The novel “Blackfish City” by Sam J. Miller was published for the first time in 2018. It won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel of the Year.
When the orcamancer arrives in Qaanaaq in a skiff pulled by an orca and with a polar bear on a leash, she becomes the center of attention of the entire city population. Like so many other families, hers got dispersed following the climate wars and a trace led her to what is considered one of the last bulwarks of civilization.
Among the topics of the discussions about the orcamancer, there are the old stories about a technology that allowed to create a mental bond between a person and an animal. In a city afflicted with various problems including the new disease known as the breaks, an event such as the arrival of the woman generates further chaos.
The so-called climate science fiction is not new but in recent years it has become almost an autonomous sub-genre despite the tendency to be linked to dystopia. That’s because it’s in some way a version updated to today’s times of the old catastrophic literature, which evolved over time to tell the possible dangers particularly felt in the various periods.
“Blackfish City” offers a vision of an all too realistic future, also because it’s not too remote. It’s a future that follows the ecological catastrophe and the consequent wars that broke out to grab the remaining resources. Throughout the novel, various information is provided here and there about the consequences of rising sea levels on coastal cities, especially New York. There’s an ecological catastrophe followed by a social catastrophe.
The novel follows the points of view of various characters, but the real great protagonist is Qaanaaq, a city built on a large sea platform in the Arctic Circle. In some ways a bulwark of human civilization, it also maintains its flaws, and over time the problems start endangering its survival.
The population of Qaanaaq is made up only to a small extent of people who managed to maintain their material wealth, which includes property owners. Despite the catastrophe, there are still people who maintain their privileged position, but they’re also the people considered responsible for the environmental disaster, so they try to hide their wealth to avoid further risks to their safety.
Most of the inhabitants of Qaanaaq make do as they can, and among the problems, there’s also the continuous arrivals of new people in search of hope for a new life. The issue of immigration is important, with refugees fleeing catastrophes caused by climate change and the wars that followed.
Sam J. Miller develops the important characters along with a sophisticated storyline with strong political and social elements. At the same time, in “Blackfish City” the scientific and technological component is important with echoes of cyberpunk, nanotechnology, sustainability, and more. This confirms that there is not always a clear distinction between the two ways of seeing science fiction.
“Blackfish City” shows the consequences of certain human behaviors in a brutal and disturbingly realistic way. For this reason, it can’t please the conservatives who would like to continue the exploitation of planetary resources in an unsustainable way. The inclusion of important LGBT+ characters seems like a further slap in the face of this type of person. In my opinion, it’s a must-read novel for the many insights it offers on political and social situations that will have negative long-term consequences if they continue to be as important as they currently are.