Blackfish City – Sam J. Miller

Synopsis: After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle, a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy. The city’s denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod new way of living, however, the city is starting to fray along the edges—crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a new disease called “the breaks” is ravaging the population.

When a strange new visitor arrives—a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side—the city is entranced. The “orcamancer,” as she’s known, very subtly brings together four people—each living on the periphery—to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together to save their city before it crumbles under the weight of its own decay, they will learn shocking truths about themselves.

“We want villains. We look for them everywhere. People to pin our misfortune on, whose sins and flaws are responsible for all the suffering we see. We want a world where the real monstrosity lies in wicked individuals, instead of being a fundamental facet of human society, of the human heart. 

Stories prime us to search for villains. Because villains can be punished. Villains can be stopped.

But villains are oversimplifications.”

Somehow I’ve read four science fiction books in a row with a similar vibe. I believe three of the four even mention permafrost. How bonkers is that?!

Blackfish City has been on my radar for awhile now. A post-apocalyptic climate catastrophe story never ceases to attract my attention!

Set in 2140, after the climate wars have all but destroyed New York with flooding & fires. Qaanaaq is a floating city that has sprung up in the Arctic Circle. It’s a technological wonder, built by the powerful & the wealthy. Home to nearly a million people, most of them refugees from all over the world, it is governed by AI’s & run on geothermal energy. But this is not quite the utopian getaway that it first appears. Corruption, crime, diminishing real estate & a viral disease called “the Breaks” are causing chaos within the city. People are finding it hard to do little more than just surviving. The Breaks is more than likely a genetically engineered disease. It is thought to be sexually-transmitted & causes it’s host to go insane with horrific delusions & so-called memories.

The story alternates between various complex POV’s. Masaaraq, a warrior woman who arrived in Qaanaaq on a rig with a killer whale swimming beside her & a polar bear in chains on the boat; Fill, a queer man with a rich grandfather who has contracted the incurable disease; Ankit, a political aide who is conflicted about her role in the campaign & is trying to find out what transpired in the disappearance of her mother; Kaev, Ankit’s fighter brother who throws his fights for a local crime boss & is suffering from mental health issues; And Soq, a young genderqueer messenger who works for a crime boss in hopes of becoming one some day. I fucking LOVED Soq! They are such a full, interesting character. I couldn’t help but find myself enthralled each time the narrative switched to their POV.

Warriors & flooded cities & killer whales & polar bears & political intrigue & gloriously diverse characters & ANIMAL-NANOBONDED HUMANS.. Blackfish City is complex. This is not an action-packed story from start to finish, but it is twisty & smart & exciting. It makes you stop & think things through. There are many more layers to this book that I haven’t come close to touching on. I couldn’t possibly go through it all without spending hours dissecting the many themes that Miller writes about!

This is about people coming together, living together, learning to exist together.. the possibility of community. About inequality, technology, climate change & love. It is dark & depressing, but somehow still hopeful. Miller has written a deeply ambitious, intelligent novel about a drowned future that feels eerily believable.

“Bend the sky & break the sea.”


10 thoughts on “Blackfish City – Sam J. Miller

  1. I swear I’m going to get to this book at some point! I’m really happy to read your positive review, since I know some readers just didn’t like it.


  2. The cover is unforgettable, so I remember all the times I’ve seen it around. But I haven’t seen anyone’s thoughts on it. Great review! Definitely makes me want to to try it!


  3. I don’t think I’ve read anything like this for a while but it sounds so interesting. I must say that books like this always make me wonder about the moment of change itself rather than the established setting (if that makes sense). The characters here sound so great though!


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