Here is our second Nebula award finalist!
BLACKFISH CITY by Sam J. Miller is set in the floating Qaanaaq, which lies within the Arctic circle, is a refuge amidst the fallen cities from an older age. Peoples from across the globe have come to this marvel of technology to find a new life in the wake of the climate wars. Yet, even with the old world gone, older strife still abounds between the “haves and have-nots.” When a woman enters the city, riding an orca and a polar bear by her side, the populace ignites in stories and whispers of rioting. Amid all of this, four souls become drawn into a deeper conspiracy with the orcamancer at it’s center.
Melding both current issues and old conflicts, Miller creates a truly socially aware story where each character is put into direct conflict with either the causes or through consequences. Whether this is money, power, health, mobility, or family all of these are extremely important in the city of Qaanaaq, they are all currency and personal treasure to each citizen and mean life or death. This personal treasure is symbolized no more thoroughly than in the orcamancer herself and her secret mission.
The world building that fleshes out the setting makes Qaanaaq a character in it’s own right. The cityscape is richly imagined and quite plausible even in a somewhat futuristic context. There has been clearly lots of time spent into thinking how the world may react and adapt to a sinking world and those elements bring a unique flavor to the work. The characters themselves like the enigmatic orcamancer, Ankit, Fill, Soq, and others are well drawn and reflect their stories quite well, to an almost painful degree. This is not a story that will give you good feelings as Miller does little to hide or sugarcoat the reality of minorities dealing with one another or those willing to do whatever it takes to get out from the bottom.
As a whole, BLACKFISH CITY reads well, though it does take some time for the story to kick up, so count this as a slow burn read. Miller keeps you guessing with each turn of the narrative, so you never truly know what the city of Qaanaaq has in store for its denizens.