Twenty-Five To Life by @rwwgreene from @angryrobotbooks #BookReview #scifi #dystopia

Twenty-Five To Life by R W W Greene 

Angry Robot Books, pb, £8.19

Reviewed by John C. Adams

This book is billed as a post-apocalyptic road trip. Lots of dystopian narratives fall into this category, which is natural as people seek to escape a bleak and unforgiving landscape by just keeping on travelling. 

In common with the other Angry Robot book that I reviewed for BFS recently, this contained no information about the author. Most readers like to know a little about a writer before they dive in, and not everyone buys their books on Amazon, where you can click through to the author page or website. I imagined picking this book up in a bookshop and being intrigued by the blurb and cover, but not wanting to take a chance on an unknown author with nothing at all about them. When a publisher is keeping the author a blank slate in this way, the reader is denied the opportunity to connect with them in those brief moments when they stand in a store with the book in their hand. This is such a shame. 

A little digging around online established that Rob Greene lives in New Hampshire, has been a journalist and now teaches in college. I discovered from his website, which had a delightfully retro feel, that his debut novel The Light Years was published by Angry Robot in 2020, so this prompt second novel speaks well as to his ability to deliver for his fans. He’s represented by KT Literary Agency. 

Julie lives in a future America where climate change and overpopulation mean that Mars colonies and Proxima Centauri have become the escape route for a lucky few. Adulthood doesn’t kick in until 25, so she’s still forced to live at home, and her life choices are controlled by her mother: not just in finance and practicalities, but in permission to move around. Legally, she can’t work full time until she reaches 25: a basic job-protection programme operates, given how much work has been destroyed by AI. The frustrations of this are obvious, but Julie finds an escape by running away to join The Volksgeist, who roam around America in a hippy-like convoy of RVs. She teams up with Ranger, after a false start[S1] , gets her arrested. From then on, it’s the open road. 

Like many soft Sci-Fi narratives, this wasn’t strong on actual science. There’s quite a bit of this style about at the moment, and it is always popular. A while back, I reviewed Heather Child’s Everything About You, and Twenty-Five to Life reminded me of that story in terms of feel, although the plot was very different. There was quite a bit of Philip K Dick in there, too. I recently re-read The Three Stigmata of Palmer EldritchTwenty-Five to Life had certainly picked up on the flavour of that classic, so Greene is in good company. 

I loved this book. Greene’s relaxed writing style was so easy to consume that my reading experience was genuinely enjoyable. Julie was the kind of character you root for. The author has a real talent for creating characters, especially in this case with an empowered young woman with every reason to resent her situation but who throws herself into taking control of her life and makes her own opportunities along the way. Her journey with Ranger was inspiring and empowering. 

The ability to produce a cracking second novel only a year after his debut novel and to secure a literary agent speaks well for Greene’s future. I’m sure larger publishers will be eager to snap him up, and a slew of positive review quotes from the likes of Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and SFX magazine show that he’s already getting noticed. He deserves to be, and I’ll be watching out for more of his fiction, too. 

Review the reviewers! If you’ve read this novel or just have some thoughts on any point made in this review, tag me at @JohnCAdamsSF on Twitter to share them.