As the title implies, I'm in the middle of this book, so this is not a review, just some thoughts mid-way through.
Six years after a global pandemic wiped out most of the planet’s population, the survivors are rebuilding the country, split between self-governing cities, hippie communes and wasteland gangs.
In postapocalyptic San Francisco, former pop star Moira has created a new identity to finally escape her past—until her domineering father launches a sweeping public search to track her down. Desperate for a fresh start herself, jaded event planner Krista navigates the world on behalf of those too traumatized to go outside, determined to help everyone move on—even if they don’t want to. Rob survived the catastrophe with his daughter, Sunny, but lost his wife. When strict government rules threaten to separate parent and child, Rob needs to prove himself worthy in the city’s eyes by connecting with people again.
Krista, Moira, Rob and Sunny are brought together by circumstance, and their lives begin to twine together. But when reports of another outbreak throw the fragile society into panic, the friends are forced to finally face everything that came before—and everything they still stand to lose. Because sometimes having one person is enough to keep the world going.
I'm a couple of chapters shy of the halfway point, but I'm pretty excited about this book and want to get something out there about it—also, I have to take a break because I forgot about a book tour I have next week, and I really should read that book first.
So, like last year's Here and Now and Then, Chen uses SF trappings to tell the kind of story that you don't normally associate with Science Fiction (especially if you're an anti-genre fiction snob).
I'm a chapter or two past a Speed Dating scene. On the one hand, it's like every other Speed Dating scene you've seen from TV or the movies and/or read before. On the other hand, this is after most of the population of the earth is gone and people are trying to rebuild a facsimile of their lives in the midst of tragedy, so you've got the awkwardness, the insanity of the whole speed dating thing, and people dealing with unspeakable trauma at the same time. Chen makes this feel incredibly familiar and incredibly alien (yet relatable) at the same time, mildly humorous and miserable, tinged with hope and despair. And that's just one scene. The book is full of stuff like this.
At its core (I think), this is a novel about how our past defines us, even after the apocalypse. Two characters here want to redefine themselves from the pre-pandemic lives, and somehow still can't (at least not totally). Two characters need to redefine themselves from their post-pandemic past, and can't seem to find the will to. It'll take no time at all before you're invested in these characters—you'll want what the former two want, and hope that the latter two can somehow make things work.
Also, you'll find you have some pretty strong feelings about Moira's father. And they won't be at all positive. But that's all I'm going to say about that.
I have a few ideas where the stories are going/may end up, yet I'm reasonably certain that Chen's ideas are better. Regardless, these are all building toward a satisfying pay-off or three. Maybe late next week I'll have a chance to talk about this more, but for now, let me say I'm digging this and expect that about 80% of the people who read this blog on a semi-regular basis will, too.