Originally published in China in 2013, this dystopian tale follows Mimi, a migrant waste worker on Silicon Isle, where toxic heaps of electronics are sent to be recycled. When a war erupts between the rich and the poor, Mimi and her fellow migrant workers must decide if they will remain pawns in this war or change the rules of the game altogether.
Waste Tide...is an ambitious exploration of a global throwaway culture ... The various themes, philosophical musings and scientific discourse make for a confusing but thrilling trip. Despite having been published six years ago, the novel is filled with fresh ideas about what happens when everything—tradition, culture, even human beings—is disposable.
Liu’s translation is fluent and graceful (with the exception of some paragraphs of geekery that must have read just as awkwardly in the original), offering further nuance and explanation in a handful of unobtrusive footnotes. The prose is both readable and enjoyable, even if I didn’t always feel as though I were able to follow the narrative. This is not a book that passes the Bechdel test in any meaningful fashion. I’m not sure what’s going on with Mimi, but she seems more like a cipher than a human being most of the time, and the more power she has to affect things, the more helpless she seems to be as herself—it’s not her that has the power, but something within her, something using her. She seems at times to be something of a McGuffin, more symbol than character ... There are multiple distinct and distinctive male characters in Waste Tide. The same isn’t true for women. A number of Waste Tide’s choices don’t sit right with me. There’s some good stuff in here, but the treatment of female characters makes it impossible for me to enjoy the novel as a whole.
As in Chen's short stories, this work is stylistically gritty and spare, emphasizing the harsh realities of Silicon Isle and the devastating burdens developing areas of the world (and marginalized people) suffer as the result of technology they cannot themselves enjoy ... Already an award winner in China, this debut is likely to draw comparisons to Cixin Liu's The Three Body Problem and Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140 and is a provocative addition to the growing corpus of Chinese speculative fiction and near-future and realist sf as a whole.