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Blackfish City

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After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle, a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy. The city’s denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod new way of living; however, the city is starting to fray along the edges—crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a new disease called “the breaks” is ravaging the population.

When a strange new visitor arrives—a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side—the city is entranced. The “orcamancer,” as she’s known, very subtly brings together four people—each living on the periphery—to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together to save their city before it crumbles under the weight of its own decay, they will learn shocking truths about themselves.

Blackfish City is a remarkably urgent—and ultimately very hopeful—novel about political corruption, organized crime, technology run amok, the consequences of climate change, gender identity, and the unifying power of human connection.

336 pages, ebook

First published April 17, 2018

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About the author

Sam J. Miller

87 books767 followers
Sam J. Miller is the last in a long line of butchers, and the Nebula-Award-winning author of THE ART OF STARVING, one of NPR's Best Books of the Year. His second novel, BLACKFISH CITY was a "Must Read" according to Entertainment Weekly and O: The Oprah Magazine, and one of the best books of 2018 according to the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and more. He got gay-married in a guerrilla wedding in the shadow of a tyrannosaurus skeleton. He lives in New York City, and at samjmiller.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,351 reviews
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 259 books409k followers
January 8, 2021
I'm late to the party here, but what a wonderful book! Blackfish City takes us into the near future, when climate change has caused the flooding and destruction of large swaths of the inhabited continents. The rich have fled, constructing massive floating cities in the Arctic, to which refugees flock from all over the fallen world. The novel follows a large cast of characters who live in Qaanaaq, one such city constructed with eight arms like a giant asterisk. Each character has a compelling story, and all are bound together by the arrival in Qaanaaq of a mysterious orcamancer, fierce warrior woman who is nano-bonded to a killer whale and travels with a polar bear. Why has she come to Qaanaaq, and how will she affect the lives of the people there? And also, how many people will she kill while she is there with her hardcore combat skills and large animals? That central mystery will keep the pages turning as Miller plunges us into a world so rich and multi-textured that at times I wondered if he had actually visited the place and was writing a travelogue. Quaanaaq is not a place where I would ever want to live, but it is fascinating and wonderful to read about. Miller's world seems all too believable as a chapter in human history not too many generations in the future. I would compare his work favorably to Paolo Bacigalupi, another favorite writer of mine, who writes of climate disaster and its effects. Great for sci fi fans like me!
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
July 13, 2018

this was a real roller coaster of a read for me. it was offered to me by a publisher-pal, who confidently declared:

“I just think you will die for this book.”

between that prediction and the first part of the synopsis:

When a strange new visitor arrives—a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side—the city is entranced. 


but then further into the synopsis:

Blackfish City is a remarkably urgent—and ultimately very hopeful—novel about political corruption, organized crime, technology run amok, the consequences of climate change, gender identity, and the unifying power of human connection.


and when the book arrived, i wasn’t wild about the michael-chabon-goes-neon-sign of the cover:

but i take death-by-bookgasm threats very seriously, so i was happy to give it a shot.

it starts out strong, with a tremendously intriguing teaser-prologue that delivers in both tone and content:

People would say she came to Qaanaaq in a skiff towed by a killer whale harnessed to the front like a horse. In these stories, which grew astonishingly elaborate in the days and weeks after her arrival, the polar bear paced beside her on the flat bloody deck of the boat. Her face was clenched and angry. She wore battle armor built from thick scavenged plastic.

At her feet, in heaps, were the kind of weird weapons and machines that refugee-camp ingenuity had been producing; strange tools fashioned from the wreckage of Manhattan or Mumbai. Her fingers twitched along the walrus-ivory handle of her blade. She had come to do something horrific in Qaanaaq, and she could not wait to start.

You have heard these stories. You may even have told them. Stories are valuable here. They are what we brought when we came here; they are what cannot be taken away from us.

The truth of her arrival was almost certainly less dramatic. The skiff was your standard tri-power rig, with a sail and oars and a gas engine, and for the last few miles of her journey to the floating city it was the engine that she used. The killer whale swam beside her. The polar bear was in chains, a metal cage over its head and two smaller ones boxing in its forepaws. She wore simple clothes, the skins and furs preferred by the people who had fled to the north when the cities of the south began to burn or sink. She did not pace. Her weapon lay at her feet. She brought nothing else with her. Whatever she had come to Qaanaaq to accomplish, her face gave no hint of whether it would be bloody or beautiful or both.

phoar, right?

and THEN there’s a page-two mention of my most beloved “baby red pandas” (and other cute animals) “saved from extinction” and carried around in “polyglass cages,” which is my kind of world and where do i sign up?

