Nnedi Okorafor’s 2021 Noor is a stand-alone near-future Africanfuturist novel.
Ultimate Corp transformed Africa, lavishing Africans with a bounty of modern luxuries in return for which it asks only … lots and lots of money. Oh yes, and for Africans to abandon any beliefs or customs that might prevent them from accepting Ultimate’s terms and conditions.
In AO Oju’s case, Ultimate transformed AO’s deformed and injured body into a cybernetic marvel. Unexpected consequence: this marked her as a demon to her Nigerian neighbours. Her new capabilities allowed AO to kill five over-confident would-be vigilantes.
Suspecting, with good reason, that self-defence will be seen as murder, AO flees north towards the Red Eye, a nigh-Jovian-scale1 permanent windstorm.
The Red Eye is lethal to the unprotected. For those with sufficient protection, it provides the vulnerable — like Fulani nomads — refuge from hostile societies. It also provides bandits with a haven from the long arm of the law. Fleeing towards the Eye is a calculated risk.
Dangote Nuhu Adamu AKA DNA is a traditionalist Fulani herdsman. To sedentary villagers, the line between herdsman and bandits is invisible. Thus, when DNA and his companions bring their herd into a village recently attacked by bandits, the town descends on them in righteous fury. All save DNA and two of his cows are slaughtered. DNA fights his way to freedom.
When AO and DNA encounter each other, they are natural allies. Both were forced to kill in self-defence. Both are now deemed murderers for refusing to be killed.
As far as Ultimate is concerned, DNA’s outlaw status is a convenient pretext for targeting the remaining Fulani herdsmen, all of whom are potential impediments to Ultimate’s grand design of transforming Africans into perfect consumers. AO on the other hand is a person into whom they have made a considerable investment, with a special goal in mind. By allying himself with AO, DNA ensures that Ultimate will target DNA’s family.
As Ultimate will discover, however, AO is not merely a possible asset; her cybernetics make her a legitimate threat.
Backstory: Ultimate has created the renewable energy analog of Chernobyl, that is, the Red Eye. As the novel is focused on Nigeria, the global implications of a permanent vast cyclone are left to the reader’s imagination. Given that the storm can tear people apart, it’s no doubt very good at adding dust to the jet streams. This is good news for Atlantic plankton blooms, but probably bad news for everyone and everything else.
An interesting measure of the times in which this was published: the venerable trope of a public exposé of corporate wrongdoing bringing down the wrath of the outraged masses and their duly empowered judicial representatives appears to be sliding into oblivion. It is not so much that Ultimate owns the media, although they do their best to do so. It’s that as long as Ultimate is judicious about their choice of victims, most people are willing to turn a blind eye to mistreatment of them. Ultimate makes life in the developed countries convenient, after all, plus doing anything about their activities would require effort.
Okorafor’s effectively written short novel effectively conveys her rather cynical vision of tomorrow, in which the technical details may be different but patterns of scapegoating and exploitation remain largely unchanged. But it’s not all gloom and pessimism. Noor provides an example of “SF as fantasies of political agency,” a fairy tale world in which, as unlikely as it sounds, even designated victims can sometimes force the world to listen.
1: Not literally the size of Jovian storms, since some of those are larger than the Earth. It’s a figure of speech.