PrintE-mail Written by Andrew Marshall

The metropolis of New Cairo is a domed city built within a massive crater and lit by an artificial sun. It’s also a high-tech powder keg teetering on the brink of all-out chaos. As a virus sweeps the city that targets the artificial limbs and organs almost everyone needs to survive, the poorer areas are the ones hit hardest. And when extreme inequality pushes people beyond breaking point, their response can be equally intense.

For all its wealth of near-future technological advancements, The Hive Construct is a story about people, taking real world events like the Arab Spring for inspiration. The story switches between three viewpoint characters, each attempting to deal with the virus and the subsequent quarantines it made necessary. Zala, a young hacker returning to the city after years in exile due to fabricated murder charges; Alice, a mother whose husband was a terrorist leader and joins the dissidents to keep her children safe; and Ryan, a rare breed of optimistic councilman who not only believes in what he’s doing but also that it can make a demonstrable difference.

Each of them in their own way forms part of a cross-section of the woefully unbalanced society, and through their perspectives we learn of the extent of the disparity between the city’s social classes that existed long before the virus suddenly appeared, lending some unspoken justification to the methods the terrorists employ as the attempt to effect the lifting of the quarantine by a war of attrition. Given the intended moral ambiguity, it’s a shame that the Security Forces of the city’s corporate oligarchs are little more than an army of anonymous mooks, shooting harmless protestors or splitting the skulls of innocent passers by as required.

There is a wonderfully cinematic feel to proceedings, right from the opening chapter of Zala striding out of the arid heat of the Sahara, possibly dooming herself by returning to the city that damned her, calling to mind Franco Nero’s Django emerging from the Badlands dragging a coffin behind him. The settings are described as though viewed as panoramic vistas, and action flows in such a manner that you can imagine the movements and cuts of the camera, viewing people with personal intimacy or airborne omniscience as necessary, while even textually heavy scenes such as those featuring Zala’s hacking have a visual sense of urgency.

The Northern African setting is an interesting deviation from the norm but largely uncapitalised upon, with only the largely unfamiliar names and almost complete absence of white people setting New Cairo apart from any comparable futuristic megacity of Europe or North America. The story is instead a universal one. Those in positions of power will always have a sense of superiority over those without it; those born into poverty will resent those who grow up in unappreciative privilege; and the human drive to survive is something predominant across our species. But who gets to decide who should live and who should or die, along with what give them the right to do so, is something the book asks us to decide for ourselves.



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