however, after that early swoon, things got stickier and it took me a while to get into it. my leisure reading time is scarcer than it used to be, and this isn't the kind of book that benefits from small-chunk reading: multiple characters, voices, perspectives; all living seemingly unconnected lives in different sectors of the city along different points on the wealth and status spectrum - it's a panoramic view of the city through individual experiences, which is great, but while i was enjoying the separate storylines, the novel just wasn’t gelling for me as a whole until kaBOOM - i started suspecting the connections (usually just before they were revealed, so it’s nothing to brag about) and once the stories began crashing together, it was like being caught up in a dizzying, brutal whirlwind that does not care about which characters you've grown fond of or what your recently-developed predictive skills have anticipated. all bets are off and the ending is…still being absorbed. i'm not sure "ultimately very hopeful" is how i would phrase it.

i will say this - as much as i love this world and these characters, i really hope there isn’t a sequel planned. the emotional discomfort of the ending would be much less powerful if the question "what happens now?" is answered authoritatively and not just left to rattle around in the reader's head.

but it's damn good stuff and i may indeed have died for it a little.

if i had to design a readalike corner for this book, it would include:

Aurorarama - for steampunky cities and polar bears, o my!

Jade City - for organized crime in a fantasy setting that's detailed down to its bones.

The Golden Compass - for steampunk cities, human/animal soul-bonded besties, and badass polar bears.

Borne - for - wait, did i mention giant bears? i did? okay, for giant bears in a world largely-destroyed. borne is considerably bigger than this fella, and his world further along in its decay, but those ripped-from-the-synopsis themes of "technology run amok" and "the unifying power of human connection" definitely apply to both.

Infinite Jest - but pretty much JUST the madame psychosis bits. and maybe soq.

good lord, that ending was ... unexpected. review to come!


people to be jealous of #105:

come to my blog!
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
318 reviews1,345 followers
April 17, 2018
I received an advanced reading copy of Blackfish City in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Sam J. Miller and Orbit Books.

The results of the climate wars were that the majority of the Earth was either flooded or burnt to rubble leaving very little in the way of habitual environments. In this futuristic and dystopian world, people now reside in an astonishingly well engineered floating city that has been constructed in the Arctic Circle. This settlement is bustling with strife between classes, corruption, amazingly advanced technology, and also rumours of a mysterious lady who arrived one day accompanied by a killer whale and a giant polar bear.

Miller has created a world that is so deep, complex, and well-imagined that it almost appears to be a living breathing entity. He cleverly explains the social aspects, current technology, and the world's history through the characters points of views or with chapters presented by City Without a Map. This is a mysterious and anonymous news service that civilians have access to. Many of the items used by the people of this world are logical but impressive advancements of equipment we use today. An example would be that a combination of a telephone, translating system, and radio can be stored in someone's jaw. As the world is so detailed and the language used is highly scientific it was difficult to get into initially. I found myself reading at a very slow pace and googling unfamiliar sounding words with unfortunate regularity with the overall intention being to make sure I fully understood what was going on. During the first 80-pages, I respected what Miller was doing but I wasn't really enjoying reading it. In addition to this, the four main characters that we follow all had pretty isolated stories with the common denominator being that they were based in the same city. I was unsure if this was going to be more of a science lesson than a complete story and therefore was very close to DNF'ing it, giving it a 2-star rating, saying it was unique, interesting and that Miller is very talented but it wasn't for me. As the publisher sent me a free copy of this I fought through a bit longer and I am really glad that I did. About 20-pages later, what has been built up so far seemed to click, I finally found myself caring about some of these characters and the world's secrets and from then on had a generally positive experience with Blackfish City.

We follow 4 main characters. Fill is an often unhappy queer young gentleman whose grandfather is a shareholder of the city. Kaev is a mentally ill beam-fighter journeyman who loses on purpose to earn paycheques. Ankit is an administrator for the government that keeps the city running in order. Finally, Soq is a beautiful gender-neutral messenger who slides their way around the city delivering messages for the underworld. All 4 make a colourful ensemble and there is a great amount featured in Blackfish City that LGBT fiction readers will adore. Soq was my personal favourite character to learn more about throughout the story. Miller introduces their gender neutrality well very early on so there are never any issues of confusion regarding their character.

This world has many original and interesting creations. A few examples are nanobonding - being able to emotionally bond with and essentially control a certain animal, and the breaks - a sexually transmitted infection that is polluting the city that gives sufferers the memories of those previously afflicted before a seemingly inevitable death through this apparent madness. Beam-fighting is a well crafted national sport that is like MMA but a contestant will lose by being forced off the beams into the ocean by their opponent. In addition, sliders with specially designed skates and death-defying free-runners operate above the city far away from the ocean beneath.

As previously mentioned, this book does start slow but the resulting narrative is excellent, the characters and their relationships with one another have great depth and the ending is awesomely realised. The created world is brilliantly conceived. It starts out like a science lesson but after that, the characters take over and that is where the book truly shines. Blackfish City is a haunting projection of our future that is made even eerier by the fact that nothing written here seems too alien or far-fetched. It seems a bit too close to our current reality for comfort. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys science-fiction, dystopian literature, or books where certain individuals can control frighteningly vicious animals. I can see this making many 'best-of-the-year' lists in 2018.
Profile Image for Philip.
513 reviews683 followers
August 9, 2018
2.5ish stars.

