Craig Hallam’s Oshibana Complex is a science fiction, cyperpunk sort of story set in a grim future. I very much enjoyed it and if this is a genre you’d read, I recommend picking up a copy.
This is one of those stories where making sense of what is going on is integral to the plot, so, I shall try to review without spoilers. From the first page, we know this is a setting where work dominates life, and those who are poor are incredibly vulnerable. This speaks to the present moment all too clearly, and offers a trajectory no sane and decent person should want. The idea of the disposable human worker who is little more than a cog in the corporate machine is one we need to resist, and Craig illustrates it beautifully.
We also know from the first page that this is a culture that doesn’t do gender. I found this fascinating. The grammar is easy enough to get to grips with and cleverly done. It made me conscious of the way in which gender signifiers are so hardwired into how we think about people and identity. Being a writer myself it got me thinking a lot about gender identities in fiction, and what kinds of clichés and gender stereotypes we might unconsciously use when writing. It’s really interesting exploring characters who do not experience gender in themselves or other people, and I greatly enjoyed that as a reader.
The third thing that really struck me about this book and that isn’t a spoiler, is that it deals with mental health issues. The main character is distressed, experiences trauma and has realistic responses to that. As the story unfolds, the impact of being overwhelmed, lost, and in existential crisis plays out really effectively. Craig (who also wrote Down Days) has a lot of insight on this score and brings it to bear with skill, taking you into the mind of someone who is struggling. So often in speculative fiction, characters take on the chin things that tend to break real people. That sets up unrealistic expectations and means we otherwise have very few maps of what to do when faced with mental health issues in ourselves or others. It’s good to see the emotional consequences taken seriously.
This is a fine piece of work, it’s a book with many layers and dimensions to it, a strong story, with a surprising trajectory, lots to ponder and lots to enjoy. Heartily recommended.
Oshibana Complex is widely available from online retailers, but you can also buy it directly from the publisher, which is without a doubt, the best way to get money to the author!