Nnedi Okorafor

This feel-good article got me thinking we could use a thread on her.

For those not in the know, Okorafor is a pretty fascinating writer. More than any other major sf/fantasy author, she’s been creating a fantasy vision that centralizes African culture and mythology in the same way that Tolkien and Rowling centralize British mythology. Her books abound with fetishes (not the sexual kind, the magic kind), secret societies with criminal underpinnings, female genital mutilations, spicy foods, tribal conflicts–as well as Americans who move to Nigeria, local rap stars, spaceships, and an apocalypse or two.

I’ll be honest, her prose style is sometimes off-putting to me. She likes the word “screech” way more than I do, and things sometimes read clunky to me. But her ideas are so vivid and delightful (or horrifying, or both), and her vision is so new to me; I eat up everything I find by her.

The fact that her novel “Who Fears Death” is gonna become HBO’s next big thing is thrilling to me. And Martin’s escorting her to the Emmys is the coolest thing I’ve heard about GRRM in yonks.

Are there other Okorafor fans out there?

I met her very briefly after she did a reading from Lagoon, which I was pretty impressed with. Her best known work seems to be the Binti trilogy but they’re very short and quite pricey, so i’m hoping there’s an omnibus edition sometime…

A couple of other interesting sf&f authors from Africa I’ve liked novels by are Nicky Drayden and Gavin Chait.

Interesting. With which of her books should I start?

You want her best work, even though it’s grim as hell? Who Fears Death.

You want some lighter stuff, YA stuff that in my headcanon is in the same universe as Hogwarts? Akata Witch and its sequels. (This is where I noticed the word “screech” showing up constantly).

You want some quick spacefaring novellas? Binti and its sequels.

But I definitely recommend Who Fears Death if you’re willing to take on a very unhappy book.

I’ll have to check out Gavin Chait. And I’m pretty sure i have Drayden’s Temper on my library pile at home, checked out on a whim; I’ll move it to the top of the pile!

I’ve only read Binti, thought it was fantastic! I really enjoyed the different African-culture-based feel - organic ships and whatnot - from other Western sci-fi. I should read the rest of that short story series.

I also discovered that I have bought Who Fears Death on my Kindle. About a year ago. I really should move it closer to the top of my list.

Deji Bryce Olukotun is another author worth checking out for African-centric sf. Nigerians in Space is more thriller and pretty light on any sf, while After the Flare touches on sf a little more.

Like Nnedi Okorafor, his writing is more than just making the setting Africa. It’s his prose, character development, motivations, and cultural touchpoints.

She has interesting ideas that keep me reading, but her plotting is weak and the characters seem pretty similar. I’ve read the Binti trilogy and Lagoon. My basic response to Lagoon was that it had enough content for a short story but as a novel had a lot of episodic sections that didn’t move the plot along or develop the characters.

Interesting. I haven’t thought her characters were especially similar (any more than, say, Scalzi’s are), and her plots have been fine for me. But I agree she’s an uneven writer–just disagree on what makes her uneven :). Prose, the area that I’ve not liked for her, is an area where authors can improve over time, and even here it might just be a matter of taste.

But I definitely agree that her ideas are good enough to make up for whatever flaws she has.

Sorry, but grimdark isn’t my thing. I was into space opera the best part of 40 years ago, so I might give Binti a look.

Yeah, fair enough. I want to distinguish, though, between “violence is terrible” and “violence is METAL” grimdark fantasy, Okorafor is much closer to the former: she’ explores pretty terrible aspects of society without shying away from how awful they are.

But definitely not for all tastes.

Well, Scalzi’s no stylist, either. But his plots don’t meander the way hers do. Mind, I’ll read all of her books, I just think her ideas are her best feature. Lagoon as an audiobook was fun enough.

I’ve just started reading Binti and I’m not impressed. She screams Mary Sue. She’s a maths genius who alone of her people sets forth. She owns the macguffin that saves her while almost everyone else dies. She can talk to the Meduse. And her red clay just happens to be a magic cure for the Meduse.


Does it get better?

I didn’t get Mary Sue from it, but I guess I can see where you’re getting that from. The Binti series is probably my least favorite of her works–I think it works best taken more mythologically than as hard SF.