By Tochi Onyebuchi
The titular riot baby in this novel is Kevin, a black child born in 1992 Los Angeles. Specifically, he arrives just hours after the courts acquitted the cops that beat Rodney King, which led to the city erupting in violence. This has special resonance for the rest of the story, as systemic racism in America is very much its subject.
Both Kevin and his older sister Ella have special powers. Ella has a vague “Thing” that allows her to see into the future, control objects, and travel among different planes of consciousness or being. Kevin’s powers are linked to Ella’s but throughout the novel are just developing. Together the siblings are avenging angels, preparing to visit the wrath of God on the oppressors of black America, who are legion.
As a political statement Riot Baby works quite well, skipping about in time and hitting all its targets with some precision. The superhero vehicle for that message, however, doesn’t add much. Characters with super powers (usually psychokinetic) are getting to be thick on the ground in today’s speculative fiction, and I can’t help thinking Marvel is mainly to blame. This is a road I don’t think SF needs to go any further down.