Underwhelmed. A lot of great individual elements, but there's so much missing at the same time. I wanted to like it more than I did. Especially based on the imaginative setting, the interesting crowd of POVs, the great cover, and the concept of an ORCAMANCER, hello!

I enjoyed Miller's YA novel, The Art of Starving, a lot more because I liked the voice he gave to his protagonist. Without a first-person narrator to ground things here, Miller gets carried away by the Triple P™: pretentiously profound prose. "Literary ennui" as a reading buddy so adequately describes it. Sort of like an amateur attempt to be Jeff VanderMeer but without the eerie, pervading sense of atmosphere; pretty but empty. I also feel like something about his sentence structure is hard to follow at times.

There's a lot of exposition and I ended up skimming a lot. The ideas seem cool, but the actual reading part went very slowly for me. The entire time there was something missing, some spark, that prevented me from getting excited.

I've noticed comparisons to recent books, Autonomous and New York 2140, based on similar themes and content. Autonomous works better because it's simpler, and fewer POVs keep it from getting cluttery. NY 2140 works better because its humanity and vision are easier to relate to.

I'm 1 for 2 with Miller's books. Willing to give it another go.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for Gary.
442 reviews196 followers
May 5, 2018
7.8 out of 10 at: https://1000yearplan.com/2018/05/03/c...

Sci-fi and fantasy narratives that deal directly with structures of power usually feature a single, goal-oriented protagonist, often consumed with a desire for revenge or seeking to redress a perceived injustice. Even if the intent is to castigate or subvert the social and political norms that reinforce those structures, these stories tend to promote the idea of a lone genius/hero/savior as the essential component for radical change – the “great man” approach to history – who may end up shuffling the deck, but who rarely sets the cards aside altogether. Usually, the new structures that replace the old have same potential to commit future abuses – a truth the author usually avoids by simply ending the story on a high note.
In Blackfish City, Sam J. Miller uses a mosaic narrative structure much the same way Kim Stanley Robinson uses it in New York 2140: to procure a blueprint for radical social change by illuminating both the commonality and the diversity of experiences within a community of peoples. Set in the floating arctic city of Qaanaaq, in a post-climate disaster world ravaged by war and disease and the collapse of the old world order, Blackfish City follows multiple characters with interrelated storylines. Qaanaaq is a marvel of sustainable engineering, and home to refugees from all over the world, but political corruption and economic disparity have made living conditions all but unbearable for most of its citizens.
The various storylines converge around the arrival of Masaaraq, who rides into Qaanaaq on an orca she is “nanobonded” to. In a typical SFF novel, Masaaraq would be the messiah figure, and at first, she is perceived as such by many, and of course is equally perceived as a threat by the wealthy and powerful. But even those who stand to gain from joining Masaaraq’s quest for justice understand that solutions to complex social problems require more than just overturning the applecart and sticking it to the proverbial “man”. Selfish motives, however righteous, are not the answer: the effort requires collective action, and a desire to create and forge lasting solutions. These things are never easy, nor are they instantly accessible, and Miller is too savvy to tie everything up neatly at the end. The future its collection of heroes face is even more uncertain at the end than it was at the beginning, when they at least knew what they had to look forward to at the start of each day.
Blackfish City is laudable for its ambition, its finely imagined and nuanced setting, and captivating cast of characters. Mosaic novels are tough to pull off, and Blackfish City sometimes has to be forgiven for its uneven pacing and frustrating spurts of reticence. The thrill of watching the once powerless find the strength to fight together for their future more than makes up for it.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
811 reviews1,273 followers
January 23, 2019
Sadly, I found it impossible to connect with this story. It is one that I would normally love and I was so intrigued after reading the premise, so looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately it did not meet my expectations. I thought if I was patient enough, I'd finally "get into it", but nope, never did. The last 30 pages I enjoyed more than the rest, but that didn't make up for struggling through the previous 295. So why didn't I love it? I mean, it's got ingredients that would make for a kick-ass, highly intriguing, un-put-downable book:

A very diverse set of characters, including an orca-riding, polar bear-befriending lesbian ✓

A mysterious, deadly, and highly contagious disease spreading through the city's denizens ✓

A corrupt government ✓

Human beings mentally bonded with other animals using nanotechnology ✓

Organized crime ✓

Crazy nut-job fundamentalists ✓

A shady pharmaceutical company experimenting on poor refugees ✓

The setting: A floating man-made city near the Arctic, after much of the earth's land becomes uninhabitable ✓

With all those juicy elements, this should have made for an awesome book and it was for some. For me though, I just couldn't get into it. There aren't many authors, in my opinion, who can pull off a novel told by many people's point of view. This book has several and as soon as I'd start getting interested in one character, it would jump to the next. Then the next. Then the next, and so on. I found the book too disjointed, too all-over-the-place. I think it would have been much better to tell this story using the voice of one narrator. Sam Miller is certainly gifted, very imaginative and possessing a talent for writing beautifully descriptive prose. I will be watching him in the future, because I think he has the capability for brilliance. This book though, just didn't do it for me.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,981 reviews1,991 followers
July 8, 2023
Real Rating: 4.5* of five

This is a delightful read. The investment you make in the first 100 pages pays off in a rich, enfolding experience of very able, capable worldbuilding by Author Miller.

