A catastrophic solar flare reshapes our world order as we know it – in an instant, electricity grids are crippled, followed by devastating cyberattacks that paralyze all communication. Kwesi Bracket is an industrial engineer who works for NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab, running space-walk simulations for astronauts. When the flare hits, his life quickly disintegrates – he loses his job and his wife leaves him, forcing him to take care of his daughter by himself. Meanwhile, America slowly descends into chaos as people turn inward to protect themselves.
Bracket soon discovers that Nigeria operates the only functioning space program in the world, which is recruiting scientists to launch a daring rescue mission to save a famous astronaut stranded aboard the International Space Station. With Europe, Asia, and the U.S. knocked off-line, and thousands of dead satellites about to plummet to Earth, Bracket heads to Kano in Northeastern Nigeria. But what he finds there is anything but normal. In the aftermath of the flare, the country has been flooded with advanced biohacking technologies, and the scramble for space supremacy has attracted dangerous peoples from all over Africa. What’s more: the militant Islamic group Boko Haram is slowly encroaching on the spaceport, leaving a trail of destruction, while a group of nomads has discovered an ancient technology more powerful than anything he’s ever imagined.
With the clock ticking down, Bracket – helped by a brilliant scientist from India and an eccentric lunar geologist – must confront the looming threats to the spaceport in order to launch a harrowing rescue mission into space. In this sequel to Nigerians in Space, Deji Bryce Olukotun poses deep questions about technology, international ambition, identity, and space exploration in the 21st century.
Pre-orders make a huge impact on sales and reviews. By buying After the Flare in advance, you’re voting for a different kind of literature and sci-fi — one that I hope you’ll find entertaining and challenging.
I published a piece on Quartz Africa about the recent news that Nigeria plans to send an astronaut into space by 2030. The article looks at the history of the Nigerian space program — as well as the email scan involving a lost astronaut that has taken the internet by storm. You can read the article here.
You may have been the lucky recipient of a Facebook post asking for money to help rescue a lost Nigerian astronaut. I can reassure you that I didn’t write it, even though I’m the author of a novel called Nigerians in Space. The email claims that a Nigerian scientist’s brother was the first African in space, but was left stranded on a secret Soviet space station when his seat to return to Earth was replaced by cargo after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The author, one Dr. Bakare Tunde, requests the sum of $3 million to help rescue his brother, who has apparently been in space since 1990. (Yes, 26 years.) That sum will unlock nearly $15 million in back pay, which Dr. Tunde will split with you for your generosity.
It didn’t take much sleuthing for me to discover that this scam has been running since at least 2004, when The Register uploaded the text of the email to its website. Someone has cleverly re-shared it on Facebook, and it’s now going viral across the web, spurred on by sites like BoingBoing, because our collective memory for these sorts of things holds as much capacity as a TI-82 graphing calculator.
But let’s take the letter on its own terms. The story is actually very well researched, as preposterous as that may sound. Nigeria does indeed have a National Space Research and Development Agency. I visited the agency in Abuja in 2014 and wrote in Slate about how the scientist I met closely resembled a fictional character in my book.
Nigeria has a reputation for launching troves of outrageous email scams, sometimes called 419 scams, for the section of the criminal code under which they are prosecuted in Nigeria. One strategy is to send out as many of the emails as possible and hope that a tiny percentage falls for the scam. The fact that the astronaut is African may make the letter seem absurd — but the vast majority of victims believe that Africans are too innocent and stupid to try to steal their money, and fork it over nonetheless. Russia probably launches the most spam attacks in the world, to my knowledge, but 12 years later Nigerians are still trying sophisticated phishing and hacking schemes. What do both countries have in common? A wealth of tech talent with too few employers to hire them, meaning they try to make money through illicit means.
But in 2014, Nigeria surged forward to become the continent’s largest economy. We’ll see if plummeting crude oil prices — the anemic lifeblood of the economy — will slow that growth, but the country of 175 million already has millions of talented youth who thrive online, whether on their smartphones or the lightning-fast broadband of posh Victoria Island in Lagos.
So the question remains, if this email scam is 12 years old, why has it gone viral again? Laying aside the cynicism of virality — that we as an online species are fickle and will click on anything — the Facebook bonanza suggests that the underlying skepticism about African ingenuity remains in place. Africans simply can’t be smart enough to go into space. But here again, I’d like to credit the author. S/he convincingly wrote the email from the point of view of a Nigerian scientist — believing that the reader would know that the space agency is real — and the storyline only becomes silly when the author imagines why the astronaut was trapped in the first place, that there is a secret Soviet space station circling the Earth. 
Is the scam funny because we can’t envision Nigerians going into space on their own initiative?  This would be a troubling indictment of African progress, or at least of our perceptions of African progress, because, again, there has been a lot of it, especially in technology.
Or is the scam funny because all of us know that if the astronaut lived in space for 26 years, surviving on a supply of secret Soviet oxygen, his bone structure would be decimated, because he presumably hasn’t been exercising on a cosmocycle, and he would now be a primordial pancake with no bone mass or musculature?
Your guess is as good as mine.
I’m currently writing the sequel to Nigerians in Space — and there will be astronauts, and brainy Africans, and criminals, too — and it’s a shame that I can’t turn to some of Nigeria’s most creative writers for inspiration, because, for the moment at least, they may still be operating underground. On Facebook this time.
 Maybe it’s not so ridiculous? Check out this film starring Clint Eastwood, which imagines a secret Soviet satellite that mistakenly activates a nuclear warhead, and appeared in theaters four years before the email was written.
 Okay, I realize that many email scams are composed by more than one author, but I am not privy to that editing process. You could also guess that the email wasn’t written by a Nigerian at all, but by a stoner who happened to know about African space programs, and wanted to pin something on the Soviets and their space station. Knock out two birds with one stone, if you will.
I was honored to be reviewed by The Guardian in Nigeria, one of the most popular newspapers in the country. The review was written by Tade Ipadeola, winner of the Nigeria Prize — the most prestigious literary prize. (I highly recommend you read Tade Ipadeola’s The Sahara Testaments.)
As he writes:
Among the things that Deji Olukotun has done, in this novel, is an anatomy of that divide between potential and actuality, promise and fulfilment, responsibility and perplexing irresponsibility. The novel is also a visceral plumbing of the depths of dreams and nightmares and how one sometimes morphs into the other. This novel is also a fine example of the relationship between the nation and the imagination.