Noor is a science fiction novel by Africanfuturist luminary Nnedi Okorafor. It is set in Northern Nigeria, where we travel with AO and DNA across a dangerous, fantastical land. AO and DNA are in a fight with Ultimate Corp, the evil mega-corporation that controls much of the wealth and resources in Nigeria, with tentacles into other Arab and African countries. Worse, the government is complicit in Ultimate Corp’s actions and helps them in the fight. People in Nigeria have become dependent on Ultimate Corp for many of their needs, with local merchants unable to compete with the cheap prices and monopolistic approach.
Review of Noor
Noor is a story of love and hate, the hate-fuelled by greed, fear, and ignorance. It means light in Arabic and is the name of the giant structures in the Northern Nigerian desert that are used for harnessing wind energy.
Noor is a story of self-realization as both AO and DNA connect to and learn about their histories in order to be able to fight for and defend their future and that of countless other people. While we get to know both main characters, AO has a stronger, more well-defined identity. This is no surprise given the words of the prophet, Baba Sola.
In the book, Sahara Solaris is owned by Oracle, and there is also mention of Oracle wind turbines (Chapter 3). I am a bit confused as to whether Oracle and Ultimate Corp are the same or are this a story of good versus evil as well?
I enjoyed reading this book. In the make-believe world of a futuristic Nigeria, biotechnology and other futuristic technology are imaginative and fascinating. The action is almost relentless as AO and DNA are chased across Northern Nigeria. The few periods of calm, when they can just relax, rest, and be are equally powerful. This is where we learn about their humanity, a man and a woman with pasts. Here too, we get to see much more of AO than DNA. While both of them have a role to play in the struggle, both being worthy, AO discovers her power. She gets strength from her cracks to do the unimaginable.
The blend of science and what AO calls juju honors the traditions of Nigeria while adding a science fiction component. We don’t know exactly how AO was able to accomplish all that she did so there is a hint of mystery as well. Regardless, Noor presents an opportunity to consider parallels in our current day experience. Like in the book, huge swaths of land in Africa are owned by multiple countries around the world. In this case, energy is one more African resource.
Curiously, I don’t find the details of what caused the Red Eye to be so surprising. That made the ending of the book anti-climatic in some ways, but the journey was worth it. I’m all for defeating greed and evil. And if you’re the kind of person who enjoys a few loose ends, there will be lots of questions for you to ask yourself once the book ends. You can have fun deciding what’s next for several communities and individuals. Rich fodder for fan fiction. 😀
Okorafor weaves an engaging story of love and loss, entwined with capitalistic greed. While the landscape is stark, I imagine that it has beauty. Ironically, I was in Mauritania as I read this book, in the Sahel desert. The sky has been grey with dust all week, and I feel a bit closer to AO and DNA than I ordinarily would be.
Noor was a fairly quick read, taking less than five hours. Read on for a spoiler-full summary of the book.
AO was named Anwuli Okwudili by her parents, but she legally renamed herself with the initials, preferring them to stand for Artificial Organism. She was born with stumps where her legs should be and with only one arm, the right one. Then, when she was 14 years old, she was involved in a serious accident which caused memory issues.
Once AO was old enough to make her own choices legally, she had been building on her body. While she was mostly flesh, her limbs and several of her organs were “3rd Life”. Her limbs stood out because she hadn’t paid for the flesh-like enhancement. The limbs were strong and durable, and she was able to lengthen her legs. Her most recent upgrade was the addition of neural implants, which boosted her memory and improved her headaches. They also meant that she’d always be online and all of her enhanced parts would stay synced with each other. The owner of the technology, Ultimate Corp, paid for all the upgrades.
Adjusting to the upgrades was not easy for AO. She had to withstand intense pain while her cybernetic legs bonded with her nerves. What helped her through that period was an episode of The Africanfuturist podcast, a story about Zagora and Sahara Solaris.
No implant or augmentation was ever free of aches, pains, or strangeness.
AO worked as a mechanic and had a life, repairing phones for people, shopping in the local market and minding her own business.There was fear of enhanced people, some Nigerians considering them abominations, demons, so she knew that she had to be careful. Even her ex-fiance, Olaniyi, had asked “What kind of woman are you”, and had slapped her when she said “I will never answer your question.”
AO has been living in Abuja for over two years, having first moved there with Olaniyi. The locals knew her and she thought she was safe. Even after Olaniyi, she wasn’t worried. But then, one day while shopping in the market, she was attacked by a group of men. She defended herself, using the strength of her enhanced features against them, killing them all. This started her on a wild chase north.