Four PoV characters seems like a lot, I know, but each presents the reader with a different lens on a world that is all about where you are in its hierarchy as to what it looks like, feels like, and how Qaanaaq functions to meet your needs. Wealthy and privileged and bored Fill and Kaev, males at opposite ends of the city's caste system, and Kaev the professional fight-thrower is about to slip a few more rungs down the ladder. Ankit and non-binary Soq are the mobile middle-dwellers, each functioning in their differing-status jobs to support the power structure. Soq the messenger, the Mercury of Qaanaaq, was probably my favorite PoV in the book. The stealth they possess; the invisibility that rejecting binaries confers on them; all the moments of revelation this leads to make them a character I'd've loved to hear more from.

Author Miller is a top-notch talent, a maker of archetypes and a weaver of worlds whose skills are already as sharp as many with much longer résumés. What points of complaint I have are negligible compared to the central, overarching concerns he presents in this three-year-old and already timeless title.

Some of my favorite lines:
Money is a mind, the oldest artificial intelligence. Its prime directives are simple, it's programming endlessly creative. Humans obey it unthinkingly, with cheerful alacrity. Like a virus, it doesn't care if it kills its host. It will simply flow on to someone new.
The American fleet had lacked a lot of things—food, shelter, fuel, civil liberties—but it hadn’t lacked weapons. The global military presence that had made the pre-fall United States so powerful, and then helped cause their collapse, had left them with all sorts of terrifying toys.
“Fine line between good business and a fucking war crime,” he said. “Ain’t that the goddamn epitaph of capitalism.”
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,109 followers
July 11, 2018

It's okay, and them's the Breaks! ;)

I honestly thought this book was all right. Not fantastic but definitely strong in the worldbuilding, characters, and plot progression. The real stars are the floating ramshackle cities out in the Arctic Circle and the wildly delicious custom nanotech plague.

Everything else was a pretty cool but standard dystopia of Syndicates (mob landlords) and shareholders (super rich owners who are above the law), with fighters, skaters, hedge nano-wizards and bonding with animals thanks to the nanos. Pretty cool? It is pretty cool. Ish.

There's an obvious agenda here, the haves versus the have-nots, an almost mystical progression toward having a city without maps based on memory and the memory-plague mystery called the Breaks. I liked it and I was pretty entranced by it, but I'm not quite certain I buy where I was taken with it.

You might say that the Beginning and Middle was good, but the end left a bit to be desired.

Still, rather interesting. It was just the story itself that kinda flagged. Alas. Orca-savior? Cool in the particulars but maybe not in the whole.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books752 followers
March 4, 2020
This was a wonderful experience. There were so many moving parts that just coalesced so beautifully. I felt like I was in a spiral that started meandering, lots of turns that I couldn't see, and then it got tighter and tighter.

I loved nearly everything about it. Sort of like Maupin's Tales of the City meets St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, it's got heart, humor, animal companions, people from all walks of life dealing with their own struggles and the struggles that we all face as a society. A beautiful tribute to surviving the AIDS crisis, to community, the fragility of our planet and the resilience of the human spirit.

The only thing that keeps this from being 5 stars for me is the very, very end. We have this lush, achingly beautiful story that feels sort of like the author did not know how to get out of the whirlpool he had created, so he just pulled the plug. It jarred me to end like that, and after so much honesty I found it forced.

A truly memorable, lovely book. I am hoping to add this one to my personal collection.

CONTENT WARNING (list of topics)
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,275 reviews227 followers
July 9, 2018
A complex novel of a post-climate change world set on a floating city in the arctic with a disparate cast of point-of-view characters who turn out to be connected in interesting ways.

Qaanaaq is an advanced technology floating platform city that's heated by geothermal energy. In many ways it's a vestige of our world, with extreme wealth inequality between the property owners and the vast majority of its inhabitants, many of them refugees of climate disasters and wars throughout the world. And as typical with societies with extreme wealth inequality, crime and criminal enterprise flourishes. Along with the day-to-day problems of overcrowding and never-ending new immigrants and crime, the city also faces an outbreak of a fatal sexually-transmitted disease called "the Breaks" which infects people with the memories of the people it's already infected.

Our point of view characters include Fill, a relatively well-off young gay man who's just been infected with the Breaks, Ankit, a former "scaler" (parkour-like sub-culture) and political fixer for one of the platform arm managers, Kaev, an aging fighter with a mental impairment working for a local crime boss, and Soq, a young non-binary messenger looking for position with that same crime boss. As a catalyst for the action a woman arrives in the city riding an orca and with a polar bear in tow and begins prowling the city as if she's looking for something and someone. She's clearly a nanobonder, a nearly extinct sub-culture of people who practiced nanomachine empathic links with animals.

