A woman witnesses atrocities in her personal life and the world around her throughout the 21st and 22nd centuries in Birdwell’s (Way of the Serpent, 2015) dystopian novel.
Malia Poole’s love of books makes working at a bookshop an obvious choice, even in mid-21st century after print copies are no longer mass produced. She’s one of the Vintagonists, individuals who believe in preserving old things and have formed an alliance with like-minded factions collectively known as Recall. The U.S. having succumbed to plutocracy, Recall operates covertly but still falls prey to raids from plutocrats’ agents. When agents storm a music venue, Malia’s lover, Eliomar “Lio” Gaston, gets a message to her in time to flee, but he and his sister, Zelda, disappear. Malia herself ducks away in a community run by Simpletons—a self-deprecating name signifying the group’s minimalist movement. By the time she returns home, both Malia and the world have changed. She, for one, has stopped taking age-preventative Chulel, which notoriously causes memory loss, and is visibly older among the drug-induced young. But despite retaining more memories than others, Malia can’t remember a two-year period when she was a teen. Filling in that blank takes her to Nigeria, where she learns of a virus outbreak that prompts global power outages and a peace treaty–defying war. The novel is rich in its futuristic environment. Corporations taking over, for example, is a frighteningly believable concept, while the story’s technology is progressive and fashionable: the digilet is essentially a flexible smartphone that can be worn as a bracelet. There’s likewise instantly comprehensible slang, including expletives such as F-bomb surrogate “zujo.” A highlight is “cush,” touching the digilet’s pliable surface, and a term Malia eventually realizes is outmoded. There are instances where the protagonist is a mere spectator, unaware of what’s going on. She is, however, a woman of mystery, and details of her “blank period” are shocking and catalytic (she’s searching for someone in Nigeria). Tie-ins to the series’ first installment are clever, opening with the same scene as the preceding novel from an alternate perspective.
A vision of the future that’s both harrowing and endlessly entertaining.