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REVIEW: Oshibana Complex – Craig Hallam

Oshibana Complex - Craig Hallam

Genre: Sci-Fi, Cyberpunk

LGBTQ+ Category: Non-Binary

Reviewer: Olivia

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About The Book

Welcome to Shika-One City, humanity’s final home.

Nations have come together. Gender and race are petty concerns of the past. But not everything is well in Shika-One.

Humanity can no longer procreate and has to synthesize future generations. But there aren’t many genetic templates to go around and meeting yourself on the street is a daily occurrence. With so many people wearing the same face, the synths of Shika-One strive for individuality in a world where stepping out of line can lead to the shredder.

In this pulsing neon world lives Xev and eir friends, all hard-working synths who maintain their designations to earn the XP to live and hope to afford the holographic shams that cover up their similarities. That is, until a new synth makes Xev start to ask big questions that might upset the status quo.

In Shika-One, life is cheap.

Xev is about to discover what e’s worth.

The Review

Worldbuilding: 5/5

Oh. Man. Oh. Man. This one pulls exactly no punches. In this work, Hallam has distilled down all the things that are worst about today’s inner city life: the constant grind just to get by. The exhaustion. The feeling that none of it really matters, but you don’t get the choice to quit. And the creeping sensation that this entire rat race is rigged, and that while you’re working your butt off down here, somebody somewhere is living large off your hard work. 

And then the author made it worse, because there is no outside. Nowhere to get away to. The environment outside the dome humanity’s reduced to living in can and will kill a human in a few minutes. And Hallam wasn’t kidding about doing away with gender. Every character in the story is referred to by e/eir pronouns. Sure, there’s no more gender discrimination. And that sounds good…until you, the reader, realize that it means people are literally only worth the amount of work they can do for the company, and how they play the game. This existence is a cruel parody of living. It’s been covered with plenty of capitalist glitz and glam and encouragements to buy one more thing that will make you HAPPY! ™. But everyone feels the falsehood. At this point, all there is to life is staying alive one more day. Doing one more thing.
Or is there?

That’s the question this book asks. And if you wanted to look at our culture and its excesses through a mirror darkly? This is about the blackest mirror you’re going to find.

Characterization 5/5

Our protagonist in this work is Xev, a world-weary worker bee who, in spite of it all, still has a little room in eir heart for kindness. For hope. For the belief in dignity. Given the circumstances e has endured, that in itself is remarkable. 

The characters in this book, far from being all the same, stand out as interesting and varied personalities, showcasing all kinds of methods to cope with a terrible situation. This one amiably goes with the flow and doesn’t give a stuff. That one does a small bit of good running an undercover library. This one over here has decided to become a predator and gets eir kicks preying upon eir fellow synths.

Just once, we see someone untainted by this world try to do a small justice, and they die for it. But e shows us justice is still possible.

Writing Style 5/5

Written in a vernacular that pulls you right into the characters’ world, the style is immersive and irresistible. It’s also surprisingly poignant, which makes its events hit home all the more. 

Plot 5/5

Well plotted and well-done, this book left me in a place that I feel ambivalent towards. No spoilers, but the ending created a lot of complicated feelings for me.  I sat for a few minutes thinking ‘was that the only way? Is that really the only way to make a good life for people? Or is that just the only avenue the beings involved could see?’ 

And yet, isn’t that what great works are supposed to do? Make us question? Make us ask what it’s all about?

If so, this book definitely succeeded.

Overall Rating 5/5

In the tradition of Blade Runner and Neuromancer, this is a book that will really make you ask yourself what it’s all about. And maybe we need that now. Grab your copy. See you on the other side.

The Reviewer

Olivia Wylie is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Trained in horticulture, she writes ethnobotany and horticulture under her own name and queer climate change fiction with a hopeful twist under the pen name of O.E. Tearmann. She lives in Colorado with a very patient partner and a rather impatient cat.  

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