Reviews | Written by Ian White 09/04/2018


The climate wars have devastated the Earth. Now the survivors live in a floating city within the Arctic Circle, a technological marvel that is a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering and a melting pot of corruption and social unrest. But when a mysterious woman arrives accompanied by an orca and a polar bear, the destiny of Blackfish City will be forever changed – as will the lives of an unhappy young man called Fill, a nervous scaler called Ankit, the brain damaged street-fighter Kaev, and Soq, a non-binary street messenger determined to hustle a better life. Of all the characters it is probably Fill we feel for the most; he is suffering from the breaks, a sexually transmitted illness that is surging across the city and kills its sufferers with madness. Maybe the orcamancer’s unexpected appearance will bring them all some kind of hope, but in fighting to save their decaying city will the four friends ultimately destroy themselves?

Blackfish City is a remarkable work of dystopian imagination that takes a while to get going but more than rewards readers who stay the course. This is a gorgeously realised world that feels textured and authentic, and the occasional background information given by the City Without a Map (think a kind of humourless Hitchhiker’s Guide) makes sure we never get lost in the finer details. Author Sam J. Miller, a Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon Awards nominee and recipient of the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award for 57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides, writes exquisitely and presents us with a future that is terrifyingly plausible but never less than mesmerising. Blackfish City isn’t a place any of us would want to live in, but it’s on our horizon if we don’t watch out. Miller also earns a gold star for his sympathetic use of gender neutrality and some intriguing concepts (like beam-fighting and nanobonding) that we’d love to see developed more fully if he ever returns to his floating city again.

It’s too early in the year to begin assembling 2018’s ‘best of’ list, but Blackfish City has got to be an early contender.