- The Good: Fun aliens and progressive politics
- The Bad: Poor plotting and little meaningful to add to an important conversation
- The Literary: Classic scifi conceit of questioning aliens as the other
Pregnant Nigerian-American doctor Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka hasn’t been back to the USA in a long time. She’s been working in Nigeria where alien immigrants (the kind from space) are accepted and welcomed. America, on the other hand, isn’t so welcoming, so when she arrives at Laguardia International and Interstellar Spaceport with a plant-like alien companion named Letme Live, she has to smuggle him through customs into a land of discrimination and xenophobia. And as the birth of her child approaches, her involvement with aliens becomes ever more personal.
This is a series that uses science fiction to speak directly to some of the most serious issues facing our culture today, and it’s not trying to hide it. In the grand tradition of some of the greatest scifi stories, the othering that humans inflict upon one another is transmuted to the othering of literal aliens and explored through that lens. Unfortunately, here the transmutation is somewhat less than clever in its expression. In fact, one of the most important political issues of this fictional future America is the imposition of a travel ban on countries that are friendly to aliens. You know, like the travel ban of real world America? A little on the nose, if you ask me.
Okorafor’s aliens are colorful and fun, and much of the book’s pleasure results from the juxtaposition of all these strange creatures with extremely familiar domestic settings. This is supported by Tana Ford’s colorful and somewhat cartoonish artwork, which wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea, but I have to admit that it works for this story.
But in a book so explicitly concerned with racism, xenophobia, and their political ramifications, my biggest question is how well does it examine and comment on those issues? Here’s where it really falls short. Every single character is on the right side of history and they all spend the majority of the story agreeing with each other about the issues, though they lack sufficient depth to bring any texture or insight in the course of those conversations. And while an America rank with fear and hatred serves as the backdrop to the events of the story (insomuch as there can be said to be a story), it has surprisingly little impact on the plot or actions of any of the principles. Sure, an occasional bigot shows up to say something rude, but they’re invariably incidental to the action. I agree with Okorafor’s desire to confront and combat the disconcerting strain of xenophobia marring our society right now, and that’s why it’s so disappointing that she fails to bring anything fresh or poignant to the conversation.
For all these faults, the read isn’t too much of a slog; the weirdness of the aliens and the vague mystery surrounding Future’s baby and the secret war her friend Letme is running from serve to keep you interested. Recommended for fans of interesting aliens!