- World Running Down
Author: Al Hess
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
- ISBN: 9781915202239
- Published: February 2023
- Pages: 400
- Format reviewed: E-Book
- Review date: 20/02/2023
- Language: English
If Science Fiction is to be believed the only bright thing about the future will be the burning rays of the sun beaming down to burn our skin. The futures grim, the futures dystopian. However, sci fi also tells us that humans will do what it takes to survive. Despite inescapable heat and roving bands of motorcycle pirates, people will still love, lose, and overcome. World Running Down by Al Hess may be set in a future hellscape, but there are hopes and dreams to be had.
Valentine Weis is a scavenger in future America who specialises in commissions others would not undertake, the reason is that Valentine has a dream to gain access to Salt Lake City and the drugs and surgery they need to deal with their body dysmorphia. Meanwhile, Osric is dealing with their own conflict. This AI has been banished from the grid and placed inside the body of an android. Val and Osric find one another in the wastelands and join forces, each hoping the best for the other.
I have read a good amount of science fiction and fantasy that deals with queer characters, and it is great to see the genre expanding to engage with all the audience. Often, a character being gay, or trans plays a role in the story, but rarely as centrally as in World. The driving force of the story is Valentine’s body dysmorphia and their dream of becoming whole. It impacts their actions and the choices they make, even if they are not always the easiest.
There is a lot more to Valentine than being transgender. Hess creates a kind, thoughtful and rounded characters who has a lot to them. Often Val will make a decision that will impact their life negatively in aid to help others. It is one of the things that Osric is drawn to, the outer and inner beauty that Valentine projects. World is a story of action and scarcity, but it is also a love story between two characters finding themselves and each other.
The character of Osric is a great companion journey to Valentine's as they are going through their own form of body dysmorphia. Ripped from a network, they suddenly find themselves in a body with all the sensations and needs that comes with it. Comparing the two characters journeys could have been treated heavy handed, but Hess does an excellent job of using Osric to aid readers in understanding Valentine’s plight. Some of us have never questioned our bodies and may find it hard to understand what it must feel like to be transgender, but framing this as an AI being transformed into an Android and it makes sense. It did to me at least, but that is probably my science fiction mind.
I loved the characters and relationships in World, but there is also some great world building and action. At the core I believe that Hess, like the character of Valentine, believes the best in people. The book has betrayal, violence, and some hard-hitting elements, but at the core it is kind. I do not wish to ruin the final parts of the novel, but as a reader you will finish it feeling uplifted.
Written on 20th February 2023 by Sam Tyler .