By Nnedi Okorafor
I received an ARC of Remote Control from Macmillan-Tor/Forge in exchange for an honest review.
Remote Control was my first experience with Nnedi Okorafor (an author I’ve become increasingly guilty for not having read over the years), and I am pleased to say it was a positive one. This rich, resonant novella follows Fatima, a Ghanaian girl who becomes known as Sankofa after acquiring the power to generate a light from her body which is lethal to anyone it touches.
The first chapter, which recalls the opening of Neal Shusterman’s Scythe, is nothing less than a knockout: it’s funny, chilling, and particularly attentive to the specificity of character, a delicious context-less dose of Sankofa at the height of her power before the story jumps back in time to fill in the blanks. The book never quite manages to recapture the singular magic of this chapter, but not because of any later failings—the opening just sets the bar really, really high.
Children are tricky to get right in fiction, but Fatima is instantly likeable. She is childlike but not childish, and I found her curiosity, her intelligence, and the transition she makes from innocence to purposefulness to be entirely credible for a character of her age. No aspect of this novella was more crucial to its success, because the story rests entirely on Fatima’s shoulders—fortunately, Okorafor created a character more than capable of holding it up. I would love to read more about her in another work, but I also feel satisfied with the story she gets here.
Remote Control takes place at some point in the future, and the science fiction elements are woven in subtly before ultimately being brought to the fore near the end of the book. It feels like a natural progression and gave me time as a reader to reconcile those aspects with the fable-like tone of the novella, a dichotomy I likely would have found jarring had the futuristic elements been present more prominently earlier in the story. The mesh of mythic and modern aspects is surprisingly elegant and allows the book to resonate not only with a broad set of themes, but also deeply with each of them despite its brevity.
My only reservation with Remote Control lies with its ending; although far from bad, it didn’t quite click for me and held the book back from becoming one of my all-time favorite novellas (a distinction I considered more than once while reading). That said, I am still happy to give this an overall strong recommendation. If the first chapter doesn’t convince you to give the rest of Remote Control your time and attention, I don’t know what would.
Review by Erin Larson