“this X-Men in the ocean craziness:” Making the Alien Visible

Early in Lagoon, the Nigerian president wishes that, instead of addressing the alien invasion, he was “watching Star Wars on his high-definition wide-screen television” (84). He thinks, “he’d have made a great Jedi knight. Being a vigilante loyal only the justice was always better than being any king of head of state.” (84). Later, the president seems to have gotten his wish as he convenes with the Elders, who have shapeshifted into “something out of Star Wars” (251). Here, the president steps into a simulation of the SW storyworld, negotiating with aliens according to an understanding of justice not necessarily tied with political minutiae.

Here, Lagoon renders the incompressible comprehensible: the Elders—figures only vaguely sketched by Agu, Adaora, and Anthony after their meetings—become entirely visible and memorable. They do this by taking on the shape of something familiar to the president. As we discuss our final book of the semester, I would like to reflect on how SF renders new, unprecedented, fantastic, or incomprehensible phenomena readable to its audience. Just as the Elders become visible to the president, so too does Okorafor’s text itself become legible to both characters and readers through familiar references. Jacobs, Fisayo, Rome, and Seven discuss the alien motivations in terms of “that old American movie… E.T.,” Troy dismisses Moziz’s plan with a reference to Die Hard, and Agu compartmentalizes his super strength with an analogy to “Okonkwo in the book Things Fall Apart” (75, 88, 174). And in the postchapter, what we might consider three readers of the events in Lagos understand them through comparisons with X-Men, Orwell, and War of the Worlds (302).

With these moments in mind, how does Lagoon participate in, contribute to, perhaps even restructure a media network (SF or otherwise)? What are these references doing? How do they aid in explanation or comprehension as both character and reader interact with the impossible?

One thought on ““this X-Men in the ocean craziness:” Making the Alien Visible”

  1. References to familiar cultural texts throughout Lagoon make an interesting claim to being in the “real” world. These characters, just like “us” (presumed readers who have similar knowledge of the web of references) are living as readers in our world. There’s a familiarizing, identificatory effect there, which is then clearly unsettled by Lagoon’s own position within the same network of references it identifies; it asserts presence in the “real” while managing its readers’ categorization of it amongst texts dealing with “the impossible.” Intertextuality via explicit references seems to work/signal differently in SF/fantasy, as it confuses the world-building of the text and the reader’s sense of being positioned in the “real.”

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