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Fiction Friday: Dip into Some African Cyber Punk with Nnedi Okorafor’s The Book of Phoenix

The Book of PhoenixThis Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from The Book of Phoenix, the new novel from Nigerian-American cyber-punk author Nnedi Okorafor.

The Book of Phoenix – which was released internationally in May – is the prequel to Okorafor’s World Fantasy Award-winning novel Who Fears Death (2010), and features some kick-ass cover artwork by our very own Joey Hi-Fi.

Okorafor was born in the United States to Nigerian parents, has a PhD in English and is professor of creative writing at the University of Buffalo. As well as novels, she writes short stories and young adult books, and her work is inspired by her Nigerian heritage and her many trips to Africa. She lives in Chicago.

Tor.com’s Brit Mandelo says of The Book of Phoenix: “It isn’t just well written, and it isn’t just smart as hell; it’s also a damn good story, and it kept me reading almost nonstop all the way through.”

Read a synopsis from SFGate:

In this futuristic outing, she focuses on Phoenix Okore, a “speciMen” created by LifeGen Technologies and sequestered in Tower 7 in midtown Manhattan. An “accelerated being,” Phoenix is only 2 years old chronologically but middle-aged biologically. What she knows about the outside world comes mostly from the voluminous reading she is allowed to do by the attendants who provide her with e-readers and basic care.

Phoenix begins a tentative romance with Saeed, another speciMen, whose altered metabolism forces him to eat metal, glass and other inorganic materials. When Saeed witnesses something unspeakably disturbing within the corridors of Tower 7, he commits suicide, an act that causes an anguished Phoenix to recognize her own true nature. Something unimaginably hot burns within her mind and body, and she makes her escape by giving full rein to her newfound power — and the wings that sprout from between her shoulder blades.

On the run and with little notion of where to find sanctuary, Phoenix heads to Africa to begin a new chapter of her life. But even though she finds acceptance and love in her new locale, it seems as if there is no escaping the attention of “Big Eye,” the all-seeing agents of LifeGen. Unless she commits the ultimate act of revenge, Phoenix may never be free.

Mixing aspects of African folklore, magical futurism and superhero exploits, “The Book of Phoenix” blazes with anger for Phoenix and her predicament, and by extension for all people who suffer at the hands of uncaring scientists, bureaucrats and marketers.

The tale is also a gripping examination of the power of myth and of who is allowed to write and preserve history. Toward the end of the book, a character muses, “Now it was a time for stories that were truer than the truth, stories that spoke to the soul.” Okorafor’s fantastical “The Book of Phoenix” has that ring of truth, a superlative adventure that addresses all-too-harsh realities.

Read the excerpt:

There is no book about me. Well, not yet. No matter. I shall create it myself; it’s better that way. To tell my tale, I will use the old African tools of story: Spoken words. They’re more trustworthy and they’ll last longer. And during shadowy times, spoken words carry farther than words typed or written. My beginnings were in the dark. We all dwelled in the darkness, mad scientist and specimen, alike. This was when the goddess Ani’s still slept, when her back was still turned. Before she grew angry at what she saw and pulled in the blazing sun. My story is called The Book of Phoenix. And it is short because it was…accelerated.

I’d never known any other place. The 13th floor of Tower 7 was my home. Yesterday I realized it was a prison, too. Granted, maybe I should have suspected something. The two-hundred-year-old marble skyscraper had many dark sides and I knew most of them. There were 39 floors, and on almost every one was an abomination. I was an abomination. I had read many books and this was clear to me. However, this place was still my home. Home: a. One’s place of residence. Yes, it was my home.

They gave me all the 3D movies I could watch, but it was books that did it for me. A year ago, they gave me an e-reader packed with 700,000 books of all kinds. When it came to information, I had access to everything I wanted. That was part of their research.

Research. This was what happened in Tower 7. There were similar towers around the world but Tower 7 was my home, so this one was the one I studied. I had several classified books on Tower 7. One discussed each floor and some of the types of abominations found on them. I’d listened to audios of the spiritual tellings of long dead African and Native American shamans, sorcerers and wizards. I’d read the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran. I studied The Buddha and meditated until I saw Krishna. And I read countless books on the sciences of the world. Carrying all this in my head, I understood abomination. I understood the purpose of Tower 7. Until yesterday.

In Tower 7, there was “transformative” genetic engineering, the in-vitro fertilization of organic robots, “rejuvenation” surgery on the ancient near-dead, the creation of weaponized weeds, the insertion and attaching of both mechanical and cybernetic parts to human bodies. There were people created in Tower 7, some were deformed, some were mentally ill, some were just plain dangerous, and none were flawless. Yes, some of us were dangerous. I was dangerous.

Then there was the tower’s lobby on the ground floor that projected a different picture. I’d never been down there but my books described it as an earthly wonderland, full of creeping vines covering the walls and small trees growing from artistically crafted holes in the floor. In the center was the main attraction. Here grew the thing that brought people from all over the world to see the Tower 7 Lobby (only the lobby; there were no tours of the rest of the building).

A hundred years ago, one of the landscapers planted a tree in the lobby’s center. On a lark, some scientists from the 9th floor emptied an experimental solution into the tree’s pot of soil. The substance was for enhancing and speeding up arboreal growth. The tree grew and grew. In a place where people thought like normal human beings, they would have uprooted the amazing tree and placed it outdoors.

However, this was Tower 7 where boundaries were both contained and pushed. When the tree began touching the lobby’s high ceiling in a matter of weeks, they constructed a large hole so that it could grow through the second floor. They did the same for the third, fourth, fifth. The great tree has since earned the name of “The Backbone” because it grew through all 39 of Tower 7′s floors.

The Book of PhoenixKabu Kabu Who Fears DeathLagoon

 

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