Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon Makes the Alien Seem Familiar

Everybody wants to leave Lagos. But nobody goes, she said. Lagos is in the blood. We run back to Lagos the moment we step out, even though we may have vowed never to come back. Lagos is Lagos. No city like it. Lagos is sweet.

When I think of a first-contact story, I think of a comfortable status quo shattered by the arrival of alien invaders. But when I began reading Okorafor’s Lagoon, there was no comfort zone to violate. The dialects, the backdrops, and the attitudes of the people of Lagos were not an invisible “default” for me, not the American template that Hollywood writers gleefully and predictably invite aliens to devastate. So why did this novel work as well for me, if not better, than a first-contact story set in my home country?

Presentation is everything. From the moment the story emerged from the ...