Sam J. Miller, Blackfish City, Orbit, 2018.
Audio version available on Audible.
Blackfish City is a near-ish future scifi novel, built upon climate change disasters and a socially conscious discourse. I've had some issues with it, but it's nonetheless a well written story, with interesting character dynamics.
Two centuries in the future, Earth is in a sorry state. Climate change disasters led to cities being sunk; social unrest led to riots and violence that decimated the population; unregulated experimentations led to new diseases or people hunted for the difference that was imposed on them.
Qaanaaq is a floating city, near the Arctic circle. Haven to huddled and poor masses who immigrated, trying to survive; haven to the rich shareholders who built it to live safely. Regulated by an array of AI systems, Qaanaaq is both home to crime syndicates and people living in idleness.
In this city without a map, four lives will connect after the arrival of a mysterious woman who rode an orca, accompanied by a polar bear: Fil, a young rich gay man; Soq, a young non binary person who earns their life by delivering messages; Ankit, a woman who works for a person responsible for one area in the city; and Kaev, a fighter whose job it is to lose for new fighting stars to rise.
The setting is a fascinating one. In a sense, Blackfish City is very much an urban scifi, in which the city is an integral part of the plot.
It leads to a social discourse, expanding on immigration, proletariat and wealth divide. Though the question of the wealth divide is quite well done and that it is nice to see immigration tackled, Miller isn't Alfred Bester yet.
The social discourse isn't naive but it sometimes fails to bring something new to the conversation, and I've been really ill at ease at seeing a family of Cambodian boat people described as quaint when I grew up in the 80s watching on TV the terrible images of Cambodians fleeing their country, and dying.
Nonetheless, socially and class conscious scifi is a rare enough thing coming from the USA that it is a refreshing change. Despite my niggles, I think Miller is certainly moving in a direction I'm very interested in, and the question of abuse from people with wealth and people with power - or from people who lack one or both but want to attain this position - is well done.
The four main characters are an interesting bunch. Miller tries to write them avoiding clichés and tropes and he succeeds particularly well with Ankit, a woman stuck between a rock and a hard place, trapped in an adult life that doesn't bring her satisfaction.
I've been less enthused by Soq's representation (two centuries from now, a gay man will be unsettled, even briefly, by a non binary person, really?). Kaev wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but I have no doubt that this character will be appealing to many readers, battling his self doubts and his tragic history.
The main characters are truly diverse, from QUILTBAG representation (gay, lesbian, enby), to persons of colour and the female/male ratio.
The characters' drives are interesting too and is really well interwoven with their personal growth as the story progresses, though I regret that the question of consent when it came to the animals wasn't even raised, in a novel that deals so strongly about abuse.
Blackfish City weaves a tale very well written, with a strong pace and characters who grow naturally within the story, in a fascinating place. Despite some niggles, I enjoyed the social discourse it conveyed, and I look forward to reading what Miller will write next.
The writer's website.
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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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