Sunday, September 9, 2018

Blackfish City

Sam J. Miller
Completed 9/5/2018, Reviewed 9/9/2018
3 stars

I was indifferent to this book, neither liked it nor disliked it.  It had many parts that were interesting, but it simply didn’t come together for me.  The premise is interesting, a city built in the arctic because climate wars ruined the globe.  And it has a woman who comes to the city on an orca with a polar bear.  I felt like it started out well, with four different points of view narrating the story, but when it all came together, it just didn’t gel.  This was disappointing for me because I’ve read a lot of the author’s short stories online, and really liked most of them.

The city, Qaanaaq, is built in the arctic and is powered by geothermal activity.  It’s shaped like an asterisk with eight arms.  Each arm is a subdivision of the city, and has different economic structures.  One is a really wealthy arm, another is very lower class.  The city is itself decaying politically and economically, as the government is not very strong.  There is a new plague going through the city, the Breaks, which seems to be transmitted sexually.  Then a visitor comes to the city, a woman riding an orca with a polar bear for a pet.  She’s seeking someone she lost years ago, and leaves destruction in her wake. 

The book is told from the points of view of four different characters.  All of them started out interesting.  There’s Fill, a spoiled rich boy who has just been diagnosed with the Breaks.  Ankit is an elections assistant and government worker who helps keep the city going.  Kaev is a fighter with mental illness issues who loses bouts in order to get paid.  Soq is a gender-queer messenger who straddles the cities underbelly.  About halfway through the book, all the stories come together to create a linear story line.  The story is also punctuated by readings about the city from what I think was basically like a podcast, giving you background on the how the city developed and how it’s falling apart.

I liked the individual stories in the beginning.  They were a little hard to follow, but Miller created four strong and very different characters.  Each one has a revelation as they meet the woman with the orca, the orcamancer.  Unfortunately, I can’t go into too much more detail because it gives away the ending.  But I can say that the bonding with animals is hereditary and enhanced by nanobots.    

I really don’t have much else to say about the book because it just didn’t grab me.  I give it three out of five stars, leaning a little more to the two and half star side, though I don’t give half stars for my reviews.  The prose is decent, but I found the author’s writing much better in his short stories.  The ending didn’t grab me, which is interesting because I’ve read a lot of reviews where the readers found the opposite, the beginning being hard to get into but really knocking their socks off in the end.  The author’s latest book, The Art of Starving just won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.  I’m definitely going to give that book a try, and continue reading his short fiction. 

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