Synopsis: This very short novel is set in a near-future Nigeria, governed by an overreaching government under the influence of a highly innovative mega-corporation “Ultima Corp” which clearly resembles Amazon, just shying away from naming it.
The narration follows main protagonist AO, short for Anwuli Okwudili or in her own words “Artificial Organism”. AO is a cyborg who was born disabled, later on injured in a car accident, and has now large parts of her body replaced by mechanical parts and enhanced with lots of AI augmentations. Others call her a freak, her own parents don’t like her transformation, but she embraces it all.
When she goes to a local market in Abuja, a couple of men attack her, demonizing her cybernetical implants. Defending herself, she kills them inadvertently and has been on the run since then. She goes completely offline and tries to escape across the deserts of Northern Nigeria.
She teams up with a Fulani herdsname calling himself “DNA” who is wrongfully accused of terrorism but only wants to protect his last two remaining cows. He knows a lot about the devastating huge cyclone called “Red Eye” in the desert where they hope to find a safe haven.
AO develops some superhero forces enabling her to control devices and AIs. Suddenly, her flight doesn’t seem as hopeless as before.
Review: Okorafor is a well-renowned author, always writing about the African continent, the people and the culture there. Africanfuturism is her topic, and I really liked her novella Binti (review) with a follow-up novelette Binti: Sacred Fire (review).
In Noor, she did it again, this time embracing the Cyberpunk subgenre to its fullest. It’s easy to see that mega-corporations like Amazon will go to subvert states by blackmailing them with huge amounts of money. I always thought about the dangers for countries like the U.S. or Western European states, but this novel focuses on Nigeria. Rich with natural resources and projected to become one of the most densely populated countries in the world, it is also bothered by one of the most corrupt governments in the world misusing power and most of the population lives below poverty level. Average life expectancy at just 53 years is one of the lowest in the world. Enough room to project a cyberpunkish near future.
The author ticks off all the Cypberpunk checkbox tropes. Most of them have been featured elsewhere, and maybe better. One is new, and that’s where the author shines and is absolutely worth reading: the combination with Africanfuturism.
The novel started slow with several interleaving stories-within-stories exposing the setting. I didn’t buy into the technological projections like wireless energy transfer over large distances or the superhuman interactions with those AIs. They gave the novel a touch of Fantasy, so don’t expect Hard SF here. Similarly, the Red Eye cyclone is more a fairy tale than dystopian CliFi. We have to give the author a lot of room to draw her setting.
Then, the action starts off and speeds up to a feverish pace.
I didn’t like the main protagonist much. Her tendency to suicide put me off, as did some other of her (non-) reactions. Add to that many wooden dialogs and sometimes confusing narrative structure.
In the end, it was a lukewarm reading experience. I liked parts of the setting a lot, but the author failed to reach me with a lot of unbelievable elements which felt too artificially constructed.
Meta: isbn 9780756416096. Published at 16.11.2021 by DAW.