Issue 25’s Review
Survival (2018) by Rachel Watts
Review by Jessica Gately (this review can also be read in the Underground zine, issue 25: Roots)
This fast-paced novella from Rachel Watts is a quick and easy read for those of you with a bite for dystopian fiction. In the not-too-distant future, Earth has suffered environmental disaster and the world’s only remaining multi-national, the Scylla Corporation, holds the reigns to humanity’s survival. Valerie, who has lived her entire life inside the Scylla secure complex where food is plentiful and disease is carefully kept at bay, discovers a terrible secret about how the Corporation is maintaining its control and sets about trying to reveal the truth. Escaping from the complex with highly sensitive information, Valerie meets Ava, a tough-skinned resident of the flooded city outside the complex who is grieving for her recently disappeared sister Sophia. Together they must find a way to disseminate the information and rally the people to bring down Scylla.
Although the city remains unnamed throughout, it was easily my favourite part of this story. The descriptions of the flooded city with its makeshift markets that constantly move as the water rises and falls, the cramped conditions and entire families room-sharing, and the way the people drop their coins into vinegar to avoid disease all feel so eerily realistic. Watts has created a world in which everyone has lost everything and yet still live as if they have everything left to lose.
Of course, the problem with the novella format is that with a plot this jam-packed something had to give and in this case, it was the opportunity to spend that extra time delving into the post-apocalyptic world and its inhabitants. While we learn bits and pieces from Ava and Valerie along the way, their own histories remain largely hidden with only vague hints at the lives they’ve led so far. In this way, it’s difficult to connect with them on a fully emotional level, and some scenes that should have really tugged at the heart-strings failed to hit their mark as a result. However, if you’ve always struggled with science-fiction or fantasy due to the long-winded nature of the prose, then this might be right up your alley.
Fast-paced and easy to read, the political intrigue keeps the story moving forward as you are constantly left asking: who is friend and who is foe? The repetition of the line ‘ignorance is cheap; then it costs you everything’ paired with the environmental disaster that has caused this dystopian future continuously reminds the reader to question how much longer we can afford to remain blissfully ignorant of the world’s corporations’ activities. Utilising simple prose, the message of this story is clear and compelling. In the words of Ava’s sister, Sophia, ‘…it is my responsibility. And it’s yours. We live in it.’