New Clone City
by Mike Hembry
New Clone City is a futuristic metropolis full of diverse characters and disincentive neighborhoods. Almost everyone has wetware and navigates through projections and virtual advertising, trying their best to avoid having psychotic episodes from the stimuli. With New Clone City lies Fuji City, housing the many refugees streaming into the city from war-torn areas.
Within this environment, we meet Jimmy, who is fond of alcohol and drugs but not so much of working, though is loved by his common-law wife, Julia, regardless. Hostile and aloof Claire works at a vegan health food store fronting as an eco-revolutionary collective. Among the transsexual and queer sex workers who frequent Charlie’s Garden, dominatrix Jeannie provides leadership to a well-organized community. And Al, agent of the state police, hates them all. The characters travel their own trajectories, at times intersecting, but ultimately following their own arcs against the treat of climate change, a burgeoning refugee crisis, and Al’s determination to destroy the diversity that gives New Clone City its flavor.
Mike Hembury presents a vivid depiction of the urban environment filled with unusual street names and unique stores, restaurants, and churches. It’s easy to believe, reading the book, that New Clone City is real, not the product of imagination. The themes of climate change, refugees, and state-sponsored terrorism are timely and important but here are not presented in preachy, dogmatic ways. And the primary characters were all diverse, not a straight, white male among them. Although it took me some time to get into the book and acclimate to the unique style and tone, I became very invested in the characters, particularly Jeannie.
Some aspects of the book that I didn’t like included a somewhat choppy way of writing, where most of the sentences are subject+verb without much variety. I also thought that some of the characters were inconsistent. For example, Claire, who when we first meet her is wearing a shirt condemning driving throws out an orange juice carton instead of recycling it. And at times, the dialogue is stilted and unnatural.
Towards the begging of the book, the “U,” New Clone City’s transportation system, offers myriad examples of technology and how the real, or “meatworld,” interface, including Claire’s virtual panthers who are visible to others jacked in. However, this integration disappears as the book progresses, and only Claire and her boyfriend Illya seem to connect to the virtual world. While this could be a function of different characters of different classes and their varying access to technology, it seems strange that in large crowd scenes, such as a riot precipitated by police during a peaceful demonstration, that no one has projections or is jacked in.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the book is that there is less resolution than I like when reading a novel. While the characters have come to a natural pause in their storylines, there was enough open-endedness that I felt unsettled. Hembury has said that he’s developing a sequel, so hopefully, the plot lines will be developed in the next novel in the series. I will definitely be reading it!
Thank you to NetGally and the Wild World for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.