Dangote Nuhu Adamu
DNA was a Fulani herdsman, a nomad. He was herding his cattle with several other herdsmen when they stopped in a village to get supplies. Unaware of the news, the herdsmen did not know that the village had been attacked by four armed men who shot six people, and electrocuted and sliced up 7 people using Liquid (powered) Swords before leaving with the stolen electronics from their victims. DNA paused, grounding to get a feel for the place before entering it. This saved him and he was able to escape the slaughter that his fellow herdsmen and their cattle fell victim to. The townspeople were defending themselves, thinking that the herdsmen had come back to cause more damage.
DNA escaped with his life and two of his cattle, but not before he killed a woman, one of the attackers. Strangely, although he was right there, no one saw him.
DNA meets AO
AO was off the grid, having disabled tracking in her phone and car. She travelled as far north as the battery would take her before deserting the car and continuing on foot. Exhausted, she eventually stopped to rest on a cow. When she woke up, it was to find a gun pointed at her.
AO wasn’t sure what to do next but one of DNA’s cows decided, pushing her to walk behind DNA. As the two took off on their journey, they told their stories to each other, the story of how they ended up in that spot, at that moment.
He stopped and turned to me and the sight of his face took my breath away. His face was wet with tears, his eyes squinted with a pain so sharp I could have sworn I could hear it in my ears. “What happened?” I asked yet again. DNA dropped his herdsman’s stick. And it seemed like DNA died right there on his feet.
DNA was headed to his village, and AO along with him.
DNA and AO arrived at the village without fanfare. This was a completely new experience for AO, being with people who lived under the stars when she had never even slept outside before this journey.
Some wore the traditional long flowing garments, but most wore sun gear, a stylish Ankara clothing made to absorb energy from the sun into a small battery in the side pocket that could be used to power appliances.
The news of both their activities had spread, and DNA’s family was worried that he had become a terrorist. Further, he had brought a murderer home. He defended himself and AO but they could not stay long in the village. Someone was coming after them. The Elders agreed that their best option was to go to see Baba Sola in the Red Eye.
Zagora and the Noor
AO’s parents were engineers and developed solar roadways and parking lots that powered one of the states in South-East Nigeria. She was fascinated by science and technology, especially the story of Zagora, the girl who invented and patented Sahara Solaris, a way to wirelessly transfer energy across long distances with zero loss. Using solar panels in the Sahara and elsewhere, energy was collected and within a decade, it was being transferred throughout Africa and to Spain and Italy.
The energy collected using solar panels was second only to the energy from wind turbines in Nigeria’s Red Eye. The Red Eye was a disaster zone, with terrible winds that no living thing could withstand. The energy from that area was collected using Noor, enormous wind turbines owned by Ultimate Corp.
The helix structure didn’t just harness the wind, it maximized the wind by containing it.
Journey to the Red Eye
Using special breathable masks and an anti-aejej, the foursome travelled through the sandstorm to meet up with Baba Sola. They met him in a tent where a fire burned. He lit up a spliff and AO joined him in smoking it. DNA frowned at their behavior and declined to participate.
… I was in the middle of a sand storm looking at a tent with a warm fire burning in its bowels. None of what was happening right now in this moment was logical or scientific
Before they left, he shared that DNS was “just a herdsman” and admonished him to “Know. Your. Worth”. To AO, he said “… you’ve been fucked with enough. Time for you to see beyond. yourself and fuck the world. Make it see a new day.” With no more advice than that, he disappeared.
The Chase Continues
Drones and helicopters were chasing AO and DNA but did not see them. It could have been due to a technology failure or due to Baba Sola’s effect.
Technology always fails eventually, and juju is made to succeed.
DNA and AO escaped to an abandoned Ultimate Corp warehouse. AO was surprised as there were never any reports of Ultimate Corp warehouses in the north of Nigeria. The Reckoning, when they fought and lost in the north, was never reported although the evidence still existed in the desert.
AO and DNA rested in the abandoned warehouse as drones set fire to the fields around the warehouse and automated soldiers stood at the ready. AO went to DNA for the first time.
“You’re a woman despite so much of you being machine,” he said.
When AO was attacked, one of the men threw a break on her cybernetic arm. It was heavy and pretty useless for the most part after that. However, the upgraded parts of her still functioned. And when she stopped and looked inside, something ruptured in her head and she felt wetness and warmth. However, she realized she could go into the soldier remotely, through the camera:
When I looked up, thousands of red eyes were staring at me, clustered together like the seeds of a pomegranate.
AO realized she had the ability to shut down the soldiers. She gave the command and they obeyed. Next, she instructed the drones to move away and they, too, listened. She commandeered a truck to drive right to them, and the cattle, she and DNA got in and drove away. As they drove away, AO overheated the circuits so that the heads of the soldiers blew up and the drones all fell.
