Firewalkers was a book I was extremely excited for, as it is a sci-fi/speculative novella written by the award-winning Adrian Tchaikovsky, who I had heard really great things about, but haven’t made time to read yet.
The story is set on earth in a near/distant future where climate change has completely changed the landscape of the world. Population is much smaller and people have condensed into smaller communities, creating cities with extremely diverse cultures, languages, religions, and overall worldviews. In this world, the rich are able to buy their way off the planet and to a much easier life aboard the Grand Celeste, a giant space-cruiser city with all the luxuries the rich are accustomed to and none of the hardships of the nearly-destroyed earth. Back on earth, though, people are subjected to the extremely difficult living conditions of a world completely altered by climate change. Work is scarce, and water even more so. One of the only good jobs that exist is that of a firewalker.
Firewalkers are sent off into the desolate areas far from the cities to fix issues that arise with the barely-functioning power systems, among other things. They are skilled and, usually, young because it is a job that’s hard on the body and difficult to maintain for a long period of time. This story follows three such firewalkers (Mao, Lupé, and Hotep), all nineteen or so, that are sent on a job to figure out why the city’s hotel for the rich is having such difficulty getting the air conditioner units to work as fully as they have in the past. Over the course of the story, our firewalkers go on a road-trip of sorts to discover who (or what) is using up all of the power.
This story is so well-developed, and its themes of climate change and class are extremely timely. The characters are diverse and view the world in different ways, but still manage to be friends at the end of the day. Genre-wise, Firewalkers is, I think, best described as hard sci-fi. However, I think it’s a very approachable version of hard sci-fi, as the story sits in a space somewhere between post-apocalyptic, dystopian, and science fiction. There is very little romance, so don’t worry about that being an issue here. The story is mostly focused on its themes and its friendships, and both of these things are well-conceived and well-done.
I will say that this book was a little difficult for me to fully emerge myself into, and I had trouble fully connecting with some of the characters. I loved Hotep, and think she was brilliantly conceived and portrayed. However, I had trouble fully relating to Mao, and he was the main character for most of the story. I wish we had gotten some scenes from Hotep’s perspective, like we did for both Mao and Lupé, because I think it would have added a lot to the story as a whole. In addition, there was a lot of slang used throughout the dialogue of the book, and some of the slang was specific to this story and showed the mixing of of all the languages of this city. I thought this was interesting, but it took me out of the story several times, unfortunately, because I had to figure out exactly what the characters were trying to say.
All in all, I think this book will rate around 3.5 stars for me, rounded up to 4 stars, because of how much I enjoyed the story thematically. I recommend this to people who are fans of this genre, enjoy stories with progressive themes regarding class or climate, or are a particular fan of this author. Firewalkers comes out on May 12, 2020.
I received an arc of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, but it hasn’t affected my review of the book whatsoever.