Strange Horizons, April 5, 2021
Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf
A supernatural disaster devastates the city mentioned in the title of “We Broke Nairobi” by Noel Cheruto. The bizarre phenomenon, predicted by a televangelist, causes such extreme heat that most people cannot leave the buildings in which they are trapped. Only the so-called lowlifes – the homeless, criminals, and so on – can survive outside, for a mysterious reason. These persons serve as runners for those who cannot go outside.
Things get much worse when night is reduced to only one hour out of twenty-four, and when the heat becomes so intense that all water evaporates, and most objects are reduced to ashes. The preacher holds the secret to survival, and the lowlifes face a horrible fate.
The author creates a powerful portrait of an extraordinary apocalypse. Although it may have been inspired by the threat of climate change, it is so intense and so fantastic that it cannot be seen as simply an allegory.
The criminals take advantage of those trapped inside, sometimes even leading to the deaths of their victims. The more honest lowlifes are driven to open warfare, in order to stay alive. Given these facts, and the power the televangelist holds over the lowlifes, the story conveys a sense of complete hopelessness, which some readers may find too depressing to enjoy.
The tale ends with a confrontation between the preacher and the lowlifes, but without a final resolution. Although a tragic conclusion to the crisis is implied, one might wish that the author had continued this fascinating, if grim, look at an incredible holocaust.
Victoria Silverwolf accidentally bought the wrong kind of peanut butter recently.