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Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Blue African : An Extraterrestrial Examines Apartheid

When I first encountered The Blue African by L.W. Samuelson as a book available for review on The Bookplex website, I thought it might be a satire, but it turned out to be something else--a seriously intended indictment of  humans behaving badly.


I really loved the premise.  Imagine an alien from another planet arriving in apartheid South Africa.  What would he think of apartheid?  How would he deal with it, and how would South Africa deal with him?  Although The Blue African can be very overtly didactic at times, I found it both entertaining and moving until toward the end of the narrative.

I noticed that other reviewers were put off by the cover.  I associated it with old fashioned pulp science fiction and thought it was appropriate. It clearly communicated to readers that this is science fiction. 

I had some problems with character names.  I thought that the name Porter was too human ordinary for an alien. At 43% Porter was suddenly Logis.  I assume that Logis was the original name of the character and that this was an editing error.   There is mention of a woman from Porter’s planet who had a Greek name.  Perhaps Samuelson was originally going to give all his aliens Greek names.   Without a reasonable explanation, aliens with Greek names lack credibility.    At one point the protagonist, Porter Tellez, was given an Afrikaner name as an identity change.  Then he pretended to be an Englishman.   At the same time, a minor character with an English name was introduced, and he turned out to be an Afrikaner. This seemed incongruous. Later, there was an evil character with a name that was almost the same as a villainous historical personage.   I found that unsubtle.  

From a characterization perspective, I appreciate the portrayals of the African characters in Soweto.  I also found Porter likable until late in the novel. Samuelson evidently didn’t want Porter to be too idealized.   He had Porter make an error that I found inconsistent with the character as previously established.  I also thought the attitude Porter eventually takes toward humanity as a whole based on television and rather limited experience was very troubling.  I didn't understand why he had such a negative opinion of  the whole human species when he seemed to think so highly of the majority population of South Africa.  If that holds true for all nations, then it's possible to conclude that the majority of the planet are decent beings trying to survive the depredations of a greedy minority.  Yet that apparently isn't what Porter thinks.  If others of his species agreed with him, it could lead to a very dystopian future and I am not a fan of dystopias.   So despite what seems to be a happily ever after ending, I was left with a queasy feeling.



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