NIGERIANS IN SPACE by Deji Bryce Olukotun

You may recall that I have stated my intention to widen my reading horizons by reading authors from countries other than the US and England.  To that end, so far I have enjoyed books by Chinese authors, Japanese, Egyptian, Pakistan, Israel, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Ireland, Scotland,  several Central and South American countries, Spain, and oh crumb, a few more that I have forgotten.  I think Iceland.

So, after having recently read  Spaceman of Bohemia, which you can read about here,  when my Dearly Beloved recommended Nigerians in Space, written by Nigerian Deji Bryce Olukotun, as you can imagine, I was IN.

OK, turns out this was not a science fiction book, despite its title.  There are no Nigerians in space, only a bunch of Nigerian scientists who WANT to be in space. In fact, the author, although Nigerian, grew up in Hopewell New Jersey, for pity’s sake.  hahahaha

But in spite of all that, and feeling slightly scammed as if a Nigerian prince wanted my bank number in order to send me even MORE money, it turned out to be a really good book.  Here’s the official plot description:

1993. Houston. Dr. Wale Olufunmi, lunar rock geologist, has a life most Nigerian immigrants would kill for, but then most Nigerians aren’t Wale—-a great scientific mind in exile with galactic ambitions. Then comes an outlandish order: steal a piece of the moon. With both personal and national glory at stake, Wale manages to pull off the near impossible, setting out on a journey back to Nigeria that leads anywhere but home. Compelled by Wale’s impulsive act, Nigerians traces arcs in time and space from Houston to Stockholm, from Cape Town to Bulawayo, picking up on the intersecting lives of a South African abalone smuggler, a freedom fighter’s young daughter, and Wale’s own ambitious son. Deji Bryce Olukotun’s debut novel defies categorization—-a story of international intrigue that tackles deeper questions about exile, identity, and the need to answer an elusive question: what exactly is brain gain?”

I will clarify this a bit.  Yeah, it does pretty much defy categorization, but I would tag it as a thriller, with maybe just the teeniest bit of paranormal tossed in for flavor.  An Nigerian political activist named Bello creates a program which he calls Brain Gain, that instead of all the best intelligences in the country leaving for a better scientific and academic life elsewhere, they would be lured back into the country with a promise of a space program.  Wale, the main protagonist, desperately wants to be an astronaut to the moon.  Each scientist,  located all over the globe, is given a task of stealing something important in their individual fields, as an act of commitment to the project.  They are promised plane tickets to Nigeria, where most have not been for decades, and a safe house, just in case, in South Africa.

Wale steals some scientifically unimportant moon dust from NASA, grabs his family and hotfoots it to the airport where he is supposed to meet Bello, who is a no show.  He then drags his family to Stockholm to contact another scientist in the secret program, only to find him murdered in his apartment.  This is where this odd story turns into a thriller.

There are three threads, one other following the daughter of a disappeared freedom fighter living in the Sudan, whom Bello had contacted to join the program, which daughter spends the rest of her life trying to find her father, and the third thread is that of a Cape Town abalone smuggler who gets involved with a dangerous smuggling gang.   As the story moves from 1993 to present, Wale’s son is now twenty, trying to sell a high tech lamp he has created, where he comes in contact with the abalone guy, the daughter finds Wale, the last scientist of that group who has not been assassinated, and ….

OK, that’s enough. You want to know more?  Go read it.    It was a great read, and there is a sequel, After the Flare, in which, as the plot description tells us, Nigeria finally has its space program and Wale arrives to be part of it.

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IN THE DARKNESS THAT’S WHERE I’LL KNOW YOU by Luke Smitherd

“There are hangovers, there are bad hangovers, and then there’s waking up inside someone else’s head. Thirty-something bartender Charlie Wilkes is faced with this exact dilemma when he wakes to find finds himself trapped inside The Black Room; a space consisting of impenetrable darkness and a huge, ethereal screen floating in its center. It is through this screen that he sees the world of his female host, Minnie.

How did he get there? What has happened to his life? And how can he exist inside the mind of a troubled, fragile, but beautiful woman with secrets of her own? Uncertain whether he’s even real or if he is just a figment of his host’s imagination, Charlie must enlist Minnie’s help if he is to find a way out of The Black Room, a place where even the light of the screen goes out every time Minnie closes her eyes…”

This was one freaking weird book.  Well, no, not the book, but the idea.  A guy wakes up to find himself in a black space, which he eventually decides is the mind of a woman he has never met.

OK, I am trying to figure out how to describe more of the plot.  Just let me say it involves some kind of regressive action, him being him being him being him and her and different lives or worlds or …. I give up.