How was I going to explain it all? The certain rupture and bleeding in my brain, the connection. Those headaches, had this been coming? How could I explain that I saw a whole universe that humans didn’t even know they’d created that I was now connected to and could control it.
AO thought that she was able to take control of the electronics because something tore when the men hit her.
… maybe getting slapped that hard broke something, I thought. And sometimes when something breaks, things come out of the cracks.
Driving the truck, AO was able to use the GPS to find the community within the Red Eye. It showed up as an infinity symbol, a space called the Hour Glass. It was protected by an enormous, wind-powered anti-aejej to exist in the middle of the Red Eye. It was a place outside the bounds of the law and of Ultimate Corp. When time ran out for them to find it, AO plugged back into the pomegranate eyes and led the way. She was connected and powerful. This threw her into a loop of wondering what she was.
Welcome to the Hour Glass
DNA and AO were accepted and welcomed to the Hour Glass. Upon their entry, a voice chronicled their charges and explained that the whole footage had been seen. People sent messages to the vehicle, welcoming them, and offering food for their cows.
The Hour Glass was a technological marvel. Time reset to 12:11 at 1:11, called the Rotation of the Glass. Their first destination was to meet The Force.
The Force turned out to be Force Ogunleye, a former boyfriend of AO from when she was in her teens. He taught her to work with her cybernetic hand. He’d left her at 18 to become king of his region but she found out he’d come to The Hour Glass instead of going back home. Her family had told her he committed suicide. DNA and AO stayed with Force and his long-time girlfriend, Dolapo.
The Power Hut
Force showed AO the power hut, the Hour Glass’s man hub covered in screens. As AO started to wail, remembering what she did to the men and what she’d endured, Force checked her vitals. He realized that her blood pressure was very high and she was close to having a heart attack. AO verbalized for the first time that she could control all the AI in the world. He didn’t believe her until she showed him by controlling the screens.
Force had some answers for AO. He explained that she was the result of an experiment. Ultimate Corp had planted some olives that caused birth defects in children if eaten in large quantities by pregnant women. Out of four affected children, she was the only one who survived. She was perfect for testing their technology. When she was 14, the freak accident that shouldn’t have happened, that no one could ever explain, was also caused by Ultimate Corp.
As the Rotation of the Glass happened, AO and Force caught up on news across Africa. This is how AO learned that DNA’s village had been attacked by their own council, the Bukkaru. His mother and brother were in the report. Upset by what one of the elders said, the council ransacked the village and took his sister, Wuro. This also incited the farming communities to set out to kill all remaining Fulani herdsmen.
As DNA prayed to the earth for help locating his sister, AO asked her network and got a response. AO also reached out to locate three Fulani herdsmen and found some that had recently arrived in the Hour Glass. They told their story of how they escaped chasing attackers. They made it into the Hour Glass but their 125 steer tried to follow them and were all killed by the winds of the Red Eye.
AO realized that she no longer had a family to go to. Her parents spoke about her as a fugitive and criminal, expressing their hope that she would be caught and stopped soon. Her brother made no comment. Force had explained that her parents got a settlement from Ultimate Corp and likely knew that she was an experiment.
Confronting the Bukkaru
The herdsmen wanted AO’s help to communicate with the Bukkaru and she agreed. Force set them for the broadcast. Once they were ready, AO used drones, which were common in the desert, to find the Bukkaru. DNA led the presentation, speaking Pulaar, which AO didn’t understand. However, she was busy searching for information and found a payload. She found that Ultimate Corp had planned the events to get rid of the Fulani herdsmen; she had a recording of a conversation to prove it. She broadcasted the recording but ironically, Ultimate Corp stock went up. The fight was not over.
The problem with you,” Force said, “is that you’re so used to pain and discomfort that your definition of feeling okay is not the greatest indicator of being okay.”
At the market later that day, AO was attacked by forces that had followed her into the Hour Glass. People defended her and Force turned off the anti-aejej of the hour glass for four minutes so that many of the soldiers would be caught in it. AO and DNA managed to escape and she led them to a Noor. AO had a plan.
The Ending of Noor
Without divulging her plan to DNA, AO put it in effect. She overcame extreme pain to look in and take control. She shut down all the Noors all at once. She was shocked to realize that turning off all the Noors ended the Red Eye. The disaster was not natural as many thought; the Noors actually created it. Once the Noors were stopped, the sand stopped blowing and started to fall.
DNA and AO run to safety. As they rested, someone used a drone to deliver them some food. The food was healing.
And in several big cities in a country far far away, the lights