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Blackfish City (2018)

by Sam J. Miller

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5251736,390 (3.44)27
"One of the most intriguing future cities in years." --Charlie Jane Anders "Simmers with menace and heartache, suspense and wonder." --Ann Leckie A Best Book of the Month in Entertainment Weekly The Washington Post Tor.com B&N Sci-Fi Fantasy Blog Amazon After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle, a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy. The city's denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod new way of living, however, the city is starting to fray along the edges--crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a new disease called "the breaks" is ravaging the population. When a strange new visitor arrives--a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side--the city is entranced. The "orcamancer," as she's known, very subtly brings together four people--each living on the periphery--to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together to save their city before it crumbles under the weight of its own decay, they will learn shocking truths about themselves.  Blackfish City is a remarkably urgent--and ultimately very hopeful--novel about political corruption, organized crime, technology run amok, the consequences of climate change, gender identity, and the unifying power of human connection.   … (more)
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» See also 27 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
This book has one of the coolest covers ever... a black background with red, white, and blue neon tubes forming a circular orca logo surmounted by an Inuit hunter, done in the styleof NW Coast Indian art. Now this promised excitement.

Well, no.

The story sounded promising: a floating city in the North Sea, a woman that rides on a killer whale, a cast of characters who deal with the changes she brings. In execution, eehhhhh. As it turned out the city doesn't have an Inuit culture at all, it's more like Hong Kong on an oil rig. The "Blackfish" in the title was clearly stuck on there clearly to capitalize on the runaway success of the movie documentary of the same name, because the orca rider, and orcas in general, do not play a big part in the plot. The main character was, in fact, a polar bear, with his paws enclosed in little cages to avoid clawing someone.

Now, how cool would such a city have been with an actual Inuit-based culture? But the author didn't go there. Instead there's the same old coffin hotels, messenger boy punks, brain implants that deliver email messages, yadda yadda yadda.

Much of the first half of the book was worldbuilding about the city along with some vague global history that led to its founding, and the setup wasn't too interesting, for me at least. Something about a AIDS-like disease that transmits the memories from infectee to infectee. No one in the city seems superconcerned about it. It was hard for me to care about it too, and hard to care about the four POV characters who have to deal with it.

There were a number of writing peeves in here I dislike, authorial tropes. There’s the zingy shocker and its stronger cousin, the last word zingy shocker. There's wishy-washy ambiguity played out for suspense, and hipster cyberpunk window dressing, usually culturally appropriated. All the characters talk alike and are mouthpieces for the opinions of the author. One of which is LANDLORDS ARE BAD EVIL PEOPLE because they hold real estate empty and don't let it out because of... reasons. Never mind that in such a future world surely corporations would hold such quantities of empty buildings, not flesh and blood people. And for a super-futuristic city there sure are a lot of reminders of the 2010s, like offices with desks, reception areas, and fancy decor. Already, in 2020, we're moving away from that.

The four major characters mope through proceedings accomplishing nothing, and I suppose the author wants us to think of them as Beautiful Losers, but they’re really just jaded unpleasant to be around. They walk around in weary ennui, interacting every once in a while with a cheery street vendor or passerby (Authorial Trope #382 – the Glimpse of Sunlight) or display teeth-baring annoyance to a prissy co worker, but the end result is, they are all just spoiled brats.

Let me explain The Glimpse of Sunlight trope a little better. In the midst of grim surroundings, the trope acts like a bit of sun coming out from between dark clouds, acting on the reader to let them know there is something good in this world or with these characters, something to make their struggles worthwhile, something worth fighting for. But if done poorly, it has the opposite effect: it shows the reader how contrived everything really is. It's a glimpse behind the curtain at the author's machinations.

I made it halfway through and couldn't finish. ( )
  Cobalt-Jade | Mar 3, 2021 |
This is a delightful read. The investment you make in the first 100 pages pays off in a rich, enfolding experience of very able, capable worldbuilding by Author Miller.

Four PoV characters seems like a lot, I know, but each presents the reader with a different lens on a world that is all about where you are in its hierarchy as to what it looks like, feels like, and how Qaanaaq functions to meet your needs. Wealthy and privileged and bored Fill and Kaev, males at opposite ends of the city's caste system, and Kaev the professional fight-thrower is about to slip a few more rungs down the ladder. Ankit and non-binary Soq are the mobile middle-dwellers, each functioning in their differing-status jobs to support the power structure. Soq the messenger, the Mercury of Qaanaaq, was probably my favorite PoV in the book. The stealth they possess; the invisibility that rejecting binaries confers on them; all the moments of revelation this leads to make them a character I'd've loved to hear more from.

