In the 2050s, Earth has begun to empty. Those with the means and the privilege have departed the great cities of the United States for the more comfortable confines of space colonies. Those left behind salvage what they can from the collapsing infrastructure. As they eke out an existence, their neighborhoods are being cannibalized. Brick by brick, their houses are sent to the colonies, what was once a home now a quaint reminder for the colonists of the world that they wrecked.
Goliath is not your average science fiction novel. Onyebuchi jumps through first, second, and third POV, from a traditional Western narrative structure to documentary footage to nonfiction journalism articles. Time is nonlinear here, with some stories happening in the past, others in the characters’ presents, and others in their futures. It is somehow simultaneously epic yet intimate in scope, with a large cast of characters spreading across several states and many years, most of whom are connected to each other by one man ... Goliath reminds me of Angela Mi Young Hur’s devastatingly good 2021 speculative novel Folklorn. Content-wise, the books couldn’t be more different, but in terms of the way they made me feel, both while reading and afterward, they are very much alike. The two books are dense in plot and background and play with time, space, and knowledge in frighteningly clever ways. They’re emotionally heavy and intellectually layered to the point where multiple reads are required for full understanding. Neither are easy weekend reads by any means, and you’ll probably feel more like you just ran a marathon when you turn that last page rather than feel peaceful satisfaction ... Whatever Goliath is, however you interpret and experience it, it’s clear that Tochi Onyebuchi is one hell of a writer. This is a visceral and bracing text, as layered as an archaeological dig.
It’s an ingenious premise: Onyebuchi suburbanizes outer space and makes battered, almost uninhabitable provincial America the frontier ... In its scale and ambition, Goliath has the feel of a Tom Wolfe novel, but there isn’t really any central action or plot that forces the different characters, up and down the class ladder, into contact and conflict with one another. The story jumps between points of view and moves backward and forward in time ... How all this hangs together matters less in the end than the picture of a broken America these stories present ... Characters with different back stories wander onstage and reveal themselves. This puts a lot of pressure on each scene to deliver meaningful revelations ... In a strange way, though, the stakes remain low, if only because there’s so little hope that their lives will ever get better ... Inevitably, tensions between the two communities reach a climax, and the result is a tragedy you don’t need to be a science-fiction writer to imagine. But the speculative machinery offers a nuance here, too.
With deep emotional resonance, a strong biblical theme and tautly written speculative mechanics, Goliath is a real powerhouse of a novel. However, I’d be remiss not to mention its celebration of Blackness: the high-stakes tension of a game of spades, the pure poetry of the lyrics of Pusha T and Kendrick Lamar, the abundant energy of an 'Atlanta-ass' story. Too often these elements are cast off as 'urban' fiction or, if they find their way into (predominantly white) literary fiction at all, praised for 'elevating' the culture (as if it arises from a place so low as to require elevation). But Onyebuchi, with his generous, intellectually layered prose, celebrates all of these details and more, making them near-heroic qualities, signifiers of resistance in a world hell-bent on stomping out culture. Visceral, urgent and terrifyingly clever, Goliath is a prophecy in and of itself. Onyebuchi will change the way you think about systemic oppression and the need for resistance. Whether it is with this novel or his next brilliant work, he is sure to leave a lasting mark on the literary world.