Austral (2017) by Paul McAuley

“If the planet had been run by a world government able to ruthlessly mobilize people and resources, global warming and climate change might have been reversed.” (Loc 3156)

 

In the very near future, global warming is a fact. Rising sea levels have changed the map of the world. Coastal cities have been lost to the water, but in some places new land has been uncovered. Much of Antarctica’s ice has melted revealing this untouched land, which quickly becomes both habitable and exploitable. The cold temperatures make it a challenging place to live for most people unless they are born a “husky”.

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Austral Morales Ferrado is a child of the new Antarctic nation. She is also a “husky,” an “edited person” whose genes have been “customized” to withstand the severe cold of Antarctica. She is working as a corrections officer in an Antarctic labour camp when we first meet her. But she’s looking for a way out. When an unexpected and dangerous opportunity presents itself, Austral must decide whether to risk everything to take it. Continue reading

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The Ballad of Black Tom (2016) by Victor LaValle

“The more I read, the more I listened, the more sure I became that a great and secret show had been playing throughout my life, throughout all our lives, but the mass of us were too ignorant, or too frightened, to raise our eyes and watch.” (p.41)

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As a prelude to reading this novella, I sought out and read H.P. Lovecraft’s 1926 short story The Horror at Red Hook. It isn’t essential to read this story first, but it does add background to LaValle’s novella. It is also pretty shocking for the sentiments its author so blatantly reveals. Here’s what I wrote about it on Goodreads:

The Horror at Red Hook is infamous for being Lovecraft’s most racist tale. It’s a short story of black magic, human sacrifice, and a policeman chasing after his sanity. Dosed with some cringe-worthy xenophobia and the usual Lovecraftian purple-prose, it’s a forgettable story that doesn’t compare to his later, more famous tales.”

 

The Ballad of Black Tom is Victor LaValle’s re-imagining of the events depicted in Lovecraft’s short story. LaValle brings in some new characters, notably Tommy Tester, a young, black bluesman who shares an apartment in Red Hook with his father. When the story opens, Tommy is mixed up in the illegal ferrying of rare books, specifically books of an occult nature. His meeting with the mysterious Ma Att, a buyer of such books, foreshadows the strange and dangerous path Tommy’s life will follow from here.  Continue reading