The Offset

By Calder Szewczak

The Offset, a novel by Calder Szewczak
Book details

There is one solution that would benefit our climate massively, but it is a bitter pill to swallow. Less humans. We are the cause of pretty much all the issues that the Earth is currently having and when we are gone, it will happily float around the solar system without us. A little bit grubbier, but happy nonetheless. In The Offset by Calder Szewczak the unthinkable has happened - a law has passed to keep the population capped. When a child reaches their 18th birthday, they must decide which of their parents are killed. It is hard enough to decide between Daddy or chips, never mind between one parent or another. 

Miri has run away from home. One reason is to get away from her overbearing mother, Professor Jac Boltanski, whose fame follows Miri everywhere. The other reason is the Offset. It will not be long until Miri must decide which of her two mothers must die; the Professor who is inventing a cure for the world’s ills, or Alix, a medic who saves lives and nurtured Miri as a child. Should Miri choose for her own reasons or for the world’s? 

The reader is dropped into a situation that feels scarily possible and very bleak. Humans have become desperate, willing to kill their own and experiment on hybrid plants in a desperate attempt to survive. With our own current climate issues, these dystopian futures are proving popular to writers and are ringing truer as each year passes. Szewczak produces a future that is hard enough, but adds the concept of The Offset to compound matters. 

This is not just a story of a dying world, but of a fractured family. A concept such as The Offset throws into stark relief family tensions. Do you dislike your parents so much that you would send them to their death? Some teenagers must have thought this, but to be given that power is another thing. Thankfully, Miri is not just a cliched sulky teenager, but a well-rounded character. She ran away a long time before the book is set so she has developed street smarts and a maturity that has helped her survive in a dying world. She feels guilty about even being born and cannot decide between her parents. She has always admired Alix, but to lose Jac could have major implications for the world’s future. 

And here the book packs a further blow. The parallel story to Miri is that of Jac. The Professor is visiting a remote location to unearth why the genetical altered trees she developed are not producing the results they should. With potentially only two days left to live, Jac wants to see if her life’s work will be for something, but time is running out. 

Szewczak intelligently keeps the two narratives separate, we only see Miri and Jac interact in flashbacks. Miri’s decision about The Offset is not affected by what is happening to Jac. We the reader are aware, but the characters are not. This leads to tension, anxiety and a finale that packs a real punch. The final pages are the equivalent of Szewczak walking on stage, blowing our minds, and then dropping the mic. Boom. 

Written on 14th September 2021 by .

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