In these three works of science fiction, the main characters live under the impression that figuring out how to survive in a cruel, merciless society is enough. But when they decide they need more, they risk everything to figure out whether it’s possible, regardless of what the cost may be.
“An Ocean of Minutes”
Touchstone: 320 pp., $26
Polly is very much in love with her boyfriend, Frank, so when he’s diagnosed with the flu that is killing so many people, she decides to take drastic action to get him the medicine he needs. A new technology allows people to travel through time; if Polly agrees to travel 12 years into the future to help rebuild America after the pandemic passes, Frank will receive treatment. But when she awakens, Polly is five years late, Frank is nowhere to be found and the America she left behind no longer exists. It’s a complicated plot, but Lim’s steady prose and deft character development ensured that I was hooked on Polly’s story from beginning to end. Lim paints a strange and unfamiliar world with her novel, full of fascinating social commentary on class differences, racism and sexism. When Polly makes one bad decision after another, she can be frustrating but her motivations are understandable. It’s easy to fall into this novel and become emotionally involved in Polly’s journey and her search to find the people she loves.
Henry Holt: 352 pp., $27
In the future, people are judged based on their genetic profile. Those who have the potential to live forever, called “lifers,” get the best of everything, while people who only have natural lifespans (referred to as “sub-100s”) live in poverty and are shunned. Lea Kirino is a lifer, and she’s dedicated to the golden possibility of immortality. But after a chance meeting with her estranged father, a man who has shunned all the artificial enhancements society has to offer, it makes her rethink the way she’s lived her entire life. It’s a provocative read, to be sure, as Heng presents yet another way the society of the future could be stratified between the haves and have-nots. The author paints a disturbing picture of a government that values survival at any and all costs. It’s a creative premise, and it’s fascinating to read about Lea’s carefully crafted life unraveling before her. Heng’s confident prose makes this book an easy read, despite tackling difficult subjects such as suicide and the right to die.
“Before She Sleeps”
Delphinium: 256 pp., $25
Pakistani writer Bina Shah delivers a charged and thrilling novel with her latest work of literary fiction. Between nuclear war, disease and gender preference for boys, the men of Green City outnumber women by a significant margin. The government has decreed that women must take multiple husbands and bear as many children as possible for repopulation measures, but the women of the Panah fight back. This secret organization of women provides non-sexual intimacy to officials high in the government. In exchange, they are protected. Sabine veils herself and risks her life every night when she leaves the Panah, watched over by Lin, the organization’s leader. But when Sabine disappears, a chain of events is set in motion that threatens to expose the Panah once and for all. Shah’s work reads like a thriller. She develops her multiple characters beautifully, and she presents the stomach-turning plight of women well. The social commentary in the novel, specifically in the parallels between Sabine’s world and the patriarchal nature of conservative Muslim countries, is exquisite. The ending feels a little rushed, but this is a thoughtful novel that will stick with me for a very long time.