This book has a lot to say. There's the obvious questioning of what sort of world climate change will leave us, but that's almost prosaic in this context. Of greater import is what sort of world the other great problems of our time are going to cause. Wealth inequality, capitalism as kleptocracy, oligopoly, immigration in a world where everyone is a refugee, political prisoners and the response to disease when government is largely dismantled.

Unfortunately, with so much to say, there's an enormous amount of exposition to convey. There's also a huge amount of information and backstory that needs to come across about each of the point-of-view characters as well as all their various supporting figures. That leaves the first half of the book feeling slow, disjointed and weighty with background information. However, once the massive infodump starts to peter out and connections begin to be made, the book really hums along.

There's some obvious comparisons to be made here. New York 2140 leaps to mind, particularly with the large ensemble cast with intertwining stories as well as the criticism of the power of wealth, but also Autonomous with the arctic setting, advanced technology and its consequences and the acceptance/normalization of alternate gender and sexuality and the equivalence of capitalism and criminality.

Interesting book and well worth a read.
Profile Image for Charlie Anders.
Author 151 books3,791 followers
July 8, 2019
The worldbuilding in this post-climate-change novel is so fantastic and the eponymous city in the Arctic Circle is such a vivid setting. The politics in this book are fascinating as well, and the vision of liberation in its final chapters blew my mind. We need more novels that imagine the future of cities as masterfully as this one does.
Profile Image for Josh.
1,649 reviews156 followers
October 10, 2018
"Qaanaaq is an eight-armed asterisk. East of Greenland, north of Iceland. Built by an unruly alignment of Thai-Chinese-Swedish corporations and government entities, part of the second wave of grid city construction, learning from the spectacular failure of several early efforts. Almost a million people call it home, though many are migrant workers who spend much of their time on boats harvesting glacier for freshwater ice...or working Russian petroleum rigs in the far Arctic."

Qaanaaq, the dystopian floating city is beautifully articulated, a living-breathing organism as distinctive and unique as the characters who inhabit it and those who flock to it in search of refuge from gangs, pirates, politics and other dangerous syndicates.

To be honest, the characters and their stories were secondary to what author Sam J. Miller chose to write about, such was the addictive need to learn more about this strange, cold, yet futuristic and scarily plausible place.

That said, I loved the myth surrounding the arrival of the woman riding an orca with a polar bear, caged, at her side and the increasing intrigue as the narrative of her unfurled.

"People would say she came to Qaanaaq in a skiff towed by a killer whale harnessed to the front like a horse...At her feet, in heaps, were the kind of weird weapons and machines that refugee-camp ingenuity had been producing."

But the story wasn't just about the strange new comer, with 5 characters sharing page time with dedicated chapters, their occupations ranging from professional fighter, underworld boss, courier, unemployed rich kid, and political adviser. The multi POV added depth and enhanced the context and concept of Blackfish City.

My rating: 5/5 stars. Blackfish City a great dystopian Sci-Fi that blends sci-fi with tech-fi to create a scarily plausible future.
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,097 reviews7 followers
April 23, 2018
3.5 stars

I had to be patient with this book because it was only towards the 40% mark that the story really took off.

On a very basic level this story takes the concept of the Golden Compass – humans bonding with non-human entities (in this case real animals) - but made it much darker, grittier and more terrifying. This is no children’s story.

I really enjoyed the overall story line and was determined to give it 4 stars for its wonderful atmosphere and imaginative world HOWEVER….

The author had the knack of referring to the polar bear has having hands (?) and later corrected it by referring to paws. This is a small editing error and as I read a galley I really hope was corrected before publishing.

And then there is Soq. Now this was a very interesting character, but one thing just drove me to distraction. The author made Soq gender fluid so Soq didn’t want to be referred to as he or she but them or they. That really irritated me the same way that Matt in Feedback did. It was a disruptive little niggle that took me out of the story every time I read it.

I found the concept of the Breaks, very well done. This is a shameful disease normally affecting the lowest of society. When infected you see images that slowly drive you insane. There is no cure and no real cause and turns out to be much more complicated than anyone could have anticipated.

Would I recommend this? The story is worth the read, the world building solid and the story line entertaining. Yes, there were a few little things that bothered me, but this was a unique story with strong imagery and a satisfyingly open-ended ending.

ARC Netgalley
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,471 reviews1,012 followers
January 7, 2018
Political corruption but not as you know it…

I LOVED Blackfish City – imaginative, compelling, realistically fantastic and blimey a right proper page turner with beautifully immersive descriptive prose and characters that just pop.

The setting is chilly and well defined, the world building is intensely clever, Sam Miller creates a genuinely inspired mythology here. “The breaks” are somewhat terrifying and allegorical, as the story unfolds within the worlds view of each individual character it is often unexpected and entirely addictive.

The plot is intelligently woven and every level of this city and it’s people is explored, opened up to the reader and shown in all it’s gorgeous, stark, unrelenting forms. The characters are sharply defined and divisive, shades of dark and light throughout this book I LOVED the writing, the story, the sheer length and breadth of the plotting and it was a pure pleasure to read first page to last.

