E. G. Condé, Sordidez, Stelliform Press, 2023.
Sordidez is a near-future novel, tangling the fate of three indigenous characters of Central America and the Caribbean, as they are confronted to climate catastrophes and colonisation.
Vero is a young man from Puerto Rico. After a devastating storm, he heads into the jungle with his friends and siblings, in the hope of building a network of indigenous communities. But Puerto Rico is sold to the Chinese who crush the indigenous community. Vero leaves to fight differently. In Central America, he'll meet Doña Margarita, a woman who holds together a small community of refugees in a landscape of drought, and a young woman, Aleja, who claims to work for the government.
The characters aren't the main focus of Sordidez. Many aspects of their lives that would be developed in a novel corresponding to the British and UK traditions of trad publications are swiftly mentioned and forgotten, like the romance Vero had on his island with a man who will meet an untimely death. The secondary characters are barely portrayed. It can be unsettling and it may prove an obstacle for some readers to enter into the story.
On the other hand, all the characters are here for a purpose. Each of the three main characters embodies a different choice in the extreme circumstances that are theirs, but all have the same goal: liberation and community. What Condé offers us is an examination of the changes those choices wrought, of their effectiveness in achieving the goal. This exploration offers fascinating moral dilemmas and reminds of Butler. But where Butler often focused on survival, Condé affirms that this can't be enough.
Whereas Margarita chooses forgiveness and patience, Vero wants to play the colonisers' game in the hope he'll gain their support and attention. On the other hand, Aleja is driven by revenge.
Condé doesn't preach as to which character would be "right" but his ending states clearly that the characters' purpose remains the only valid choice and the only capable of bringing hope in a drowning world.
Sordidez deals very explicitly with the ongoing climate catastrophe and the relationship between the land and the characters is a fundamental one. Condé, in a brilliant quip by one of the main characters, sweeps aside the myth of the "noble savage who lived and died in passive harmony with their surroundings". But he shows instead the characters' deep love for their land, home of their ancestors, and their pain at seeing it mutilated. This is, without a doubt, the novel's aspect that resonated the most with me.
I also enjoyed how the ending blurred the genre lines by introducing fantasy elements in a near-future world that relies heavily on technology. The technology is also particularly interesting in Sordidez as it studies the intent behind its uses. Whereas some will use it for the common good, in most instances it's only used for war and violence, from impressively described war machines to the hydrophage, a engineered virus creating a drought. Of course, who wields the technology results on what it'll end up doing.
Condé doesn't pull any punches. He is the storyteller bringing the fight through his words to those who exploit colonised lands and peoples in a time of climate emergency.
Sordidez is a novel best read without false expectations. The story is structured with short chapters that follow one of the characters, then another, although their lives are entangled by the purpose they share. It's also a short novel that doesn't expand on characters or worldbuilding. If those elements aren't a deal breaker for you as a reader, then you will fall deeply into its prose and pace as Margarita, Vero and Aleja's fates unfold.
Condé's novel reflects the remarkable boldness of small presses in speculative fiction, as only one of them could bring us this tale that rings so deeply true.
Sordidez is a fascinating read which, despite some aspects that may not be everyone's cup of tea, states loud and clear some hard truths. It becomes urgent to hear them with each passing day.
Disclaimer: A free copy was received but with no obligation attached to review it on The Middle Shelf.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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