Review of ~ Sam J. Miller – Blackfish City

7.5/10

I received an advanced review copy of Blackfish City in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Sam J. Miller and Orbit Books.

The results of the climate wars were that the majority of the Earth was either flooded or burnt to rubble leaving very little in the way of habitual environments. In this futuristic and dystopian world, people now reside in an astonishingly well engineered floating city that has been constructed in the Arctic Circle. This settlement is bustling with strife between classes, corruption, amazingly advanced technology, and also rumours of a mysterious lady who arrived one day accompanied by a killer whale and a giant polar bear.

Miller has created a world that is so deep, complex, and well-imagined that it almost appears to be a living breathing entity. He cleverly explains the social aspects, current technology, and the world’s history through the characters points of views or with chapters presented by City Without a Map. This is a mysterious and anonymous news service that civilians have access to. Many of the items used by the people of this world are logical but impressive advancements of equipment we use today. An example would be that a combination of a telephone, translating system, and radio can be stored in someone’s jaw. As the world is so detailed and the language used is highly scientific it was difficult to get into initially. I found myself reading at a very slow pace and googling unfamiliar sounding words with unfortunate regularity with the overall intention being to make sure I fully understood what was going on. During the first 80-pages, I respected what Miller was doing but I wasn’t really enjoying reading it. In addition to this, the four main characters that we follow all had pretty isolated stories with the common denominator being that they were based in the same city. I was unsure if this was going to be more of a science lesson than a complete story and therefore was very close to DNF’ing it, giving it a 2-star rating, saying it was unique, interesting and that Miller is very talented but it wasn’t for me. As the publisher sent me a free copy of this I fought through a bit longer and I am really glad that I did. About 20-pages later, what has been built up so far seemed to click, I finally found myself caring about some of these characters and the world’s secrets and from then on had a generally positive experience with Blackfish City.

We follow 4 main characters. Fill is an often unhappy queer young gentleman whose grandfather is a shareholder of the city. Kaev is a mentally ill beam-fighter journeyman who loses on purpose to earn paycheques. Ankit is an administrator for the government that keeps the city running in order. Finally, Soq is a beautiful gender-neutral messenger who slides their way around the city delivering messages for the underworld. All 4 make a colourful ensemble and there is a great amount featured in Blackfish City that LGBT fiction readers will adore. Soq was my personal favourite character to learn more about throughout the story. Miller introduces their gender neutrality well very early on so there are never any issues of confusion regarding their character.

This world has many original and interesting creations. A few examples are nanobonding – being able to emotionally bond with and essentially control a certain animal, and the breaks – a sexually transmitted infection that is polluting the city that gives sufferers the memories of those previously afflicted before a seemingly inevitable death through this apparent madness. Beam-fighting is a well crafted national sport that is like MMA but a contestant will lose by being forced off the beams into the ocean by their opponent. In addition, sliders with specially designed skates and death-defying free-runners operate above the city far away from the ocean beneath.

As previously mentioned, this book does start slow but the resulting narrative is excellent, the characters and their relationships with one another have great depth and the ending is awesomely realised. The created world is brilliantly conceived. It starts out like a science lesson but after that, the characters take over and that is where the book truly shines. Blackfish City is a haunting projection of our future that is made even eerier by the fact that nothing written here seems too alien or far-fetched. It seems a bit too close to our current reality for comfort. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys science-fiction, dystopian literature, or books where certain individuals can control frighteningly vicious animals. I can see this making many ‘best-of-the-year’ lists in 2018.

This will be posted on Fantasy Book Review soon. James x

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