An Orwellian debut explodes ancient lore and contemporary technology to create a prescient, terrifying dystopia.
In 2052, Britain has become an extreme surveillance state with pre-Victorian levels of brutal poverty. King Henry IX, aka Harry9, controls the news through WikiNous, the Internet transmitted through flesh. Alerts, text messages, and spam scroll across citizens’ corneas, with incoming messages flashing colors like a migraine aura. The ability to opt out of the spam is only available to the wealthiest. Meanwhile, with the impending arrival of the comet Urga-Rampos, Heaven’s Gate, a California-based cult run by Marshall Applewhite III, is trying to kill all of the world’s animals and perform mass suicides, an increasingly appealing prospect for the large Indigent class. Homeless 90-year-old Cuthbert Handley sets out to free the animals of the London Zoo. Suffering from an addiction to Flôt, a legal hallucinogenic with crippling withdrawal symptoms, Cuthbert believes the animals are talking to him and hopes they will help him find his brother Drystan, who drowned in 1968 and who may or may not be the Christ of the Otters. Dr. Bajwa, Cuthbert’s physician, worries Cuthbert’s delusions will get him locked away in a Calm House with a Nexar hood that would “smooth and desplinter brain activity like a kind of mental woodplane.” Conveniently, Dr. Bajwa is an amateur solarcopter pilot. This plot device is the one creak in an otherwise highly immersive narrative. The language of the novel crackles with energy, nimbly drawing on Old English, regional dialects and slang, and speculative future language. The worlds’ religions—paganism, Christianity, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, Yoruba—fuse together in a luminous supernatural force which buoys forward poor Cuthbert, who, despite the risk of multiple-organ failure, doggedly pursues his mission to keep the voices of the animals alive.
An impressive, richly imagined, deeply urgent story.