The two most important trends I’v seen recently in modern science fiction are a tendency towards a much more literary style of writing and an equally strong tendency towards eschewing far-future space-based scenarios for near-future dystopias.
Few books embrace both these trends as completely as Eliza Mood’s O Man of Clay.
Set in a post-global-warming England in a town half-submerged under the rising sea, the book tracks two women and one man as they navigate, each in their own way, the new reality of scarcity, radiation and pollution.
But it’s the way this book is written that sets it apart. Within the linear structure following the main character, a young girl who lives outside the new society starting to form, we get flashbacks into the life of the antagonist, a former prisoner in a Siberian camp.
To make things a little more interesting, some of the characters are not perfectly aware of who they are, others are totally confused about what year it is and the only one thinking clearly is expressly trying to avoid the rest of them.
The fact that the writer managed to keep the threads advancing coherently and not have the whole thing unravel on her qualifies this book as a writing tour-de-force. This is the kind of book that will appeal quite strongly to those who enjoy the more literary aspects of genre work, as well as a different look at a post-apocalyptic society.
Those who love deciphering themes in their fiction will enjoy it as well. It comments on both authoritarian régimes and capitalism overtly (and, in a nice change of pace from usual practice, it attacks them both), but there are several other things to find.
The characters don’t act like characters. They act like people. Unbalanced, obsessive people from a Russian novel, perhaps, but definitely not characters.
This is a book for those who want to be one step ahead of the bleeding edge: post-apoc, dark and literary to a degree seldom seen. If that describes you, I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His science fiction book Outside deals with some of the same themes, but very differently. You can check it out here.