Ahoy there mateys! This is a beautifully written sci-fi novel with some extremely incredible world-building. In this version of our possible future, the world has flooded, the major world players have been destroyed, and humanity is clinging to existence in scattered parts of the world.
One of these locations is Qaanaaq, a floating city of a million people on the Arctic Circle. It reminds me of an oil rig city, has eight Arms, and is set up on a geothermal vent. All previous nationalities and religions are represented here though the citizens don’t really rehash the past. Pure survival is the primary goal. The technology is powerful with things like electronics stored in the jaw that have translation capabilities and an internet-like connection. At the same time, space is at a premium and money still reigns supreme. There is extreme, heartbreaking poverty and also small pockets of wealth controlled by anonymous shareholders. The government is an AI program with a few token humans holding public office. There are practically no laws. Illicit business is everywhere and the landlords have the true power.
This city has three odd things that feature into the story. The first is a disease called “the breaks.” It is usually sexually transmitted but can be passed through other bodily fluids via sickness or filth. This disease has no cure and can affect folks of any type. It causes mental breakdown and hallucinations and eventually death. The second is that the city is home to a broadcast called “City Without a Map.” The broadcast seems to be targeted towards incoming immigrants and shares explanations for how the city functions and stories of how its citizen live. No one knows who is in charge of these broadcasts. The third is that a woman just arrived in town, riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side. Who is she and what does she want?
Ye discover the answer to this question and many others through the eyes of four points of view. There is Fill, a rich, gay man who has discovered he has the breaks. There is Ankit, a young woman who works as an assistant for one of the human managers of an Arm and just wants her mother to be released from an involuntary stay in a mental hospital. There is Kaev, a mind-addled 33 year old man whose slight happiness comes from participating in fights for a living; sadly ones that he is paid to lose. And then there is me favourite, Soq. Soq is a non-binary slideway messenger. But Soq has bigger plans that involve them getting into organized crime first.
Their stories are told in third-person and the relationship of these four takes a while to branch out into interactions with other people. But these viewpoints, the broadcasts, and the information of other secondary characters in the city, make for both a complex, sprawling city and plot. And yet the information is delivered in such a fashion that yer understanding of the city and its inner workings is not hard to understand.
The main problem I had with this book was that while I liked all four points of view, I wasn’t majorly connected to or rooting for any in particular. Even if I loved Soq. And as the story grew and the paths of the characters intertwined, I really felt outside of the action. I don’t think this was a bad thing per se. But I was certainly an outsider looking in. And the buildup and tension really only ratcheted upward in the end in a fashion both startling and kinda abrupt. And yet somehow overall satisfying as odd as it was.
While I would have loved to have felt more drawn to the character struggles and less like I was viewing everything through an extremely powerful and detailed microscope, I am very happy I picked up this title. It was certainly a very different read and this review cannot really even get into the intricacies of it all due to plot spoilers. But suffice to say that I will be reading more of this author’s work in the future. Arrr!
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle, a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy. The city’s denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod new way of living, however, the city is starting to fray along the edges—crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a new disease called “the breaks” is ravaging the population.
When a strange new visitor arrives—a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side—the city is entranced. The “orcamancer,” as she’s known, very subtly brings together four people—each living on the periphery—to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together to save their city before it crumbles under the weight of its own decay, they will learn shocking truths about themselves.
Blackfish City is a remarkably urgent—and ultimately very hopeful—novel about political corruption, organized crime, technology run amok, the consequences of climate change, gender identity, and the unifying power of human connection.
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