Author Miller is a top-notch talent, a maker of archetypes and a weaver of worlds whose skills are already as sharp as many with much longer résumés. What points of complaint I have are negligible compared to the central, overarching concerns he presents in this three-year-old and already timeless title.

Some of my favorite lines:
Money is a mind, the oldest artificial intelligence. Its prime directives are simple, it's programming endlessly creative. Humans obey it unthinkingly, with cheerful alacrity. Like a virus, it doesn't care if it kills its host. It will simply flow on to someone new.
–and–
The American fleet had lacked a lot of things—food, shelter, fuel, civil liberties—but it hadn’t lacked weapons. The global military presence that had made the pre-fall United States so powerful, and then helped cause their collapse, had left them with all sorts of terrifying toys.
–and–
“Fine line between good business and a fucking war crime,” he said. “Ain’t that the goddamn epitaph of capitalism.” ( )
1 vote richardderus | Jan 16, 2021 |
This is great! Post-climate-catastrophe, floating city, refugee crisis, tech-telepathy with orcas and polar bears. I loved the mash-up of different cultures, the vibrancy of the city, and the way gender identity was handled. Full of ideas big and small, loads of action. Well done. ( )
  jakecasella | Sep 21, 2020 |
3.5

It's okay, and them's the Breaks! ;)

I honestly thought this book was all right. Not fantastic but definitely strong in the worldbuilding, characters, and plot progression. The real stars are the floating ramshackle cities out in the Arctic Circle and the wildly delicious custom nanotech plague.

Everything else was a pretty cool but standard dystopia of Syndicates (mob landlords) and shareholders (super rich owners who are above the law), with fighters, skaters, hedge nano-wizards and bonding with animals thanks to the nanos. Pretty cool? It is pretty cool. Ish.

There's an obvious agenda here, the haves versus the have-nots, an almost mystical progression toward having a city without maps based on memory and the memory-plague mystery called the Breaks. I liked it and I was pretty entranced by it, but I'm not quite certain I buy where I was taken with it.

You might say that the Beginning and Middle was good, but the end left a bit to be desired.

Still, rather interesting. It was just the story itself that kinda flagged. Alas. Orca-savior? Cool in the particulars but maybe not in the whole. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Droll, drab, uninteresting and no where near as original and well put together as implied by public reviews. Disappointed. ( )
  daeverett | May 27, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Miller, Sam J.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Crowe, MichelleDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Staehle, WillCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
There is nothing safe about the darkness of this city and its stink. Well, I have abrogated all claim to safety, coming here. It is better to discuss it as though I had chosen. That keeps the scrim of sanity before the awful set. What will lift it?

-- Samuel R Delany, Dhalgren
Dedication
First words
People would say she came to Quanaaq in a skiff towed by a killer whale harnessed to the front like a horse.
Quotations
Epidemics do not have medical causes; they have social ones.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"One of the most intriguing future cities in years." --Charlie Jane Anders "Simmers with menace and heartache, suspense and wonder." --Ann Leckie A Best Book of the Month in Entertainment Weekly The Washington Post Tor.com B&N Sci-Fi Fantasy Blog Amazon After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle, a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy. The city's denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod new way of living, however, the city is starting to fray along the edges--crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a new disease called "the breaks" is ravaging the population. When a strange new visitor arrives--a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side--the city is entranced. The "orcamancer," as she's known, very subtly brings together four people--each living on the periphery--to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together to save their city before it crumbles under the weight of its own decay, they will learn shocking truths about themselves.  Blackfish City is a remarkably urgent--and ultimately very hopeful--novel about political corruption, organized crime, technology run amok, the consequences of climate change, gender identity, and the unifying power of human connection.   

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Book description
After the climate wars, a floating city was constructed in the Arctic Circle. Once a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering it is now rife with corruption and the population simmers with unrest.

Into this turmoil comes a strange new visitor - a woman accompanied by an orca and a chained polar bear. She disappears into the crowds looking for someone she lost thirty years ago, followed by whispers of a vanished people who could bond with animals. Her arrival draws together four people and sparks a chain of events that will change Blackfish City forever.
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