In this sci-fi debut, men have gone extinct, and one woman must decide how society should continue.
It’s 2099, and 19-year-old Athena Vosh lives in the Algonquin Forest Zone of the North American Union. Her main source of income is her Citizen’s Benefit stipend, but she wants to become a landscape painter. She lives with her partner, Nomi James, who designs computer programs for “massage implants.” Both women routinely print clothing and food and interact with their Advanced Artificially-Intelligent Scheduler and Home Assistant. But the strangest thing about their world is that there are no men in it. The last one died in 2051 from Y-Fever, a disease created to kill terrorists that mutated and killed every man on Earth, including transgender men, as well as some women. A company called Helix has been trying to find a cure, so that men might someday return. When someone steals an incomplete map of a fever-immune “Lazarus Genome” from Helix’s mainframe, Capt. Valerie Bell of Public Safety investigates. Oddly, the world’s most powerful artificial intelligence, the Third Core, enigmatically suggests to Bell’s supervisor that Athena is vital to solving the case. Meanwhile, Athena has been painting pictures of a ruined, vine-covered building that’s stuck in her head. She soon travels to Chicago, the North American Union’s capital, for an interview with Capt. Bell. As Athena dreams of the mysterious building, and of the phrase “Original Sin is Real,” she grapples with being a “Lonely Heart”—a woman who yearns for men to return.
Boostrom’s tale is fueled by sharp dialogue and challenging ideas, and it’s an invigorating read in an age of political and cultural division. His fictional world, with its population loss, nuclear terrorism, and risen oceans, is futuristic but familiar; rather than swiping right on a dating app, women swipe right in midair while using a contact lens–based web interface to schedule fertility consultations. This future is also apparently much safer without men: “Crime rates in the NAU were below 1%.” Boostrom frequently references famous paintings to emphasize Athena’s chosen field; his most poignant nod is to René Magritte’s “Clairvoyance,” which shows a man staring at an egg but painting a bird. According to Athena, this man does what she lacks the talent to do—“he’s viewing all of the egg’s future-promise and potential, fully brought to life.” The first two-thirds of the novel are a taut sci-fi mystery, but the last portion fearlessly interrogates the roots of maleness. The book presents 2099 as a near utopia, aside from a rising suicide rate, which could imply that most women are saints, but for the evil to which men drive them; however, the author also has the Third Core say that "some women will be more dangerous than the average man."
A daring book that will stay in readers’ minds long after the final page.