52 Book Challenge #3: After the Flare by Deji Bryce Olukotun

After the Flare: A Novel (Nigerians in Space): Olukotun, Deji Bryce:  9781944700188: Amazon.com: Books
Cover Owned by Deji Bryce Olukotun

After the Flare begins fast. From a shuttle high in the sky, Masha Kornokova looks down on Earth as a massive solar flare cuts out all electricity and communications… Except in areas around the equator. We jump about a year now, and we’re following Kwesi Bracket, an everyman on a mission in Nigeria, when he gets caught up in this rescue task set before him and suddenly he’s wrapped up in a relationship, magic, and shady people. For my third book for the 52 Book Challenge, After the Flare is pure Afrofuturism, but it slogged in areas and should’ve been whittled down a bit with the plot points at hand.

When I edit and critique stories, I’m usually very straightforward in my rankings, and, for organizational purposes, I’ll be critiquing the following: Tone, Character, Style, Story, Setting, and Dialogue. Those six things are, to me, the most important facets of a story. You and your buddy are going back and forth about stories of your friend that just passed away recently. He’s somber in his tales (Tone), but he tells them in a very quick pace (Style), the two characters – him and your buddy – play integral roles. The story revolves around him and this guy going to a theme park, and the sudden kind thing he did for a whole family. Maybe it’s about taking their picture, or paying for the fun and games. “He was so kind.” Your friend says, “You know, while he was taking the picture, he exclaimed ‘Everybody, say Mickey Mouse’s Haunted Houses!'” Your friend sighs, “He was always good with families. Shame he never got to have one of his own.” See? There it is, the six most important parts of the story.

So, let’s start off with the style of this story… It’s mixed. In some parts it is slow, in others it’s really fast, but there is one consistent thing in this story: the chapters are short. Very rarely do you see a chapter go above ten pages. Even when the story drags, a chapter is short enough that it’s not that big of a deal. I got to say, though, that the style picks up at the end and becomes really fast to get to the ending, almost like it was rushed. This story then gets filled up with subplots or unnecessary descriptions, from describing a Geckophone – a phone shaped like a Gecko – to going in depth on what the rocket looked like, or how one could change their ethnicity on the “Loom,” which acts as the internet. It falls deep into this tell, not show system of description in stuff like the Geckophone. Rather than saying that is seemed so much like an actual Gecko that other Geckos would approach or attack it, show that. Maybe a character has a pet Gecko; there’s literally a character that has all of these animals, why not show it there? I have an issue myself of telling not showing, I mean, it’s really hard to do and I’d even argue that telling sometimes is perfectly fine, it was pretty annoying to me that so much was being told to me, however.

There’s two main plots, and plenty of subplots. Names start to get mixed up and confusing in my mind as it’s a struggle to remember who is who as everyone is referred to by their last name besides one or two people. The main plots revolve around the rescue of Kornokova, and the search by the Wodaabe women for their children, all the while mastering the magical SongStones. The plot is so stretched out and thinned to me that I wish it stuck with the two plots, or even just focus on bringing home this astronaut all the while dealing with the constant tension of terrorism or ideals clashing. The ideas of tradition vs progress comes forward literally with ancient African Magic and Science, but I wish it was a little less heavy handed or a bit underneath the surface.

I sit back and I struggle to know what to say, because I’m literally feeling mixed on how this story made me feel. The book’s dialogue feels human enough, I mean, it makes sense what they say, and it flows well from person-to-person. You got a sense of the characters, but one of the character’s two important aspects were that they were an attractive woman and that she knew a lot about technology. In fact, while it only took up about six of the thirty three chapters, the most interesting story to tell was of the Wodaabe woman and her tribe as she mastered the songstones. In my opinion, I think this could’ve been split into two books and her story is expanded upon. She was an interesting character – a victim, pregnant with a child she doesn’t want, and she’s hurting a lot. I also think a more interesting story to be told here would be found in the lover of the woman in space, Josephine, who would have to deal with an incompetent team, a race against the clock, and she could even interact with the traditional women for contrast. The main characters aren’t interesting

You write to tell a story. You write because you have something to say. In a hard science fiction book – something majorly based in reality or something that could be possible – one has to question “What is it that I want to tell and how will I tell it?” That’s where tone comes in, and in this dystopian environment, I don’t feel like a dystopia is truly going on. Nigeria in this book is purposefully made a bubble, and that’s perfectly fine! It’s afrofuturist, after all. But it’s a bubble where tech works well and everything is still connected – in fact, tech is even better than before! But the tone feels mixed, almost neutral in style. Written in a third-person narrative, it describes things like a list and you can sometimes visualize it but the tone is so blahhhh… It’s so blehh to best describe it. I just found myself trudging through this.

The setting is intriguing, but, once again, it fell into this tell not show method of writing that really got on my nerves. Nigeria is now really technologically advanced, but it still struggles with terrorist groups and kidnappings. While their country gets more and more advanced, there’s more people wishing to stay in the old. I really really think the setting is pretty cool, and since this apparently the second to a trilogy, I hope we see more of this futuristic Nigeria, especially after that epilogue.

But… the question that you may have is “Would you recommend this?” And, if I’m honest: no, not really. I don’t think it’s bad per-say, but I also don’t think it’s good. It’s a neutral book to me, something I don’t see myself ever rereading. I actually had to read this class for class, a really fun one, but this book didn’t exactly show me what I was getting in Afrofuturism. The concepts are cool, but the characters aren’t enough to keep me going. In fact, this almost was my first did not finish, but I wanted to keep up with this challenge, so here we are! I think if you stay for the concepts and go in knowing that the back of the book doesn’t mention the unexpected magic, then you’ll have an experience. If it is positive or negative, that is for you to decide.

Buy the book here: After the Flare , support the artist.

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