Noor by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor’s 2021 Noor is a short, fast-paced science fiction novel. The futuristic energy delivery system called Noor, and the “Red Spot” dust storm are innovative, made plausible by Okorafor’s grounded writing and her fine eye for detail.
Anwuli calls herself AO for Artificial Organism. Considered “wrong” even before birth, AO was seriously injured in a car accident when she was a young adult. An experimental process gave her prosthetic limbs and cerebral implants. She is an outsider, tolerated, barely, because of her useful skills. Her peaceful life in a small Nigerian town ends when, on a trip to the market, a group of men attack her with no provocation. AO’s instinctive reaction leaves dead people in her wake, and her on the run, heading into the desert.
While she is escaping both the law and vigilantes, AO meets a fugitive herder, one of a nomadic tribe who raise cattle. DNA, as he calls himself, has two cattle with him, the remains of his much larger herd.
Much like AO, DNA belongs to a group that has been targeted for discrimination and hate. The government has labeled the herders “terrorists,” and DNA and his clan were ambushed as they went into town for supplies. When AO and DNA compare notes, they find many similarities—their attacks happened at nearly the same time, after a savage sermon preached by an activist pastor. They don’t have time to figure things out right away though, because they are being chased by local law enforcement and the government, helped out by drones from the Ultimate Corporation. They have no choice but to enter the massive dust storm and seek out the city that allegedly exists in its eye.
The story’s background includes a transcendental leap in energy delivery, called “Saharan Solaris” by the young African woman who invented it. The collectors, called Noors, can gather energy and direct it thousands of miles away without wires. The Ultimate Corporation now manages to control nearly everything, including the food supply. Technical advances are huge, and like many of Okorafor’s stories, high-tech, while a weapon of oppressive forces, is repurposed, revitalized and vital to people living day to day lives.
As always, Okorafor’s writing is excellent, carrying on this suspenseful story at just the right pace. Her descriptions wowed me, even in things like the abandoned Ultimate Corp warehouse in the middle of the desert. AO’s abilities and the genesis of them is revealed slowly, a bit at a time, and while I wasn’t surprised, I liked how our knowledge, along with hers, unfolded. The descriptions of the hidden city were visceral, and the howling storm of sand and bones overhead truly terrifying. While I had some idea of what was going to happen as AO’s powers grew (or she learned to use them) the climactic scenes were gripping.
Once again Okorafor explores the concept of the outsider, even within their own culture, as well as colonial exploitation. It doesn’t make much effort to imagine what company Ultimate Corp might be modeled on.
The novel is short, about two hundred pages, and it’s engrossing. Once again, Okorafor invites us into another vivid world she’s created.