Blackfish City. Book Review

Orbit, h/b, 336pp, £12.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins

The ‘City Without a Map’ broadcasts have been going on for some time now and have always appealed to Fill. Though the tone, the voices are always different, Fill is convinced they are the work of one person. A real person. But who are they and who are they writing to? One thing he is sure of – ‘City Without a Map’ is not a survival guide, because if people have made it this far they have already survived.

There is a rumour. A woman who has travelled to the floating city with a polar bear in chains and a killer whale. No one can find her. Is she even real? If so, has she come to destroy them? And where could she even hide, in a place like Qaanaaq?

Dystopian Blackfish City introduces a time situated after climate disasters where life for the main characters takes place on a floating city constructed after the ruin of all major countries on earth. There are class divisions, power plays, gender prejudices and so forth, and this future is a place where all the major conflicts of our own world, our own time, and all of man’s influence and damage still exist. It is a place which demonstrates that all of it was not enough for us to learn from the mistakes that almost brought our end, and that we failed to become better with a second chance.

The broadcasts are used as a device to aid worldbuilding and convey background information and speculation about this society to the reader. This is a world where landlords have as much control over lives as the breaks, a slow developing, debilitating disease, which has grown from strength to strength over the last 15-20 years. Once the breaks claims a victim, visions, memories which are not their own, plague reality until the end. There is also an added dimension of human-animal ‘bonding’ – a spiritual magic system which plays a part in the narrative.

The characters are likeable and believable, though a little more time spent on their introductions and in grounding their motives would have strengthened their appeal. Similarly, the broadcast sections work exceptionally well in rounding out details of the floating city, but there almost was not enough explanation or scene setting early enough to really situate the reader firmly in the story or make total sense of the societal rule or hierarchy and the characters’ roles within it which became clearer later on. Nonetheless this book presents an interesting self-reflection on the way we live.