It was great for about half the book, then got just a little too too, and then ended definitely too too.  Maybe I am grousing because I didn’t fully follow it, fully understand it.  I am a simple peasant after all.

It kind of defies genre.  That’s what I like about a lot of the new works — they are not specifically romance, or mystery, or sci fi, etc.  this was originally written in four parts, then eventually put together in one volume and issued as a single book.  The writing was good, and the idea definitely something really different.

I read his Physics of the Dead  quite some time ago,and loved it.  You can see what I said about it here.  What I said about it was a whole lot more than what I have said about this offering, because, well, because waking up inside someone else’s head where the walls seem to be the physical mind of the person, and there are multiple universes is hard to have a conversation about, wouldn’t you say?

Side note:  Doesn’t ‘universe’ mean one verse?  As in uni being the prefix for single, or one?  So therefore, I should be saying ‘there are multiverses’, not ‘there are multiple universes’.  Food for thought, as if waking up in someone else’s mind isn’t enough food for thought for one post.

 

TERM LIFE by William H. Boyd

The official plot description:  ”

Gus Bishop lives in a trendy downtown Austin condo. He works in computer security for a high tech Austin tech company and drives a high performance car. Yet, something is missing. Every woman he wants eludes him, and his company is under the threat of being hacked. But after an internet search, Gus meets a strange man who represents a unique insurance company.

Through big data analysis and some computer hacking of its own, this company insures its clients not from death but from a life that is no longer worth living. When Gus buys the policy, he must come to terms with his greatest fears and failures.”

Gus is a geek, overweight, single, uncomfortable around women, but really good at his internet security job.  He has made enough to buy a condo in downtown Austin (Texas, that is.  The Great State Of), and a fancy sports car, an Arbarth, (which I never heard of).   One of his coworkers talks about having a bucket list, and Gus realizes he does not have one.  Is it because he has done everything there is to do?  Or there is nothing he wants to do?  Or that nothing is worth the bother of doing?

This kicks off a book-length musing on the value of life in general, the perceived value of oneself and one’s own life, questions about death and dying when one wants to, perhaps when one is at the top of one’s game before the downward slide.

Gus is talked into taking a strenous and actually dangerous guided tour of the difficult cave system in an Austin Park, where he faces his fears and wins, and as a bonus, meets a sweet gal who is a former vampire, (and how often does something like that happen, eh?), and now he can say he had an item on his bucket list and checked it off.  Now he needs more items.

He meets a strange man, an insurance salesman, who offers a different kind of policy, an ensurance policy, which would ensure that he would die at the optimum time.  This would give a person peace of mind to know they would not suffer, like his father did, of a long, drawn out painful illness.   He meets with the guy several times, and after a lot of philosophical conversations, agrees to but the policy.

As part of his work as a computer security guy, there is a whole story and lots of information on computer security, digital radio, most of which I didn’t know and found terribly fascinating.  There is a concurrent thread running about security hacks on his company, his clever method of locating the source of the attacks, and the importance of knowing who your friends are.

Geekdom, computer info, an inquiry into relationships and their value — gee, what’s not to like.

Arbarth Sports Car

DAUGHTERS OF BABYLON by Elaine Stirling

Well, this was fun.   A little bit history, (Eleanor of Aquitaine), a little bit woo woo (Mexican brujas [witches or shamans],  a little bit paranormal (appearances of djinns), and a little bit of confusion on my part (because sometimes all the spark plugs are not firing properly).

Silvina Kestral agrees to clear out the house of an eccentric dead actress amidst the ruins of a medieval priory in the French Pyrenees where she comes across references to the Daughters of Babylon, and comes across a tall dark stranger in the attic.  A Mexican cane cutter with a party of witches and a sense of rhyme,  a 19-year-old, badly married queen named Eleanor of Aquitaine, and a modern day poet, feature prominently.

It’s all about poetry, portals to other dimensions, (I think).  The blurb says “Literary historical mysteries, split timeline puzzle mysteries, magical realism mystery: whatever term you choose to label them, the ability of these genre-blending books to trap the reader in a labyrinth of intrigue and wonder.”  Yep.  I was intrigued, all right.

More blurb:  “Crusader battles in the Holy Land, painful love affairs and courtly romance, a remote French community not far from Carcassonne where events in the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine still resonate powerfully today: some of the ingredients of Daughters of Babylon might appear familiar at first. But spiced with Gabo-style Mesoamerican magical realism courtesy of the Mexican nagual and his witches, … we begin to learn from the understanding of cyclical deep time known to the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans, and we see that at some level these times are not separated at all. The links between these times have been induced for a noble purpose; they are not coincidences, nor contrived ‘leakage’ across time due to a dramatic event. This book describes a maniobra, a magical deep time maneuver of extraordinary complexity.”

