Out Today! Real Sugar is Hard to Find by @sim_kern #BookReview #clifi #dystopian #shortstories

The front cover for Real Sugar is Hard to Find. A person wearing a gas mask is stood in a destroyed landscape. Large machines walk in the background. The figure is holding a cake under a cake dome. The colours are muted and yellowed.

Real Sugar is Hard to Find by Sim Kern

Android press, ebook, £8.00

Reviewed by Melody Bowles

The front cover for Real Sugar is Hard to Find. A person wearing a gas mask is stood in a destroyed landscape. Large machines walk in the background. The figure is holding a cake under a cake dome. The colours are muted and yellowed.

In some ways, Real Sugar is Hard to Find is classic cli-fi but does it with equal measures of horror, humour and heart. It’s a collection of short stories, and each examines a world where we humans are ruining everything. This ranges from mistreating trees in ‘The Listener’ to population control in ‘The New Nomad’, and destroying fairy magic with crop fertilisers in ‘Sister, Fly or Die’.

There is a brighter spot for us in ‘The Lost Roads’, a quaint story where the protagonist raises a car-loving child in a world where cars are akin to dinosaurs. I very much enjoyed this one, which is on the lighter end of the spectrum.

A word of warning – most stories have heavy themes. There is a trigger warning guide in the back so the reader can check what they’re getting into, which is much appreciated. Traumatic childbirth, child abuse and domestic violence are all depicted in more than one story. These subjects are treated with sensitivity and add to the horror of the worlds the author draws in each story.

Each story’s world is quickly drawn and made complex by the characters and the problems they face. When it comes to world-ending scenarios, the breadth of ideas on display here is incredible. The characters are primarily concerned with child-rearing and childbirth, though there are exceptions to break up the line of long-suffering parents.

The titular story is the standout of the collection, in my opinion. Set in a world where the rich live in oxygenated domes while the poor breathe the ruined air outside, it follows the protagonist and their mother as they gather ingredients to bake a cake. This is trickier than it sounds – farming is illegal, and it takes a risky road trip to covertly gather milk, butter and eggs. The story veers from funny (the mother falling for an email scam even years into the future) to heartbreaking (the poem written by the protagonist’s suicidal sister). This might sound like emotional whiplash, but the writing was perfectly balanced by the central character’s voice. I absolutely loved it.

For cli-fi, which really puts your emotions through their paces, you won’t find much better than Real Sugar is Hard to Find.