WATER MUST FALL

Well-considered social SF—an engrossing, foreboding, and uncomfortable offering.

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In this novel, two White South Africans and a Black American must open themselves to change in a near-future dystopia of chronic water shortages and a corporatocracy.

In 2048, life revolves around water. In South Africa and the Federated States of America, the FreeFlow Corporation holds immeasurable power. The wealthy few have enough to drink. They hoard their privilege while the rest of the population struggles to subsist. White South Africans Graham Mason and Lizette Basson live in a gated compound in KwaZulu-Natal. Graham, a hack journalist stuck in his ways, is looking ever more cynically to hold on to what little he has. His frequent absences give his wife time to reflect on their relative prosperity. Lizette becomes involved with the Imbali Township Co-op—an impoverished but socially active collective of traditional landowners holding their shantytown against the bulldozers of corporate “gentrification.” As the world reaches its tipping point, can Graham and Lizette’s marriage survive? Arthur Green is a Black American working for the Environmental Protection Agency, Water Division, in California. Art and his colleagues are fighting a losing battle to protect state-controlled water reserves from corporate malpractice. Art’s efforts are all-consuming but hopeless. When one of his co-workers is killed by corporate heavies—the “Men behind the Gold Curtain”—Art is forced into witness protection. Can he survive to testify and, in doing so reconcile with his estranged wife and daughter? Wood writes in the first person, past tense, cycling a chapter at a time through Graham’s, Lizette’s, and Art’s stories. Whereas the prose is straightforward, the plot and setting create a dense tangle of characters and ideas. Earth in 2048 evidences some futuristic developments—cerebral implants and emergent artificial intelligences—but for the most part forms a depressing, oppressive endpoint for current-day trends. The SF story unfolds slowly and provides little hope. But the author does propose a way forward. Art represents a Black America that has risen above the prejudices leveled against it. Lizette stands for open-mindedness at any age. Graham is a most unlikable character, but even he is forced to change. Together, they speak to unification beyond borders. The message is an important one, albeit not always pleasant to digest.

Well-considered social SF—an engrossing, foreboding, and uncomfortable offering.

Pub Date: April 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-912950-61-4

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Newcon Press

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

PROPHET SONG

Captivating, frightening, and a singular achievement.

As Ireland devolves into a brutal police state, one woman tries to preserve her family in this stark fable.

For Eilish Stack, a molecular biologist living with her husband and four children in Dublin, life changes all at once and then slowly worsens beyond imagining. Two men appear at her door one night, agents of the new secret police, seeking her husband, Larry, a union official. Soon he is detained under the Emergency Powers Act recently pushed through by the new ruling party, and she cannot contact him. Eilish sees things shifting at work to those backing the ruling party. The state takes control of the press, the judiciary. Her oldest son receives a summons to military duty for the regime, and she tries to send him to Northern Ireland. He elects to join the rebel forces and soon she cannot contact him, either. His name and address appear in a newspaper ad listing people dodging military service. Eilish is coping with her father’s growing dementia, her teenage daughter’s depression, the vandalizing of her car and house. Then war comes to Dublin as the rebel forces close in on the city. Offered a chance to flee the country by her sister in Canada, Eilish can’t abandon hope for her husband’s and son’s returns. Lynch makes every step of this near-future nightmare as plausible as it is horrific by tightly focusing on Eilish, a smart, concerned woman facing terrible choices and losses. An exceptionally gifted writer, Lynch brings a compelling lyricism to her fears and despair while he marshals the details marking the collapse of democracy and the norms of daily life. His tonal control, psychological acuity, empathy, and bleakness recall Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006). And Eilish, his strong, resourceful, complete heroine, recalls the title character of Lynch’s excellent Irish-famine novel, Grace (2017).

Captivating, frightening, and a singular achievement.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9780802163011

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

TENDER IS THE FLESH

An unrelentingly dark and disquieting look at the way societies conform to committing atrocities.

A processing plant manager struggles with the grim realities of a society where cannibalism is the new normal.

Marcos Tejo is the boss’s son. Once, that meant taking over his father’s meat plant when the older man began to suffer from dementia and require nursing home care. But ever since the Transition, when animals became infected with a virus fatal to humans and had to be destroyed, society has been clamoring for a new source of meat, laboring under the belief, reinforced by media and government messaging, that plant proteins would result in malnutrition and ill effects. Now, as is true across the country, Marcos’ slaughterhouse deals in “special meat”—human beings. Though Marcos understands the moral horror of his job supervising the workers who stun, kill, flay, and butcher other humans, he doesn’t feel much since the crib death of his infant son. “One can get used to almost anything,” he muses, “except for the death of a child.” One day, the head of a breeding center sends Marcos a gift: an adult female FGP, a “First Generation Pure,” born and bred in captivity. As Marcos lives with his product, he gradually begins to awaken to the trauma of his past and the nightmare of his present. This is Bazterrica’s first novel to appear in America, though she is widely published in her native Argentina, and it could have been inelegant, using shock value to get across ideas about the inherent brutality of factory farming and the cruelty of governments and societies willing to sacrifice their citizenry for power and money. It is a testament to Bazterrica’s skill that such a bleak book can also be a page-turner.

An unrelentingly dark and disquieting look at the way societies conform to committing atrocities.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982150-92-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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