Sam J. Miller, Blackfish City

It happens, sometimes: you read a book and you want to feel it, and there's no reason you shouldn't, but somehow nope.

Blackfish City, Sam. J. Miller's second novel, is fabulous.

Maybe we should start with the city itself, Qaanaaq, and its setting in place and time.

This novel's set in the future. The United States has collapsed, as have many nations. Climate change has basically blown up civilization. One of many such locales, but unique amongst them, Qaanaaq is a floating city in the Arctic almost entirely controlled by AI. Internationally, crime syndicates and AI seem to be running things, though there's still room for the super-wealthy to get increasingly super-wealthy, because capitalism's adapted.

And then the characters: they're compelling and striking and complicated, and they all get to be at centre of different chapters. There's Fill, a super-wealthy young man looking for both sex and a purpose; Kaev, a gifted fighter with inexplicable mental difficulties; Go, a woman with a complicated relation with Kaev and who's one of the city's great crime bosses; Soq, who goes by "they" and becomes increasingly central to the novel as it goes on; and the startling Masaaraq, who's nano-bonded to the orca she rides and who's travelling with a polar bear.

The concepts: where to start? There's "the breaks," a disease whose transmission is mysterious and the symptoms of which include acquiring someone else's memories. There's the "slideway," essentially a sloping elevated ramp that messengers ride from the city's hub out each of its eight arms, reaching incredible speeds simply wearing specialized boots. There's nano-bonding (like Masaaraq, above).

Here's where the lengthy discussion of this fascinating novel belongs.

Long story short, though, maybe it's just me. I don't love this novel. I admired its inventiveness, and I don't disagree with the positive reviews and interesting discussions I'm seeing out there of Blackfish City. But although clearly this novel's great to think with, I wanted to love it, and I just didn't. Really, all this is making me curious if that's simply where my fatigue level's risen to.

Wonder what the book club will think of it!


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