Highly Recommended.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,685 reviews347 followers
March 12, 2021
Starts out well, but the premise is so unlikely that I'm unlikely to finish it: that, in a future world badly damaged by rising seas (et al.), people would build large, floating oil rig-like structures for new cities. Think about what that would cost, vs. building regular buildings onshore. The titular city is offshore southern Greenland -- why not build there? With the warming temperatures, people are already settling there now: this is where the Norse had their settlements from the 10th to the 15th century, until the climate worsened in the Little Ice Age. Five minutes of Wikipedia research might have saved the novel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenla...

The writing is good, but if the central premise is nonsense, makes it all but impossible for me to suspend disbelief. Sigh.

DNF for the reasons listed above. I do like the cover art a lot, but the novel is hopeless, for me anyway.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,897 followers
July 27, 2019
Impressively ambitious, big-hearted, and provocative. I grew to love its wide-ranging cast of characters, and as I progressed through the novel, I became more and more enchanted by how well its initially rambling structure gives way to a tightly-constructed narrative that comes into sharper and sharper focus. Miller writes with a confidence and clarity that is bracing, and suffuses his story with an abiding hunger for righting the economic wrongs of our society, but never does so in an easy or preachy or facile way.

I’ve read all but one of this year’s Nebula Award for Best Novel nominees, and if I’d been a member of SFWA and had a vote, this would have gotten it, for its originality, its heart, and for the manner in which it channels Miller’s fervent imagination to speak eloquently about matters that are very resonant in our expansive, diverse, complicated, and frighteningly endangered modern world.
Profile Image for Emily.
Author 11 books987 followers
June 2, 2018
This book has an orca-riding lesbian grandma and a gritty futuristic floating city—it could not possibly be any more up my alley.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,773 reviews208 followers
July 15, 2018
Though the start was a little confusing with multiple characters and their PoVs introduced with a rather dizzying set of life circumstances, I found that once past that, the story flowed. The worldbuilding was terrific; horribly grim but with so much texture: the AIs running the political system; the desperation of people living crammed in on top of each other; the wonderful descriptions in the "City Without a Map", the recording that weaves its way throughout Qaanaaq and the characters' lives; the nanobonded and their animals; the huge diversity of everyone living on Qaanaq; the super rich shareholders of Qaanaaq and the criminals constantly dancing around each other; the breaks, a disease wending its way through the poor, leaving them muttering gibberish, and Qaanaaq itself and its shape and construction.
The characters are diverse, with such different backgrounds, and initially their stories seem to revolve around each of their own difficult and frankly hopeless-seeming lives, until a mysterious stranger arrives on Qaanaaq and sets off all sorts of actions, eventually bringing everyone together.
This book is not the easiest read, but I enjoyed it, even with an end where the characters are left without a lot of resolution. And I loved the book's beautiful cover.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,117 reviews1,878 followers
January 14, 2019
Forgive me karen for what I have done to the book you were so nice to lend me almost a year ago!

I started this book the Monday after Thanksgiving, and I'm finishing up this 326 page book on January 13th. I'm a fucking reading machine!

I wasn't really in the mood to read this most of the time (obviously, right?), or read anything for that matter that wasn't more than a chapter or two out of a non-fiction book for the past couple of months. It's not that I didn't like the book, or that when I would sit down and read it I wouldn't enjoy the handful of pages I'd get through before my brain would say something like, you know this reading this is fun and all, but you know what would be even more fun? Let's do nothing but think about things that make you depressed and then start obsessing over them! C'mon, it will be so much worth your time than reading a book, or watching TV, or doing work, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, maybe once we really get going you can stay up till three in the morning writing about all these fun things!

I'm exasperating (that should have been spell corrected to exaggerating but I like that I clicked on exasperating by mistake). I am exasperating!

Ignoring that I think it took me 7 weeks to make it through this book, I liked it. I think. It's actually kind of difficult to tell if you like a book when you drag it out this much. There is really no reason to be writing this review, I have so little to say, but you know it's a new year and after last years shit-storm debacle that my reading turned into I made the resolution (because that's what people do on New Years, did you know that? Am I giving any value in this review?) to try to write a review for each book I read, or at least for most of them, or at the very least put them on shelves.

This book is about the future, and it's not a really good version of the future. Things get really fucked up and people start living on giant cities in the sea on what I think are basically oil derricks and ships all lashed together (it's been a long 7 weeks since I read the start of the novel where they set this up, but I'm pretty sure that is what the city the book takes place on, and what the other city-states basically are). It's sort of a weird anarchic/totalitarian society that after all sorts of environmental / class warfare problems basically destroyed the world we now live in is now governed by AI. Not like Terminator self-aware AI, more like millions of stupid programs and bots all sort of doing things and sort of keeping everything running.

