Lagos_2060 curated by Ayodele Arigbadu (DADA books, 2013)
Reviewed by Polina Levontin
Writing about present day Lagos, Rem Koolhaas warns that already ‘the city itself has mutated into something’ quite unrecognizable to Westerners who think of cities in terms of European or North American models. ‘What will the city be like in 2060?’ This was the question posed to 8 Nigerian science fiction writers during a workshop that yielded an anthology: Lagos_2060. The resulting eight stories, three of which are written by women, represent a diverse range of imaginaries all set in Lagos, the year 2060. These stories engage with science and governance, city infrastructure and climate change, co-evolution of technology and social norms, urbanization and the future of global capitalism. Yet these scholarly themes emerge from stories that are first and foremost exciting, often romance-filled adventures. There are man-eating frogs and time-travel inducing herbs, girls with luminous tattoos and zero-gravity bedrooms, albeit in separate stories…
Individual writers approached the remit to imagine the future of one of the world’s greatest cities each with their own genre pallette and a remix of intellectual priorities. But what these stories share is a sense of dynamic liveliness that can only be a feature of a work in progress, their various literary forms reflective of the chaotic process by which the city itself is shaped. Their gift is the recklessness of trying out new things. These are pioneering works, regardless of how one decides to date science fiction in Nigeria.
What interested me in particular were the discourses on science. The first story of the anthology, ‘Amphibian Attack’ by Afolabi Muheez Ashiru presents the dangers of leaving the sciences in the hands of the private sector. The private company ‘Bright Life Group’ is so efficient in curing diseases and supplying energy that it has to use science also to undo the progress, secretly engineering catastrophes, so that it can keep itself profitable and powerful by fixing its own ‘accidents’. The discourse in the second story ‘Animals on the Run’ by Okey Egboluche is that of conflict between technological progress on one hand and society and environment on the other. The value of robotics in particular is questioned because it reduces employment in conditions where large numbers of people need jobs. Robotics is critiqued on an intimately personal scale in another story in the collection, ‘Metal Feet’ by Temitayo Olofinlua.
Technological advances such as land reclamation to expand Lagos are questioned as risky and as a violation of ‘natural order.’ In ‘Mango Republic’ by Terh Agbedeh scientific rationalism is instituted in Lagos, making it ‘the most beautiful prison in the world ever conceived by man’ (p. 197). But even supreme scientific achievements are shown to be powerless against the forces of nature unhinged by climate change. Floods and rising sea levels threaten Lagos, while environmental destruction elsewhere in Nigeria swells the city’s population beyond capacity. In ‘Mango Republic’ the discourse of science is survivalist – science is our last hope to adapt to a perilous future. Yet, exemplifying the complexity of the narratives in Lagos_2060, other stories demonstrate the political danger of seemingly desirable scientific solutions. On the extreme opposite spectrum from ‘Amphibian Attack’, scientific knowledge becomes highly guarded government property in ‘Cold Fusion’. A new way to produce cheap renewable electricity reinforces the government’s control over the people of Lagos and stirs political ambitions to secede from the rest of Nigeria. Science promising energy independence actually does enable the politicians who rule Lagos to secede from Nigeria in another story – ‘Coming Home’ by Rayo Falade.
The collection is full of ideas pertinent not only to the future of Lagos but the future of humanity in general. The writers don’t envision Lagos in isolation but as an integral part of the global economic and natural system. Their visions and hopes for Lagos, their individual philosophies and fears are expressed with humor and showmanship. Their ability to ask urgent questions about the direction we are heading is made invaluable by their skills to entertain.