Enjoyable  story, with a soupçon of implausibility if you are of a pragmatic turn of mind, but I think if we call it fabulism, we can get comfortable with the whole idea.

 

 

 

MY BRILLIAN CAREER by Miles Franklin

Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin was born in 1879 in rural Australia. My Brilliant Career, her first novel, was published to much excitement and acclaim. She moved to Sydney where she became involved in feminist and literary circles and then onto the USA in 1907.  She used Miles Franklin as her pen name because she felt she would have a better chance of getting her work published.

My Brilliant Career is the story of Sybylla, a headstrong young girl growing up in late 1800/early 20th century Australia. Sybylla rejects the opportunity to marry a wealthy young man in order to maintain her independence. As a consequence she must take a job as a governess to a local family to which her father is indebted.

It is written as though an autobiography, and may possibly be partially so.  It gives us a fascinating look into turn of the (last) century outback Australia, the mores, customs and daily life then.  Sybylla’s family is well off, her father a clever horse breeder and trader, the owner of several large spreads, and they lived happily on a remote farm. but after having gotten the notion into his head that he could do even better if they lived near a large town, he moved his family off Sybylla’s girlhood home to a place that suffered drought after drought, his fortunes failed, he became penurious and a drunkard.

Sybylla is a feisty soul, and a torment to her mother.  Her grandmother writes to say they could use some help back at the old place and sends for Sybylla, where she is once again happy.  But eventually her mother writes to say the father is at the bottom of his affairs, and had borrowed money from an old childhood friend and could not even pay the interest, but the friend said if Sybylla came as a governess to his home for his kids, they would call the debt squared.

Sybylla goes very unwillingly to this family, also in a remote area, to find them a squalid, dirty, ignorant and uneducated bunch.  The filth, and squalor absolutely destroy her, and she falls desperately ill, at which point she is sent back home, much to her relief.

During this time, she has the opportunity to marry a wealthy, handsome neighbor of her family’s old farm, but turns him down because she does not love him.  She is determined never to marry, but to be an independent person, but nevertheless, although she achieves this independence, she is not really happy, and talks about how her dreams have become nothing but daily drudgework.  She sarcastically refers often to her ‘brilliant career’ as a writer having melted into obscurity.

I loved the book for its window into that 1900 world of Australia.

THE SONG OF THE MOCKINGBIRD by Bill Cronin

A story of a blocked writer who after some sessions with his long-term therapist, believes that his troubles all stem from a secret kept by his mother and father, of a half-sister he never knew he had until his teens, when she called his mother asking for help and to live with them.

He has been a successful writer, with 25 books to his credit, but has fallen into a depression of such magnitude that he can’t write, and has alienated his long-suffering wife to the point where she moves out and files for divorce, his agent and publisher are threatening legal action if he doesn’t finish the second of a trilogy for which he has already been paid over a million dollars in an advance, and the only reason he didn’t kill him self with a gun where he pulled over on the highway was because a police officer interrupted him.

His mother died many years ago of cancer, he hasn’t seen or heard from his half-sister in 17 years,  and his father is an asshat of the first water, having always denigrated his writing and saying that writing would make him crazy.

So he goes on a quest to learn the family secret by finding the one still living sister of his mother, and locating his half-sister.

Not a bad story, not terribly original, but definitely well told.  There is a second in what is apparently  a series in what is called the Jack McNamara Chronicles, the next one about another sister of his mother.

CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

Once again we enter Márquez’ surreal world of (probably) Colombia, in a much earlier time.  As the official plot description tells us, a man returns to the town where a baffling murder took place 27 years earlier, determined to get to the bottom of the story. Just hours after marrying the beautiful Angela Vicario, everyone agrees, Bayardo San Roman returned his bride in disgrace to her parents because she was not a virgin. Her distraught family forced her to name her first lover; and her twin brothers announced their intention to murder Santiago Nasar for dishonoring their sister.

Yet if everyone knew the murder was going to happen, why did no one intervene to stop it? The more that is learned, the less is understood, and as the story races to its inexplicable conclusion, an entire society–not just a pair of murderers—is put on trial.

It becomes apparent that the brothers really do not want to commit this murder;  they just want to announce it, thereby satisfying the honor requirements of the situation.  So they tell everybody they see that they are going to murder the dude.  But nobody tells the intended victim, each thinking that the brothers will not actually do the dastardly deed.

Not as much magical realism in this tale, but it still has that flavor of being just one note off.

I confess I found this book a bit tedious, not as compelling as his other books which I have read, maybe because there were no really surprising twists to the tale.