Into this city a woman rides into town on the back of an Orca. She also has a Polar Bear and some weapons. Her arrival instigates the events that unfold in this story. What events? All sorts of things told from about 5 or 6 different points of view (which is maybe why my brain had a hard time staying focused and thought it would be better to just myopically focus on one very boring and limited point of view instead of reading so often (oh, I'm feeling better in case your wondering, no sympathy needed)). It's sort of got the China Mieville city thing going on, with a mixture of cyber and steam punk, with lots of politics also scattered around the story. If those words are things that relate to books you like then you might like this book, too. Great review, right?
Profile Image for RG.
3,090 reviews
May 15, 2018
This was a very clever and interesting scifi novel. Climate wars and issued have created a civilization that seems to be living in a weird type squalor with improved tech ( e.g phones are nanotech implanted in the jaw), animals can be bonded (ala Pullmans story but more real and violent as compared to the light hearted take). We have 4 POVs each character slightly different to one another. We have a fighter, a government official type, another young boy and a messenger for the mafia type world. We also have chapters from a News type service which provides info with regards to the politics and world building.

The first 60-80 pages are pretty slow, and really nothing happens at a fast pace. The author slowly builds this fascinating world. On my second attempt I made it past this stage and the story opened up. The characters never really link as such until the final 3rd act. Tha action is quite gory and hectic at stages and the conclusion will reward the reader who waits.

The characters are all unique, in a strange way. The relstionships they express whether with friendships or sexuality are dealt with exqusite writing. I think the writing as well as rhe structured world buidling provides the basis for the novel. Dealing with numerous issues that our world faces but twisting them to an unrealistic (maybe not that unrealistic) makes it much more engaging. I expect this one to be on top of many awards and top 10 lists
My biggest issue for why no 5 stars is the pacing. It is a very slow book but does reward you with patience if you give it a shot.
Profile Image for YouKneeK.
660 reviews80 followers
April 17, 2022
Blackfish City is a standalone dystopian-ish science fiction novel set on earth in the future, in a city in the Arctic Circle. It���s difficult for me to give a spoiler-free teaser of the plot because I thought it was a little disjointed in the beginning, but I’ll mention a couple of the main plot elements that are introduced in the beginning and play an important part in the story. There’s a sexually transmitted disease called “the breaks” that has been plaguing the population for years, which seems to cause some sort of mental breakdowns in its victims. There’s also a mysterious woman who recently arrived in the city with an orca and a polar bear.

There are several different POV characters, but I never felt invested in any of them. The story didn’t do much for me either, but I did start getting more interested in it toward the second half, once the different plot elements started tying together more. By that point I had correctly predicted a lot of the ways things would tie together, but there were also a couple things I had failed to predict, and I got more interested once all of that started playing out.

It was an interesting setting, and maybe I should have appreciated it more than I did, but for me it was a pretty average read and I can’t think of much else to say about it.
Profile Image for Hank.
821 reviews81 followers
March 23, 2022
Beware what you wish for, I think I would have liked this to either be much longer or the first book in a series. You may guess, because of that, that I liked it, and I did but I always felt like I wanted more.
Miller gave us a typical dystopia setup with a novel floating city in the arctic but I would have loved a bit more about how it came to be, differences in the arms, etc. He gave us a nano-bot, human bonding with animals thing that was fascinating and I really wanted to explore that more but the most you get is a glimpse of the feedback. There were genocides, corporate overlords, AIs, pirates, a polar bear and an orca (if that seems like a lot, it was). Then everything hits a brick wall, some characters go splat, the end.

I did become mildly attached to almost all the characters but only mildly, usually the mark of a great book is leaving the reader wanting more but I feel unsatisfied with what Miller gave us, with no more to look forward to.

3 stars for my grouchy, not sure what I want from a book, mood that I am in right now.
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
557 reviews142 followers
October 8, 2018
For me, the awesome dystopian city was the highlight, and I'm in awe about how cleverly politics especially gender issues are woven into everything here and used to build the world and the story. The opening really hooked me. Looking forward to reading more.
Profile Image for Thomas Wagner.
143 reviews932 followers
January 28, 2019
(3.5*) Blackfish City is a gritty and propulsive novel that combines the aesthetics of classic Gibsonian cyberpunk with a more contemporary concern over such pressing issues as climate change, wealth inequality, political corruption and xenophobia. Sam J. Miller, who won the Andre Norton Award for his first novel, The Art of Starving, has set his first SF novel for adults aboard a massive oceanic city named Qaanaaq, located near the coast of Greenland above some geothermal vents from which it draws energy. Most of the old world is discussed in the past tense. What was once the United States has descended into a kind of Mad Max lawlessness following numerous wars over resources, and Qaanaaq, which is built in the shape of something like a massive starfish with eight arms, is straining under the influx of refugees from “the drowned world.”

