Friday, December 2, 2016

Lament for the Fallen by Gavin Chait


The author of Lament for the Fallen, a science fiction novel set in Nigeria. Gavin has spent more than a decade researching and presenting ideas in data-driven economic development, and in creating and leading technical projects ranging from economic development to open data. His work and travels have taken him across Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. He is fascinated by the frontiers of human progress: innovation vs ignorance; wealth vs poverty.
Born in Cape Town in 1974, Gavin Chait emigrated to the UK eight years ago. He has degrees in Microbiology & Biochemistry, and Electrical Engineering. He is an economic development strategist and data scientist, and has travelled extensively in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia and is now based in Oxford. Lament for the Fallen - his first novel - has its origins in a story he attempted to write when he was a science fiction-obsessed twelve year old.
'Father, tell me a story?' asks Isaiah, moments before a strange craft falls from the sky and smashes into the jungle near his isolated West African community. Inside the ruined vessel the villagers find the shattered body of a man. His name is Samara and he is a man unlike any the villagers have seen before - a man who is perhaps something more than human.
With his city home of Achenia hiding in the rubble left by a devastating war, Samara has fallen 35,000 km to earth in order to escape the automated hell of an orbiting prison called Tartarus. As he struggles to heal himself, he helps transform the lives of those who rescued him but in so doing attracts the attention of the brutal warlord who rules over this benighted, ravaged post-21st century land. He is not a man to be crossed, and now he threatens the very existence of the villagers themselves and the one, slim chance Samara has of finding his way home and to the woman - and the world - he loves.
And all the while - in the darkness above - waits the simmering fury that lies at the heart of Tartarus . . .
I got fascinated and attracted to Africa a while ago when a flatmate of mine showed me how kind and similar people from that part of the world are to my people. I was drawn to this book by the synopsis which promised a new take on a “first contact” story and the beautiful cover art. It started strong, the first 50 pages were spectacular. Besides I was hungry to read about how people imagine life to change.
The good stuff: the cultural importance of stories, especially in an isolated community like Ewuru. That is how information is shared and passed down, generation after generation. But it's the future! Isn't their any internet? Is all data not just a few clicks away? Well, yes. But in the case of this village, they are completely cut off, on purpose. The world is pretty much fucked, so they want nothing to do with it. Can't say I blame them. If I had to choose I would probably make the exact same choices, lately I feel fed up with people, social media and the over all dumbing down that takes place around me.
The book does a great job of painting the intriguing future envisioned by the author, and the story is certainly interesting. You can tell, particularly in the segments of the story dealing with the symbiotic relationship between certain humans and AI, that the author has a strong, hard-science background. Unfortunately, I was left with the conviction that the author is overly fond of certain tired plot devices and never saw a tangent he was afraid to explore, although most of this is a brief diversion. Also, since this is African Sci-Fi, there is lots of storytelling here used as parables, with not everything seeming necessary, but definitely creating an appropriate mood. 
Me overall opinion is that it is a good read, and interesting point of view on the matter, but I would dare to say it was like a bird with a hurt wing: it could have blown me away if only it was left to fly and reach its full potential. It is an outstanding piece of literature, and managed to keep me engaged up until the very end. Exquisite book.4FOXGIVEN