In America, and much of the European-dominated west, we have that personification of Death as the Grim Reaper, that skeleton in a dark robe, carrying a scythe. But what if Death were a glowing little girl? Or more accurately, a small teenager with toxic alien radiation. In Nnedi Okorafor’s Remote Control, one little girl growing up in Ghana finds that after an encounter with a strange seed in her backyard, she can kill with blasts glowing energy, and she becomes “Death’s adopted daughter” Sankofa. In the wake of her family and hometown’s demise, Sakofa wanders a future countryside looking for answers, in the shadow of new technologies bestowed by distant corporations.

As a consequence of her strange radioactive powers, Sankofa herself cannot use technology, though it has taken a firm grip on the world around her. Everyone Sankofa knows thirsts for the latest tech that comes from the ever-distant America. This goes not only for practical farm technology like cars or tractors but also for automated law enforcement. Sankofa encounters one community where everyone reveres the impartial robot policeman that serves them, despite its mandate to gather data and send it on to a foreign corporation. The reliance on technology shows how much of Sankofa’s, that is the future’s, the economy will rely on a relationship between rural people and technologies to produce food. Food will always be needed and so the older farmers and citizens that Sankofa encounters have no fear of her, though all consider her a kind of Grim Reaper figure. To a younger generation that cannot imagine a past – let alone a future – that does not involve the Internet, Sankofa’s deadly powers and intolerance of technology make her a pariah.   

Yet, those who embrace Sankofa find themselves bent not only toward maturity but a more pragmatic existence. A programmer, the wife of an imam, teaches Sankofa meditative exercises based on Islamic teaching. Traditional farmers give Sankofa food and wonder at the point of one of their granddaughters getting a Masters’s in Engineering. An American boy visiting Ghanan relatives blithely befriends Sankofa without knowing how close to death he actually sits. Even a government-sanctioned hitman recognizes Sankofa’s almost Stoic approach to life as a threat to the materialist culture of his bosses. Actually, he places the idea that the seed which gave Sankofa her powers might not only be foreign, but not of this world.

Sankofa’s superpowered journey manages to wander through thought-provoking territory in a short stretch of time. Though the ringing echoes of imperialism sound in the background, Sankofa finds her greatest conflict with the child in herself, desperately struggling against the shifting generations. An excellent entry-point for anyone new to Nnedi Okorafor’s work.

Page count: 160

Three out of five stars

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