By Tlotlo Tsamaase
- Womb City
Author: Tlotlo Tsamaase
Publisher: Erewhon Books
- ISBN: 9781645660767
- Published: January 2024
- Pages: 416
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 30/01/2024
- Language: English
At its best science fiction can be a prism to view the current world’s ills in a more palatable manner. Reading about the destruction of our world in a dystopian future feels one step removed from simply looking out of the window. Like environmental catastrophe, some themes are too powerful to go unnoticed, no matter how many flying ships or AI you put in a book. Misogyny is one, especially if a tale is told so powerfully like Tlotlo Tsamaase’s Womb City, a book all about the repression, but also a crime thriller and horror tale.
Nelah is a successful entrepreneur who runs her own architectural company, but she still must live under the same rules as everyone else. She has been transferred into the body of a ‘criminal,’ the previous owner’s crimes so bad that they lost an arm and now Nelah must be kept under constant surveillance lest the body make her a criminal too. Her husband is all too happy to watch the recordings that Nelah’s inbuilt chip stores. Being unable to even have amorous feelings for another, how will Nelah keep her affair hidden, not to mention the even darker secrets?
Womb opens as a piece of dark and intelligent science fiction that asks questions of the characters and the readers. This is not a pickup and read novel, but one that challenges you to think. It is the type of future akin to The Handmaid’s Tale where women are repressed. In Tsamaase’s world there is at least a veal of respectability. Crime is at a record low and all you need to keep it down is the removal of a few small personal liberties. The misogyny comes in the idea that the women are regulated, not for themselves, but to prevent men from attacking them. The book highlights the idea that it is somehow a woman’s fault that a man is violent.
The book also tackles the tricky subject matters of infertility and a woman’s agency over her own body. Nelah wants a child and has lost several. She starts to question if she wants a child for herself or is her husband forcing one upon her to advance his career. There are several methods of embryo development in the book from the traditional to the futuristic. Nelah is torn between wanting it all and not being able to cope.
I love hard hitting science fiction that poses questions in new and interesting ways, Womb certainly does this, especially in the first act, but the book takes a dramatic change of pace and tone in the second act. An incident occurs that evolves the book from a cerebral character piece to a horror thriller. I do not think that the book needed to crank up the action or the tension to make it a readable book, the change of tone did not benefit the story. It became a Netflix miniseries, rather than an intelligent look at today’s society. The increase in pace and change in tone will appeal to those who like a faster story, but it was a shame and the juxtaposition between the two parts did not gel.
There will be plenty of readers who enjoy both aspects of Womb, but other readers will like the start or the end. I am unsure if the change in tone was intentional from the start, or a way of making the book feel more ‘commercial.’ With that in mind, the book will find an audience, there are thrills aplenty and it becomes an action thriller. I just feel that those reading the book for the poignant case study will feel a little let down by the unnecessary bells and whistles.
Written on 30th January 2024 by Sam Tyler .