By the time Blackfish City starts, the apocalypse has come and gone. Sam J. Miller’s new novel pictures urban civilization slowly recreating itself on Qaanaaq, a floating city on the Arctic Circle. Powered by geothermal energy, built by shadowy real estate moguls, and run by a legion of AI bureaucrats, Qaanaaq is a utopian-dystopian New York City on the other side of geocatastrophe. Filled with diverse, vividly drawn characters, the novel centers on a mysterious stranger, a woman who comes to town with an eerily cooperative orca and a polar bear in tow ...
Theodore McCombs: In the time it’s been out, Blackfish City has gotten a lot of praise for its richly imagined Qaanaaq, the post-apocalypse city built on oil rig platforms. Miller carefully details Qaanaaq’s rich/poor divide through housing and real estate, which makes perfect sense: Miller, a fair housing advocate, knows that’s how it works in New York, and how it will inevitably play out in any strictly bounded city that can’t sprawl. But my favorite bit of world-building is how we get that lived-in feel of Qaanaaq through the recreation people take to, or don’t: City without a Map, an underground podcast; a daredevil subculture of “scalers” who jump roof to roof over jenga-stacked slums; or beam fighting, MMA on pylons, which I can’t help but picture as pro-bending, or the Xena pilot’s masterpiece bamboo fight:
CS Peterson: Miller spends early chapters on character set-up and world-building, and there is a lot to set up. A prologue introduces the Orcamancer, a silent warrior woman named Masaaraq. Subsequent chapters switch between Fill, a trust-fund kid who has just discovered he’s contracted a fatal STD, “the breaks,” which drives the host insane with vivid memories of previous carriers; Ankit, a conflicted political operative fighting breaks denialism; Kaev, who throws beam fights for the local crime boss; and Soq, a young nonbinary messenger who flies down maglev slideways at astonishing speeds shouting “Fuck out the way!” Their voices come at you four or five pages at a shot, building up a mosaic of Qaanaaq City with all its layers, physical and social.
It’s lively and intriguing enough. Miller is a fine writer, so we trust that he will bring it all together. But there really isn’t any action until we get to the first chapter told from Masaaraq’s POV, a hundred-plus pages into the book. Once we start riding with the orcamancer, the pace really picks up.