A mysterious woman called the "orcamancer" arrives to challenge the status quo in Qaanaaq, a floating city in the Arctic Circle just barely surviving after the climate wars and overrun by political corruption, poverty, and a disease called "the breaks."
This has the look and feel of science fiction, but the novel tells a timeless story of rebellion against a corrupt master, giving it a kind of Hunger Games resonance that reaches beyond any genre boundaries. Miller is a graceful writer, easing us into the story gently, letting us get acclimated to its time and place, before subtly speeding up the pace and plunging us into the characters’ race for survival. And what fine characters they are: people of the future, yes, but with all the texture and believability of ordinary folk.
Miller has written an urgent tale imploring us to look at the ties between technology, race, gender and class privilege. Still, the novel is surprisingly heartwarming. Ultimately, Blackfish is a book about power structures and the way that privilege is built on the backs of the disenfranchised — wrapped in an action-packed science fiction thriller.
Miller has woven a number of pressing contemporary concerns—homelessness, wealth inequality, political corruption, familial bonds, the AIDS epidemic—into the fabric of Qaanaaq, the floating city. Though it has a fast-paced and intriguing political plot, Blackfish City is a novel driven in large part by its conceptual and thematic frameworks. The bits I found most engaging were often the intimate sketches Miller gives of his characters’ interactions with their world. While all of our narrators technically inhabit the same city, the vast gaps in wealth, role, and experience between them make it seem as if they’re all aliens to one another ... It’s a thought-provoking and ambitious book, one that I found delightful and handsome at turns, a signal of the directions science fiction has to go in as contemporary life continues to evolve at pace. This novel is queer, political, and eager to change the status quo—even if it’s a challenge to conceptualize the path to doing so.