In a deceptively slim novel, Olukotun (Nigerians in Space, 2014) orchestrates a complex dystopian story about what happens when a massive solar flare damages electrical systems worldwide and leaves Nigeria with the only functioning space program on the planet.
When the solar flare envelops the Earth, it also cripples the equipment on the International Space Station, stranding one astronaut with limited supplies and setting the station up to eventually fall out of orbit and crash into Mumbai. A few months later, Kwesi Bracket, an American engineer freshly unemployed from NASA, accepts an invitation to join the rescue effort in Nigeria, one of the few places left untouched by the flare and the only country currently capable of building a functioning spaceship. Bracket directs the construction of a massive simulation pool, balancing his duties as a scientist with the need to appease the whims of the charismatic politician who supports the space program and the volatile traders from whom he acquires supplies. He soon finds himself caught in a web of converging threats: political maneuvering, terrorist attacks by Boko Haram, and mysterious powers wielded by a small group of tribal women. Olukotun manages these complex threads of story with a wily grace, weaving them into a surprising and briskly paced plot while also reveling in an abundance of inventive, vivid detail. In this version of Nigeria, a fascination with tribal identity exists alongside new technological devices that bring together animals and computer technology—geckolike phones, a malicious hacking spider—and a complicated monetary system that combines cowrie shells with block chains. It is a place where industrial development flourishes next to nomadic trading people and where both traditional gender roles and fluid explorations of gender and sexuality exist at the same time. The entire novel is spectacularly imagined, well-written, and a pleasure to read.
An absorbing novel that explores a compelling, African-centered future world.