Tom Baker / Japan News Staff WriterBlackfish City
By Sam J. Miller
It’s the 22nd century, and there is no longer a Paris Agreement on climate change. There may not even be a Paris. There’s definitely no longer a New York, which has been flooded by rising seas due to global warming.
But there is a Qaanaaq. In Sam J. Miller’s science-fiction novel “Blackfish City,” Qaanaaq is a floating metropolis moored above a deep-sea geothermal vent that supplies most of its energy. Methane from recycled sewage also helps keep the lights on.
The city is laid out like an asterisk, with eight Arms radiating from the central Hub. The length of the Arms, each of which holds a distinct urban district, is not clear, but together they form a city large enough that the view from a distant boat resembles “a jagged mountain ridge studded with light.”
Qaanaaq is a dystopia in the William Gibson cyberpunk mold, cobbled together from leftover pieces of today’s world, with urban squalor and almost magical technology existing side by side while mysterious forces vie for power behind the scenes.
Low-paid couriers wear magnetic levitation boots in Qaanaaq, but wood is so rare that its use in decor is the ultimate signifier of wealth. Real coffee is another status symbol, with most of the population drinking a toasted algae substitute. There seems to be a high-tech fix for just about everything. Except human nature.
Miller populates Qaanaaq with a variety of interesting, flawed and mostly sympathetic characters.
Kaev is a martial artist who entertains the masses in fights staged on beams high above the water. He’s one of the best fighters around, but he’s in thrall to a crime boss who orders him to take a dive again and again.
Ankit, an aide to a politician called an Arm manager, cares more about helping impoverished constituents than her boss does, but the person she most wants to help is her mother, who is confined in a prison-asylum called the Cabinet.
Fill is the spoiled scion of one of Qaanaaq’s wealthiest families. He drinks real coffee and “actual scotch, tasting like smoke and hammered bronze,” but he has fallen into despair at learning he is infected with the breaks, a sexually transmitted cognitive disorder.
These and other characters have their lives changed by the presence of a woman at first known only as the orcamancer, who arrives in Qaanaaq one day with a killer whale. She and it have been enhanced with nanotechnology that allows them to communicate with each other.
Miller develops each thread of the story on its own, then gradually weaves them together in crafty ways that are sometimes expected and sometimes surprising but almost always delightful.
One plot strand involves a horrifying incident that could have come from “Titus Andronicus,” William Shakespeare’s most gruesome play. That particular scene might not be every reader’s cup of toasted algae, but for the most part “Blackfish City” is a fun read.
Elsewhere, Miller has described the future — and the present, for that matter — as a mixture of utopian and dystopian elements. So even as you enjoy the twists and turns of the story, he may also want you to wonder whether you or your children may someday find yourselves swimming through a sea of glacial meltwater toward what looks like a jagged mountain ridge studded with light.
Where to read: In a boat. Get used to it.