By Sam J. Miller
HarperCollins, New York, 2018
A warrior woman comes to the city of Qannaq in a small skiff accompanied by an orca and a polar bear. Who is she? Why has she come? What’s her plan? That’s the hook that pulls you into Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller.
Miller writes science fiction and horror stories, mostly for young adults. He’s been nominated for numerous honors including the Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon awards. Blackfish City is his first novel for a general audience.
At some unspecified point in the future, most of the world’s cities have either been flooded or burned as a result of climate change. Horrific slaughter has occurred as humans try to build, flee to, and survive in new cities designed for Earth’s changed environment. Qannaq is one such place: a floating city in the shape of an eight-armed asterisk, anchored above a geothermal heat vent in the Arctic Ocean east of Greenland and north of Iceland. It is home to about a million people, mainly immigrants and refugees who have come with nothing but their stories.
Blackfish City tells the story of a family ripped apart by catastrophe and genocide yet bound to each other by love and other rather more mysterious forces. The story is told mainly from the perspective of four characters who seem completely unrelated at first. Pretty soon their connections are revealed as the story line propels them together in a deadly struggle with the shadowy figures who control Qannaq.
The narrative skips from one character to another with each chapter. I found this a little confusing at times, possibly because I read the book over a couple of weeks and had to double back once or twice to get re-acquainted with the characters. As with any story involving an ensemble cast, the emphasis is more on plot development than character development. And in fact the story is well-paced and builds to an emphatic climax.
Like all good science fiction, Blackfish City reflects aspects of the contemporary world back at us. In this case, controversies around immigration, housing shortages, new diseases and climate change.
While I enjoyed the story, I was actually more intrigued by the rich backstory Miller has created. Blackfish City felt very much like the opening episode in what could be a whole series of stories or novels. There’s enough unfinished business at the end of the book, and vast unexplored territory in the backstory to keep Miller busy for years writing prequels and sequels. I’ve no idea if that’s his plan, but I’ll be on the lookout for more.