The Phlebotomist

By Chris Panatier

The Phlebotomist, a novel by Chris Panatier
Book details

I find that a lot of my favourite science fiction starts off as a simple What If scenario. A talented author can take a seemingly simple idea and extrapolate from there. A simple difference to our current way of life can have huge implications. Before long an entire new world has been built from this one What If? So, what if the class system was based on blood type? Those universal O donors are top of the pile, whilst A Negatives sit at the bottom. Why has this world turned to this scenario to determine the haves and have nots? Chris Panatier had this idea and out came the intriguing The Phlebotomist, a fantastic slice of What If speculative fiction. 

Willa is known as a Phlebotomist; this is someone who knowledgeable in blood and collects it. After a series of nuclear strikes, blood is needed for those in the Grey Zones, without a fresh supply of blood they would succumb to radiation poisoning. Willa is one of the best at what she does and has never questioned why so much blood is required but when she witnesses an accident her life will never be the same. The drones that supposedly carry the blood to the Grey Zones are empty, so were has all the blood gone? 

Phlebotomist has the type of world building at its centre that reminds you why you love science fiction so much. There is not another genre that can take a concept like a society based on blood and make it seem natural. People would give blood to help others and you can imagine an authoritarian government increasingly leaning on the people as the bombs still fall. By the time that this book is set, our world is very different and Panatier does a fantastic job of revealing the details through the storyline itself. 

The first part of Phlebotomist is a joy to read solely for the way that the world evolves, but it is the character of Willa, and later The Locksmith, who provide the heart. These characters are not your typical late teen/early twenties protagonists that sometimes sully otherwise interesting science fiction. Instead they are mature. Willa is a grandparent looking after her grandson. This relationship has a huge bearing on her actions and drives the story forwards in places. 

Making the main characters older also helps to anchor the story to our present day. Willa is old enough to have lived now. The book is set 40 or so years later, but on occasion she discusses the past and gives you an indication how things slipped into a more dystopian state. Although the concepts of Phlebotomist are outlandish on the surface, Panatier gives them a realistic and grounded feel by providing a shared history with our own. 

The book is almost two different novels. The first half is a science fiction thriller as Willa is sucked deeper into a conspiracy. The second half provides far more action and for me is a little less effective for no other reason that I was enjoying the original pacing. During the novel there are events that completely change Willa’s view on the world. Stalwarts of genre fiction will have an educated guess what might happen, but Panatier is still able to provide the twists and turns with a sense of originality. 

If nothing else the name Phlebotomist should hint to you that this is a bold outing and to begin with it starts off that way. The start is hard science fiction but told in a way that anyone can understand. It is a masterclass in world building. Once this world is formed Panatier changes gear and the book becomes more action science fiction. The two parts marry well, and most readers will enjoy both parts equally. I tend to enjoy action SF more than thinking SF, so it is testament to Panatier’s skill that I was a tiny bit disappointed when the brains left slightly for the brawn. This is obviously an author who can run with a good idea, I can’t wait to see what other worlds they will design.   

Written on 10th September 2020 by .

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