Nnedi Okorafor’s 2021 Remote Control is an upcoming science fiction novella. Unless you’re reading this after January 2021, in which case strike “upcoming.”
Sankofa wanders Ghana in the company of a fox, visiting community after community. The people she encounters fall over themselves providing her with food and clothing. In part, this is because Sankofa provides a useful service. In large part, it is because she can burn people down to their bones merely by willing it.
Her story begins in the rural town of Wulugu, when she was just a sickly girl named Fatima.
When a seed-like object falls out of the sky, Fatima takes it for her own. The longer she is exposed to her little treasure the more she changes. When she was young it seemed likely that malaria would carry her off. Once she possesses the seed, she becomes healthy.
To her parents, the seed is merely a child’s treasure. When a wealthy politician comes asking to buy it for an absurd sum, Fatima’s parents sell it without deeply considering the matter. After all, the money will make the family’s life better. The politician does not profit from his purchase; hardly has he possessed the seed than he is robbed by his driver, who vanishes.
The extent of the changes wrought on Fatima become clear when she is struck by a speeding car as she crosses the road. What should have been fatal injuries are not. Fatima starts to emit an eerie green glow that kills every human within range. Her entire family drops dead, along with the rest of Wulugu.
Thus begins her life as Sankofa, eternal wanderer. Sankofa’s fame spreads much faster than she can walk1. She is feared but also useful: she can end the suffering of the terminally ill with a touch. She limits herself to the useful (as much as she can) and becomes a revered figure, not a monster to be hunted.
However an American company, LifeGen, sees her as a resource they may be able to exploit.
Why this book now? Greg Ruth’s cover art kept catching my eye, and I wanted to find out what was inside.
Mobs aren’t known for wisdom, but this work features a mob that is more foolish than most.
The reader, like LifeGen, will probably see the seed as an alien artifact. If so, then it is an artifact whose purpose is unclear and which does not come with a user’s manual. It’s up to Sankofa to find out for herself by trial and error what her new abilities are. Not that she is at all systematic. The first catastrophic side-effects of her transformation have discouraged methodical exploration.
Nothing we learn about LifeGen suggests that they will be cautious if they ever get their hands on Sankofa and the seed.
This novella works as a standalone. It’s an engaging story of a transformed girl in a future Africa. One gets the sense, however, this is the first part of a sequence in which we learn more about the seed and its creators, as well as why LifeGen wants the seed and the girl. I’m hoping for something as interesting as the author’s Binti series. If you liked that, you’ll probably like this.
1: Her touch being even more lethal to machines than it is to people, hitchhiking is not an option.