June 23, 2024

Review: Lost Ark Dreaming

Lost Ark Dreaming Lost Ark Dreaming by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a lot to this 175-page novella, with enough ideas for a book twice its length. It starts out with a science-fiction, post-climate-change edge: our setting is in Nigeria, near the drowned capital city of Lagos several decades after catastrophic sea level rise. Our three protaganists, Yekini, Tuoyo, and Ngozi, live in the Pinnacle, the last surviving tower in a five-tower complex called the Fingers, constructed on an artificial island out at sea. These are, or were, five self-sustaining towers capable of holding thousands of people. But in the decades since the sea overran Lagos, the other four towers have either collapsed or fallen into disuse (which would make me real nervous about living in the Pinnacle, since it's the tallest) and the population of the Pinnacle has divided into Lowers, Midders and Uppers, along rigid class lines--with the Lowers living in the bottom thirty-three stories below sea level.

There have been other changes to the world as well: this story has a tight focus on Nigeria and the Fingers, so we never find out, for instance, the effects of climate change on the rest of the world. But the Second Deluge, as it's called, has seemingly awakened some things. Old gods, perhaps? Or humans showing rapid evolutionary changes? In any event, there are other creatures out there called Yemoja's Children, the introduction of whom starts the bleeding of this book into science fantasy, horror and mythology. It's never stated if the Children are humans genetically engineered to have gills and webbed hands and feet to live in the new reality, or some mythological creatures returning to our reality--and in the end, it doesn't matter. Because this is a story of myths come to life, of dreams made flesh, and how either (or both) are used to bring down the oligarchs, the Haves, in the Pinnacle that are killing the Have-Nots. This plot point is quite literal, as the story opens with one of the Children gaining access to a Lower airlock and coming into the tower, and the First Citizen at the very top orders that level flooded, killing countless people, to flush it out.

This story (as mentioned in the Acknowledgments) owes a lot to Snowpiercer, and J. G. Ballard's High-Rise, but it is its own, distinctly African thing. It covers a short amount of time, only about a day all told, but across that roughly twelve-hour period our three protagonists' lives are completely upended and the iron grip of the Pinnacle's ruling class is broken. Or at least I hope that's what happened: the ending is not ambiguous as such, but rather the story simply comes to a halt at that last important turning point. This is kind of an unusual ending, but that's not to say it's bad; it's very emotionally resonant, as it circles around to the beginning and the dream of our main protagonist Yekini that opens the story: the Pinnacle, an ark, and a basket. You really have to read the complete story to get the full effect, but I will say it's masterfully done, and the reader closes the back cover with a good feeling, even if all the plot answers are not there.

This is an excellent little story, just as long as it needs to be, and gives the reader a great deal to think about afterewards. I hadn't read anything by this author before, but he is definitely on my radar now.

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