Noor by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a short (211 pages) novel of what the author calls "africanfuturism," set entirely in Africa (or in this case, northern Nigeria), dealing with African futures, characters and concerns. Even the big baddie "Ultimate Corp," which sounds like an unholy merger of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, is not mentioned as originating from any Western country but rather is this amorphous tyrannical mass seemingly bent on ruling the entire world. Which makes its defeat at the end temporary at best. Still, it's nice seeing the protagonist stand up for herself and her people, even though I suspect that after the lights went out in the "several big cities in a country far far away," they not only came back on but the protagonist was hunted down and captured by the corporation for what she can do.
This is a depressing thought, but don't let it stop you from reading this book. AO, standing for "Autobionic Organism," is a cyborg, or augmented human, in a future Africa. She was born with deformed legs and a stump for an arm, and ended up receiving three artificial limbs courtesy of the selfsame Ultimate Corp. (Which sounded suspicious on its face, and my suspicions were justified when we learn that AO and her birth defects are a product of the Ultimate Corp's genetic meddling with olives her mother ate during pregnancy.) As the book opens, she is attacked by people in her village who fear and hate augmented humans, and while defending herself she kills five people. She then flees into the northern Nigerian desert, and runs across the second major character in the story, DNA (his initials, which make for an ironic match). DNA is a Fulani herdsman just coming from his own massacre, where his people and cattle were slain as revenge for supposed "herdsmen" who killed six people in another village.
Of course, all this is part of a plan orchestrated by the Ultimate Corp to kill off the final Fulani herdsmen and take their land. But AO and DNA don't discover this until they flee to the Red Eye, which is the most interesting part of the story: a deadly sandstorm, miles across, that stays in one place, with winds strong enough to kill and strip flesh from bones. But at the very heart of this sandstorm, protected by dome-producing tech that creates a gigantic forcefield, is the city the Hour Glass, where AO and DNA end up and plot to take the Ultimate Corp down, or at least expose what they have done.
Which AO ultimately succeeds in doing, because the new brain implants she just received at the start of the story evolve with her already mutated DNA and make her capable of controlling the Ultimate Corp's computers and internet with her mind. She ends up shutting down all the Noors, the giant artificial fans that whir in the desert to generate energy (and are the source of the winds powering the Red Eye), which leads to the aforementioned power going out at the book's end.
AO is an appealing character with her insistence on everyone accepting her as she is, augments and all. Her romance with DNA feels a bit forced, as the events in this book take place over the span of only a few days. The whole book feels a bit thin, like it could have, and should have, been fleshed out a bit more. Still, these are minor quibbles. This is an absorbing story.
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