Noor is Nnedi Okorafor’s first adult novel in about six years, and fans of her work who have been anticipating this book will not be disappointed. Noor is set in a futuristic Nigeria, with the titular Noor not being a person, but a massive wind turbine set up in the desert to harvest clean energy ‘from one of the world’s worst environmental disasters’. The Nigeria of Noor is a place that has been exploited for its wind power, and over the years a megacoporation called Ultimate Corp has taken control of all of Nigeria’s resources, creating a country that is technologically advanced, but also state controlled and poor on a grassroots level. There are Noors set up across the desert, each a huge frightening storm as seen from the outside, locally referred to as the Red Eye.
‘Most use the language of our colonisers and call the enormous never-ending sandstorm the ‘Red Eye…Its dust will turn your eyes red within moments and kill you within minutes, clogging your nose and mouth, packing your lungs. The Red Eye has occupied miles and miles and miles of Northern Nigeria for nearly thirty years.
People actually lived in the Red eye’s belly. People fled there. People who didn’t want to be a part of “This day and age” or who wanted to make their own day and age. They survived by using sand-deflecting devices, capture stations and super wells, weather-treated clothes, pure audacity, dust and grit. These were the people who’d always been in the desert, even during the nation-wide fiery protests and riots, bloody massacres and global pandemics…when it looked like humanity was over.’
We meet Noor’s protagonist Anwuli Okwudili as she is preparing to enter the Red Eye. Flashback to a couple of days earlier, and we find out how she got there. Anwuli Okwudili, a Nigerian woman born with physical disabilities has, over the years, augmented her body with technology, replacing flesh with metal or machine where needed. Though this makes many people uncomfortable, AO (for Artificial Organism, as she likes to be called), does not fear judgment or think any less of herself—in fact she is refreshingly devoid of any self pity or self loathing, proud of who she is, even while knowing that her parents prayed for her to die before she was born, because ultrasounds showed her to be ‘wrong’ when in utero. She has no fear of the augmentations that have slowly helped her become so much more than human, choosing to add more after she is in a car accident as a teenager. As an adult she proud claims, ‘I am part machine. I am proud to be part machine, I was born twisted and strange by their standards. And after so much recovery, I was somehow amazing.’
But one day while she’s out buying food, an altercation in the market pushes AO into reacting violently, hurting the men who harassed her. ‘I smashed my machine fist into his flesh face. Why did these men think they could treat me like one of their women and suffer no consequence? Because I was polite? Because I yielded to them? Shrunk myself for them? They didn’t know respect when it was given.’
The episode is caught on camera and seen online by thousands of people, who do not know the whole story but all believe that an Igbo ‘cyborg’ has attacked innocents. AO is suddenly a wanted woman. No one knows she acted in self defence and in fear, and so she leaves the city as fast as possible. While on the run, AO meets a Fulani herdsman who goes by DNA, and is also being hunted for what has been seen as an attack on innocent villagers by a terrorist. DNA is no terrorist; and like AO, acted in self defence. Neither have had a chance to prove their innocence and are convinced they will be unable to do so successfully. Both are very different from each other and perhaps would not have formed any sort of connection in any other situation, but now both must now must find a way through the desert, away from the Nigerian government and the many eyes of Ultimate Corp.
Ultimate Corp owns and runs pretty much everything. It has a monopoly on agriculture, on power, on technology. It has its claws buried deep in every aspect of Nigerian life, and there seems to be no getting away from it. AO’s body modifications are bought from Ultimate Corp too, and they’re not just physical—she’s had AI neural implants added as well, and so at times feels more connected to Ultimate Corp than to the people around her. To what extent her body and mind are connected to Ultimate Corp, what their role in her life is, is something that chillingly plays out during the course of this thrilling, sharp, fascinating book.
Noor is a prime example of Africanfuturism, a term Okorofor has coined and differentiates from the more commonly known Afrofuturism. It is a book that takes a strong, clear stance against state surveillance and capitalist exploitation, and while it is set in a futuristic Nigeria, current real world parallels are clearly evident, and appropriately scathing. This is a story of knowing yourself, owning yourself and finding those who will do the same. Okorafor has been a consistent talent, with a sharp skill and highly intelligent, pertinent observations on the world around us in many of her books, and Noor is no exception.
Noor is available from DAW.
Mahvesh loves dystopian fiction and appropriately lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about stories and interviews writers for the Tor.com podcast Midnight in Karachi when not wasting much too much time on Twitter.