Tendeléo’s Story • 2000 • First contact novella by Ian McDonald

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis: The Chaga, an alien lifeform spreads out on the Southern hemisphere, eat up the native flora and fauna and turn it into a completely different landscape. Each day, it moves forward 50 meters. and nothing can stop the alien nanorobots. What sounds like a Cthulhu horror story can be a chance for people who try to live within that changed land. But the UN try to contain it or at least keep it from contaminating everything else. 

As the title describes, the story follows the coming-of-age of African girl Tendeléo, the oldest daughter of a Catholic pastor, born in 1995. It starts as a refugee story when her village is overflown by the Chaga. She has to move to Nairobi and works there as a criminal transporter of Chaga samples for interested Western people. Nairobi is the first large city which is threatened by Chaga, and at some time the UN have to give it up. Tendeléo flees to Europe.

A love story evolves until the time when officials discover that Tendeléo is contaminated: her wounds heal rapidly, her body is changed, and she evolved an additional brain dedicated to interacting with the Chaga. She gets deported back to Africa. After half a year, her lover starts to search her in the chaos of refugee camps. 

Review: This is the second Chaga story I’ve read after Recording Angel. There are two novels from the 1990s, Chaga and Kirinya, in the same series, but I don’t plan to read them any time soon. The author has left the Chaga setting, moved on via India 2047 in the aughts (e.g. the great novella The Little Goddess) to the recent Luna series. 

Chaga is an Afrofuturism series, a subgenre which was very popular in the late 1990s and has been reawakened just recently. Many of the works featured white people, but Tendeléo brings a native point of view. She is a difficult protagonist, not an easy, shining hero, but a refugee turning criminal turning resourceful fighter. 

It’s highly interesting what this story did to me as a reader, because it is so very different from our usual protagonists and topics. That a scaring, off-putting faceless alien lifeform can bring chances. That people have to change from a good pastor’s daughter to a criminal shoving probes into herself. The desolation of UN leaving Africa for itself. This all is mostly a depressing view and I still have to digest it. 

I took it as a challenging read, provoking more questions than providing guidelines in its answers. I couldn’t take such an unwieldy read each and every day, but for now I really liked it as a liberating read bringing forth African voices and interests. 

Meta: isfdb. It won the Sturgeon Award. I’ve read it in Dozois’s The Best of the Best Volume 2.

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3 Responses to Tendeléo’s Story • 2000 • First contact novella by Ian McDonald

  1. pdtillman says:

    I liked the Chaga stories, this one the most of all. Let’s see if I kept notes…..
    Heh. My Memory is backwards, This one got just a weak 3 stars from me, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1707781616
    “Last story in Dozois Years Best #18, 2001 — which means he thought it one of the two strongest among his selections. Doubt I’ll ever reread it.

    By contrast, I gave “Evolution’s Shore”(Chaga #1) , the novel 4 stars but kept no notes Fixup? I think so.
    Kat Hooper’s rev is a good memory-aid: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1012551774
    I actually have quite vivid memories of reading this, despite reading it just once, and close to when new. Read in mid-96, per old booklog. Won the 95 Locus Best Novel award, it says there.
    ISFDB listing http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?12711
    “Chaga” got various awnoms but no wins. Lovely cover art!

    Liked by 1 person

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