Bankole draws on contemporary racial issues to craft an unsettling future in her debut sci-fi novel.
In a dystopian future, the Earth’s surface has been rendered uninhabitable, and the United States has been dissolved following a second civil war. The residents of the Republic of Kalifornia are divided between those who make their homes on the floating Sky Shelf and those who live in surface slums and underground tunnels. The Sky Shelf residents live in a high-tech metropolis with modern food and medicine, while those below suffer from genetic mutations and poverty. The poor often resort to trading blood samples for basic amenities, as doctors use their blood to produce medicine. Those in the tunnels lead communal lives shaped by mysticism and spirituality, engaging in meditative rituals and practicing alternative forms of healing. The society is further divided by strict racial segregation; the Sky Shelf government has even placed a ban on interracial relationships to keep bloodlines pure, banishing those without proper pedigrees. Messob is a young woman living in the tunnels who’s fated to travel to the Sky Shelf as an ambassador for her people and to work to end the racist laws. Her quest is complicated, however, by her taboo romance with a young doctor who believes that her blood could be the key to developing more effective medicine. Bankole effectively uses multiple historical and cultural allusions to shape her vision of a troubled future, and she roots her world’s woes in present-day politics, which gives the novel a rich, evocative subtext. However, it also limits the effectiveness of the parallels she draws. References to real-life events (such as the killing of Trayvon Martin) resonantly clarify the story’s core concept but may also come off as heavy-handed. These moments are spare, however, and the overall subject matter is strong enough to make up for a few missteps.
A pointed, if occasionally hyperbolic, take on dystopian sci-fi.