review of Nnedi Okarafor's novel Lagoon

The back cover asks:

When aliens land, what will I do?

I'll tell you what I wouldn't do: instantly turn into a reckless, violent maniac. But that's what most people in this story do. Within hours of the aliens revealing themselves, a pastor is trying to manipulate them, scammers are trying to kidnap them, the military is trying to murder them, and rioters are burning down the city in fear of them. It makes no sense, even from a basic self-preservation point of view. Shouldn't you at least try to learn a little about the mysterious extraterrestrial shapeshifter before you make it angry? Wouldn't you worry that maybe, just maybe, the power imbalance between you and the being that can traverse interstellar space and rearrange itself on a molecular level might not be in your favor?

So the human behavior in the story may have some plausibility issues. There's at least one contributing factor that's depressingly believable though: paranoia induced by rigid religious beliefs. In an interview included at the end of the book, Okorafor makes some interesting comments on religion:

There's a "witch slapping" scene in Lagoon. Are there self-proclaimed holy men slapping the so-called witchcraft out of women? Yes. See for yourself at:

(That link unexpectedly goes to a (cool) music video by Azizaa Mystic. But I'm guessing the scene in the book was inspired by what happened in this video purportedly showing someone called Bishop Oyedepo slapping a woman; as in the book, the woman calls herself a "witch for Jesus" and the pastor calls her a "foul devil".)

She continues:

Witch slapping is just one symptom of the strong strain of Christian fundamentalism running through Nigeria's veins. Such things can be found all over the world, you say? True. However, what worries me about the particular strain that's been running through Nigeria in recent years is not that it's teaching people extreme and bizarre forms of Christianity. It is that it's teaching Nigerians to hate their own indigenous traditions, spiritualties [sic], and religions. It's one thing to move past what was there before; it happens. ... it's another thing entirely to move past what was before because of a nasty form of hatred of one's self in the guise of religion, brought or imported by outsiders and foisted upon people who are simply looking for God.

The interview also explains the focus on roads, an element of the story that was particularly strange to me:

The roads of Nigeria are unsafe, often scary, and in poor shape in far too many parts of the country. They're monstrous and they've swallowed many lives. I'm not going to lie; I have seen terrible things on Nigeria's roads. I've seen death there multiple times.

Overall, the novel is entertaining but has less of a payoff than I was hoping for, and I didn't love the surprise genre-mixing halfway through. I do really like one aspect of the ending—the alien Ayodele declaring "You people need help on the outside but also within," and dispersing herself into everyone's mind—but I wish there had been more character development for her beforehand.

One notable thing about the book is its frequent use of pidgin English. If, like me, you're too lazy to google every unfamiliar term, and too oblivious to notice the very helpful glossary in the back until it's too late, you may sometimes find the dialogue hard to understand. The most confusing bit is that "na" means something like yes, not no.

There's one term in the glossary that might be worth importing into standard English vocabulary worldwide:

Kata kata (Pidgin English)—trouble of the sort that only the poor experience