"Remote Control," | Reviewed by Nelson Appell
“Remote Control,” sizzles with creative energy. Setting her novel in near-future Ghana, Okorafor packs a lot into this mysterious, deceptively easy-to-read tale about a young girl who brings death to her rural Ghanaian wanderings.
Okorafor establishes Sankofa as a threat from the first pages. Sankofa walks into a small town as a legend out of myths, accompanied by her red-furred companion, a fox named Movenpick. Parents push their kids inside houses. People drive the cars to safety. The street is left deserted for Sankofa to walk unimpeded. They are so afraid of her that they have already planned for her arrival, including such touches as having her favorite drank, Orange Fanta—served “room temperature, not chilled.”
Sankofa possesses a mysterious power that can kill, and before the end of chapter she demonstrates that power. Feared through the countryside, she is known as a witch, the adopted daughter of death, and a child of the Devil. She never rides in a vehicle because she can kill technology with her touch. While she has some control over the power, we learn two facts: that she has not always had control, and that her lack-of-control has cost her much.
The novella then moves to Sankofa’s early life. Okorafor offers a close view of life in the rural culture of Ghana as she explores Sankofa’s youth on a Shea farm in the backwaters village of Wulugu. We get a glimpse of the politics and corruption and Western influence that reach this town. And we get a science fiction origin-story as Sankofa gains a strange, unwanted power.
The novel follows an episodic approach is it confronts the mystery of her powers, and the reaction of Ghana’s people to Sankofa.
Sankofa may be a local legend and a folk tale, but she is a folk tale born of science fiction. Locals think she consorts with evil creatures. But in short order, we learn that her powers come from elsewhere. What are her powers and why do they manifest in death and destruction? What is the seed that fell from the sky? What does the corporation LifeGen have to do with it? Is there a purpose to these powers?
What is “Remote Control” about? Pick your theme. It’s about life and death, myth and technology, Western influence and old culture, corporate overreach and bucolic life. The author includes so much in this novel.
Okorafor is a dependable creator of intriguing science fiction. She has won the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and Locus awards for her fiction. In “Remote Control” she has another award-winner.