Airplane reading #1: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

I recently spent a lot of time on airplanes without an Internet connection -- a perfect time to catch up on some reading. First up: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor.

Somebody recommended this to me but I don't now remember who. I'm very glad to have been exposed to speculative fiction from a culture not my own. (This will be a continuing, though unplanned, theme; book #2 was The Three-Body Problem.)

The story is set in Lagos, Nigeria (the author's home country). Aliens have just landed in the nearby ocean and they bring change. These aliens feel alien; they are not just humans in different skin or with different appendages like aliens sometimes are in fiction. Their motives and methods are mysterious, and I'm still not sure if they're good guys, bad guys, or...something else. I like the ambiguity.

To this American reader, Lagos feels a little alien too, and the author does a good job of conveying the feel of the city.

There are three primary characters, and a whole bunch of others, some major and many minor. The three have been chosen by the aliens for, well, something. They're an unlikely group -- a marine biologist, a soldier, and a rap singer -- who don't know each other at the start. Over the course of the book we learn their individual stories.

The storytelling jumps around, showing us vignettes involving different characters whose stories, naturally, will come to intersect. And they're not all human (or alien); the point-of-view character in the opening scene is a swordfish, and there are others later. A bat that seems to be a throw-away detail in an early scene shows up later; it's all connected. We see characters grow, change, scheme, and sometimes fall apart.

In reading the book I was challenged by one thing: the author sometimes writes characters speaking Pidgin English, and I came away from those scenes thinking I had the gist of it but hadn't gotten everything. It was also a reminder that the rest of the time these characters weren't speaking English at all, but of course the book is in English. Having the dialogue that, in the story, is the closest to English be, in written form, the farthest from English took some getting used to. I didn't notice until I got to the end of the book that there was a glossary in the back.

I enjoyed getting to know the people and the world of Lagoon.