Following a war between atheists and other people, the planet Earth has become uninhabitable. In order to give humanity a second chance, an atheist scientist (you’d think they all were, but this isn’t the case) launches a probe to Keppler 4b. The probe contains two androids and boxes packed with frozen embryos.
The planet proves unsurprisingly hostile, and after twelve years, the androids (called Mother and Father) have lost all the children except one.
And to make matters worse, a ship from the religious sect arrives …
You can tell Ridley Scott was involved: Raised by Wolves is what you get if someone decided to do a spin-off series for the androids from the Alien franchise. It’s dark, dystopian, and a bit … gooey. Like Alien, there are a lot of skeletal monsters … and mucus. My god, there’s a lot of mucus …
It’s a bit of everything this book: part dystopian sci-fi, part urban fantasy, and part social commentary. You’d think that trying to blend all this together into a single novel would turn into a hot mess.
Well, no it doesn’t.
Set in a future Africa after a global disaster, Who Fears Death is the story – the long and harrowing story – of Onyesonwu Ubaid-Ogundimu, a child born of rape who undertakes a journey to become a sorcerer so that she can avenge the rape of her mother.
That alone is a lot to unwrap, but as I mentioned, this book is very much a social commentary wrapped in a fantasy novel, so along the way we also take a good, long, graphic look at incest, child abuse, female circumcision, weaponised rape, war, mutilation and my personal bugbear this year: the caste system. This is some bold writing: Okorafor doesn’t spare anyone’s fragility and that’s a good thing because it makes the book realistic, gritty, compelling and thought-provoking, stark and unsanitized. Some of it makes for uncomfortable reading, but don’t skip it.
Y’know what … on paper, this shouldn’t really work. I mean, it’s about chess. Now, that’s not to say that’s chess isn’t an exciting game; I watched a few matches on Channel4 a few years back, and I have to tell you it’s the most exciting and passionate commentary I’ve seen for any sport. But still … it is chess, and I while I could imagine a ninety-minute movie working, I wasn’t sure about a seven-episode mini-series.
Well, shows what I know. If anything, it was too short.
With the help of the odd flashback, we follow the colourful life of prodigy Beth Harmon – from her early years being taught chess by the surly janitor in the basement of the orphanage where she grew up, proving her genius in the male-dominated arena of competition chess, and international stardom as a master of the beautiful game (no hang on, that’s football, isn’t it).
Of course, genius has its price, and emotionally-repressed Beth, played brilliantly by Anya Taylor-Joy, is unable to deal with the loss of two mothers, her growing fame, and the demands of being at the top of the intensely competitive sport.
And of course, the drink and drug addiction doesn’t help … or maybe it does … not sure …