A new post over at Tor.com:
The Adventure of the Incognita Countess by Cynthia Ward is a brisk novella from Aqueduct Press’s “Conversation Pieces” line. It’s… I’m missing at least half of the references, because it draws deeply from the well of 19th and early 20th century speculative literature. In that much, it reminds me no small part of Penny Dreadful. It has the same gleeful delight in its own references, the same playfully gothic geekery.
…is a hard book to get out of my head. I will have a passage about it in an upcoming column. But it’s doing so many things, and so many of them well, that I keep coming back to it: it is a good book to think with.
Especially when in comes to a sense of place. Maybe I’m just startled to hit another novel that doesn’t take place in a sanitised or Americanised present/future – which is part of what I like about Stross’s near-future SF and the Laundry novels, and Karen Healey’s When We Wake and While We Run, come to think of it, although England and Scotland and Australia certainly get more play in Anglophone SF than Nigeria does. (And also part of what I liked about Samit Basu’s Turbulence, although the superhero genre really isn’t my thing.)
American SF is a wide field in itself, but I sometimes think that it can be limited by shared sensibilities and reading protocols, by the conversation with how things have been done before. This is changing slightly as ever more novels are produced, and as the Young Adult contribution to science fiction is taking a larger place in the conversation, but I still feel that there is a cultural koine there that elides a universe of experiences.
The American dominance of Anglophone literature may be unavoidable by numbers alone, but it does rather contribute to a sort of colonisation of the imagination. Lagoon sets its face against this state of affairs, with its unapologetic focus on Lagos, on Nigeria and Nigerian characters – and the odd Ghanaian. And it is a really interesting alien invasion story. And it has layers of things going on. I would love to see a smarter critic than me take this on and show me more of the connections between the things-going-on than I see myself.
Anyway. Interesting book.