’re a threat. People curious and desperate. People are looking for an advantage, some way to cash in. Some people are in utter denial and determined to continue their lives. Some people are terrified and think it’s the wrath of god. Some people think it’s a sign of god – and all of them meet together in one giant mess.

And, of course, there are people willing to capitalise on the chaos as well as people trying to bring some reason back to the whole mess. In between that we have chaos creating more chaos because panicking people just don’t make sense – not even close. I particularly liked both government officials not being entirely corrupt and useless (as is common in panic situations so the protagonists can save the day) and normal people stepping forward and being incredible heroes – even if they aren’t the protagonist.


This all works to explain the chaos. I mean, you could read a book and hear “aliens arrive and people started rioting” and scoff at how little sense it makes. Why would people riot? Why would people break things? What would that achieve? How could that happen?! But when you’re in their heads, in the heads of several people reacting with fear and panic and anger and greed, you can see it. All of the dramatic events of the book make sense because we’re not just seeing them all through Adaora‘s eyes as she tries to navigate them. We’re seeing them through the instigators, through other victims’, through bystanders and witnesses and people plotting all kinds of different results. The split viewpoint adds context and clarity and, again, realness to a plot that may have been shaky without it.