My Goodreads review of a very well done piece of dystopic speculative fiction, 84k by Claire North:
84k boasts a blurb from Cory Doctorow that compares North’s writing to Margaret Atwood, and it’s a fair if complimentary comparison. Despite being published by fairly “hard sci-fi” publisher, Orbit, 84k is a speculative fiction book akin to Atwood’s most famous work. There’s nothing necessarily unbelievable, and it’s sci-fi in the idea that none of this has happened . . . yet. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, 84k is a grim view of an impending future. Unlike both Handmaid’s Tale and other important dystopic fiction, the world of 84k wasn’t birthed by any sort of calamity. In 84k, it’s an all too real world of gradual corporate dominance, eroding competition and civil liberties in the name of both progress and consolidation. In this way, 84k recalls not only Atwood, but also Orwell. This is a novel of complacency. It’s world represents the end result of late capitalism, namely the gradual acceptance of a neo-feudal economic and political system in which corporations and governments coalesce into a terrible melange.
Yes, the setting and commentary certainly recall Atwood, Orwell, and the the like, but there is also something positively Pynchonian about both North’s premise and writing style. Like Pynchon, she sets her protagonist, Theo, on a detective crusade of which he had no business starting. And, in a manner akin to especially late period Pynchon, she employs stream of consciousness with such casual deftness. Large chunks of the book can best be described as prose-free verse hybrids. She demonstrates a remarkable command for the meandering and often sudden way people speak, allowing whole sentences to slip off into the abyss without warning. It’s more than just a shtick, but it does grate ever so slightly, especially in the middle-to-third quarter of the book, a part heavy on plot but low on action. Like most books, I feel this one could have been 100 pages shorter, an idea that would both tighten North’s narrative as well as prevent stylistic fatigue. There are points where the reader simply wants her to finish a certain thought, and, to North’s credit, she rarely obliges. Nonetheless, the style becomes slightly too predictable almost halfway through the book. It’s really the only complaint I have about the book and, as I mentioned, I generally think most books could be shorter.
Without giving too much away in the way of spoilers, it’s also important to point out the subtle time motifs North peppers throughout the book. Developed more towards the end, 84k functions not only as a commentary on individualism and late capitalism, but also on the nature of time – namely its linearity – and the notion of progress. It’s a nice touch because, while the reader clearly notices the book follows a nonlinear plot progression, North doesn’t beat on the drum of meaning. Instead, she lets those threads hang until the final stages of the book as she offers just a little tad of commentary about the breakdown of time in the world she built.