Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor reads as a tall tale told around the campfire–or the equivalent of a campfire in near-future Ghana, a tablet playing a video of a campfire. In the story, a child named Fatima encounters a seed that falls from the sky, which makes her no longer feel ill from malaria, able to kill with her touch, and able to destroy a whole town in a moment.
The tale is quite sad in the way of fairy tales. Fatima, with this power, kills everyone she loves through no fault of her own, and forgets her own name. She becomes a wandering myth going from place to place, trying to find her purpose, reason for being, or a place where she belongs. The time is vague, but the setting is a future Ghana, enough in the future that there are robots in some towns patrolling the streets but not far enough in the future to be commonplace. The tale reads sorrowful because Sankofa–which she goes by after she forgets her name–has no place to belong; she is only ever treated like a witch, a pariah, a curse, an omen, or something to be feared.
In reality, she is just a little girl being put in a situation she has no control over, and thus has to find control in any way she can. She does this by embracing her mythos, by becoming the figure of folk tales going town to town. In reality, it’s a mask for loss, loss of family, loss of friends, loss of her home, and loss of any normalcy in her life. She even forgets her own name, taking the name of Sankofa after the Sankofa bird. Though she embraces the legend of Sankofa that spreads throughout Ghana, what she is looking for is a place to belong. She cannot always fully control the power to kill, nor can she stop it when in great pain; finding that place to belong is easier said than done.
In Remote Control, Okorafor nails how a realistic version of a near-future would look. Companies are exploiting alien artifacts falling to the Earth, artificially intelligent robots are serving as cops and using drones to monitor towns. However, people and society haven’t drastically changed, nor are these technological advances so far off from what we have now. No one is wearing silver jumpsuits, driving flying cars, and society has not evolved to help someone in Sunkofa’s situation. The world progresses without real progress, and it makes Remote Control desperately sad at times.
What hooked me into the story was the chase for the source of Sankofa’s power but what kept me reading was the emotional journey the girl formerly known as Fatima goes to find a new home, a new family, and a new place to belong. In all honesty, I am a reader who likes answers and conclusive endings. Remote Control gave me neither yet it was still a wonderful tale that once I started reading, I did not stop until it was finished and put it down fully satisfied. However, neither the mysteries of the book nor what happens to Fatima are resolved. The quality of Remote Control supersedes my need as a reader for a clearly defined resolution.