Remote Control – by Nnedi Okorafor (Review)

Standalone

Scifi, Novella

Tor.com; January 19, 2021

156 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.4 / 5 ✪

For the first five years of her life, Fatima was a sickly, if normal child. Then came the day all that changed.

Sitting in the branches of her family’s shea tree, she watched the sky fall. A meteor shower, one that lit the sky up with a greenish glow. One of these meteors—a “seed”, about the size of a small bird’s egg—happened to fall directly before her tree. When Fatima picked it up, the seed suffused her with it green glow. She put the seed in a wee box she kept in her room, and told it her secrets. And for a time, all was well.

A year later, a man came and took the seed, paying her father a healthy amount for it. Fatima was heartbroken at first, but her father bought her a dress and eventually the heartache faded—the way only can it, in youth.

That is, until the day Fatima forgot her name. The day Death came to call. For when she is struck by a car, the green glow rushes forth to protect her—killing everyone around. Everyone.

Alone and devastated, the young girl searches for answers. Answers only the seed can provide. But it’s gone—taken by the man with the gold shoes and the mysterious LifeGen corporation. And yet… she knows where it is. She can feel it at the edges of her vision, the pulsing green glow, telling her where the seed is. So she sets out to find it, taking only scant possessions from her house—including a new name: taken from the carvings of Sankofa birds her brother once made.

And so Sankofa wanders Ghana in pursuit of the seed. And where she goes, Death comes with her. Thus her legend is born, and her tidings infamous.

“What is wrong with you?” she asked.

“As if you don’t know,” he said over his shoulder. “The Adopted Daughter of Death comes and asks what is trying to kill me. Oh the irony.”

Remote Control is a coming-of-age story, blending science fiction and mystery with the Guinean (West African) culture that permeates it. For example “Sankofa” is a word in Twi that means “to seek” or “to return and fetch”. The corresponding Sankofa bird isn’t a kind of bird at all but instead a symbolic representation of this, an ideal that has evolved over the years to convey the bringing of what is good from the past into the present in order to make some positive contribution. This is used in Remote Control in order to tell a story that focuses on family, feeling, and life.

An illustrated sankofa bird turned around, picking an egg off its back.

Instead of a straightforward A to B plot, the story wanders a bit, moseying around the Ghanian countryside as Sankofa searches not just for the seed, but for meaning as well. While at first I was a bit perplexed by the format, I soon came to love the way the story of Sankofa is told. I laughed, I teared up, and I experienced the full emotional journey I normal expect from a good full-length novel. For although Remote Control is short, it left me feeling anything but disappointed. It tells a complete, intriguing, heart-achingly beautiful story—one I’ll not soon forget.

The only issue I had was with LifeGen. The mysterious, shadow-corporation to is clearly the man behind the man. But what the corporation is, and what it represents? It’s… not really clear. Hell, I’m still not even sure what LifeGen represents. It’s mostly just confusing, and a mystery whose answer remains unfulfilled even after the story ends. I mean, it’s a bit maddening, as the lone frustratingly vague puzzle in an otherwise perfect story.

Oh, and I love the fox, Movenpick. A mostly silent companion for Sankofa, he provided enough reassurance when there was otherwise none, and added more to the story than I would’ve thought a mostly-absent red fox could.

TL;DR

Remote Control details the coming-of-age tale of a girl alone in the world, a girl who’s blessed under the shadow of Death. Her thoughtful, meandering journey around a near-future Ghana provides insights upon life, mysteries worth solving, and way more emotions than I would’ve expected out of a novella. I honestly loved this story, but for one annoying facet—one that continues to confound me with its inclusion. For it’s a tale that leaves a lasting impression; a good one, at least for me. While it took me a couple chapters to fall in love with Remote Control, fall for it I did—a bit surprising considering how blasé I felt Binti was. Thoroughly recommended, especially for Scifi Month or as a bridge between two lengthier, unrelated works.

Note: All that said, I wouldn’t be willing to pay $11 for it (as that’s the current ridiculous ebook price). I mean, it’s $13 for a hardcover that might look and feel and read quite nice, but that’s kinda steep for a novella of its length. Still… it’s a damn good read. Get Remote Control on sale, or from your public library—that’s what I did.

3 thoughts on “Remote Control – by Nnedi Okorafor (Review)

  1. Awesome. I was fortuante to pick this one up while it was on sale and look forward to reading it. I love when shorter works are able to give us everything we typically think requires more pages.

    Like

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