“From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7” by Nnedi Okorafor is an inventive tale of exploration in which the pregnant TreeFrog7 and her husband Morituri36 compile entries to upload to the Greeny Jungle Field Guide. Their quest is a fabled mature CPU plant, in pursuit of which TreeFrog7’s friend BushBaby42 mysteriously disappeared. The story takes the form of the field guide entries themselves, a neat structure that provides firsthand perspective on the field guide’s scope and the author’s travails in obtaining their knowledge. Also, it allows first-person narration by both main characters, a useful point-of-view flexibility. The hyperlinking to entries on mentioned creatures is a nice added touch.
Okorafor’s displayed strengths are her imaginative detail and the immersive quality of her world. The plot, though, doesn’t generate as much suspense as I might have wished, and leads to an almost foregone conclusion. This isn’t helped by some of the expository repetition, perhaps resulting from the notion of each entry as self-contained. This story isn’t quite at the level of last year’s other guide, “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antartica” by Catherynne M. Valente, but it is more accessible and more immediately rewarding.
Lois Tilton at IROSF:
There is much here to delight readers: TreeFrog7’s narrative voice, the jungle setting described in evocative prose.
The journey in this case is the reward, more so than the destination. But I have to wonder, if the wingless hawkmoth is guarding the CPU plant, why it has gone so far away to follow the explorers. I wonder also at Morituri36’s name, if it was meant to telegraph the ending, and why. There seem to be hyperlinks in the text to entries in the Field Guide, but they did not work on my computer—as in fact none of this site’s links ever do.
James is less keen:
The language is evocative of the jungle and eventually reveals the characters. However the plot didn’t do enough for me, it was more or less the standard alien exploration story. And I’m not really a big fan of zoological or botanical style stories, I think it might be because I gave up Biology at school as soon as I could and did Physics instead, so the descriptions of the creatures didn’t really do anything for me.
In the end, I kept waiting for the story to go somewhere else, somewhere promised by hints in the story. Instead all we got was a tantalising glimpse of that.
And a lengthier discussion by Charles Tan:
That digression aside, it’s all too easy to admire the widgets and forget the actual story. Okorafor goes for a character-centric piece and her conceit–that her protagonists are explorers who are keeping records–gives the perfect excuse to tackle the setting and its unique ecosystem. If you don’t like the world-building aspect, one will likely drop the story early on but if you’re like me, discovering the nuances of Okorafor’s fabricated world is a pleasure albeit one that can get tedious due to the length. There’s several points of tension in the story but because of the format, only one is truly explored. The interaction between the characters feel human and fleshed out, but the danger of a stalking predator loses much of its effectiveness because of the epistolary form. There’s clearly a build-up in the story but somehow, it lacked the impact I was hoping for. Overall not a bad piece, but it lacks that compelling voice as there’s still a certain sense of detachment despite the first person point of view.
So: what did you think?