Qaanaaq has a hands-off approach to government that seems like a Libertarian dream, and no, that’s not a good thing. City security is administered by benevolent AIs, while actual ownership of the city is divvied up among a cabal of anonymous shareholders, and any kind of human leadership exists in the form of elected Arm Managers who ostensibly tend to the needs of the citizenry. What this has allowed is the rapid ascension of organized crime and complete laissez-faire capitalism. The wealthy, as in most dystopian stories, live in rarified luxury and keep hundreds of residential properties off the market and empty, driving up real estate prices through artificial scarcity and forcing working people and refugees to settle for little more than repurposed shipping crates.

Like a lot of dystopian SF, the plot will involve a vengeful quest to even the scales of justice between the haves and have-nots. But where Miller helps his story rise above the pack is in refusing to offer tidy moral clarity between idealized, noble champions of the oppressed on one side, and one-dimensional sinister overlords on the other. Nearly everyone is a bit dirty in this town. (continued...)
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,169 reviews1,143 followers
July 21, 2018
What a fun romp.

Note to self: Try to write reviews - no matter how brief - right after reading a book, not two books after.

Well, notwithstanding my poor memory, I still remember that I really liked this book due to the following:
- Another weird city, since I could not get enough of those. AI writing the political system. The underworld. The city mechanics. I live for weird SFF cities.
- There is an ORCAMANCER in the book. A woman who controls a frickin' orca. HOW COOL IS THAT. Imagine Avatar Korra meets the Whale Rider.
- First time I read a somewhat scientific explanation of animal bonding with human - in fantasy books, it's all magic.
- Neat plotting with all the various POVs. Some say the book is scattered in the first half, but all agree that the second half weaves them all together.
- Interesting take on the issue of property ownership. The author is an activist in real life, who deals with this issue in his hometown.
- Noodles. Lots of noodles.

Sam J. Miller, you're in my watch list now.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,639 followers
August 28, 2018
Oooh loved this. An intensely plausible post-climate-change dystopia set on a floating city in the Arctic waters. The city is a seething capitalist hellhole of grinding slum poverty and obscene wealth, very powerfully depicted. It's very diverse and queer as heck, narrated from the pov of about five different MCs whose plotlines meet and mingle very satisfyingly. This is SFF, magic/technology combo, with people bonded to animals via both shamanism and nanobots, and a sexually transmitted disease that leads to people sharing each others' memories. It's all about greed, callousness, family, the need for connection, and the destructiveness of selfishness even in apparently worthy aims. Absorbing, thought-provoking, haunting, and a rattling adventure plot with lots of drama and violence and queer romance. Loved it.

Profile Image for Gabi.
698 reviews123 followers
July 1, 2019
"Stories are where we find ourselves, where we find the others who are like us. Gather enough stories and soon you are not alone; you are an army."

This quote will certainly stay with me for quite a while.
Single stories are the elements the book is made of. We learn to know the floating arctic city and its social structure through the eyes of several characters whose lifes seem disconnected in the beginning. Interwoven between those POVs are pieces of information about the background in form of an inofficial city guide. This kind of structure – I heard it refered to as mosaic structure - works very well for me, in fact it is one of my prefered structures for novels. I loved how I got those different glimpses, always had to stay alert to the POV changes.

What also was a big plus for me was the gender representation with several kinds of identities and relationships unobstrusively being introduced.

The beginning had all the ingredients of something evolving into a grand scale story about politics, health issues, selfdetermination in a dystopian future. Yet as the book moves on the disconnections of the POVs become less and less down to a point, that somehow started to bother me. What could have been big, suddenly became quite small. I still enjoyed the story,but I couldn’t put the feeling aside that it could have been more.

For me a novel with a strong beginning and middle and a somewhat lacking end part (although here I relished the fact that the end leaves enough food for thought and not everything is spelled out).
Profile Image for JustSomeGuy.
243 reviews5 followers
June 1, 2018
A mysterious woman wielding a blade carved out of giant jaw bone arrives at a floating city in the Arctic Circle riding a killer whale with a polar bear in tow. That right there is an interesting visual and I expected it to be the start of an interesting story. Unfortunately, that was the highlight of the book for me. Everything that followed failed to capture my attention. We quickly learn how four random characters introduced in early chapters are interconnected through the orcamancer, who eventually becomes the impetus for change within the corrupt society born from the collapse of civilization. I was intrigued more by the glimpses into what had happened to the world than I was what was built in the aftermath of its destruction. I struggled to make sense of how a quickly spreading disease that an incredible amount of uninteresting pages are spent to describe connects to the orcamancer's power to bond with animals. The parts the animals play are disappointingly rare and largely uninteresting and kept feeling the book lacked a focus for me to latch on to. In the end, this will end up being a missed opportunity for a memorable story.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,018 reviews1,185 followers
April 20, 2021
3 and a half stars.

I am not sure what to make of this one. It was full of amazing ideas, but I feel like they were not explored deeply enough to be fully satisfying.

In the not too far future, a lot of the world has flooded and many people live in the floating city of Qaanaaq, near Iceland. This city is home to refugees from all over the world, but the true power in a place like this is in the hands of the landlords who own the living spaces and the shareholders who helped finance the creation of the city. Everyone else, in their own way, struggles. A strange disease is making is turning into an epidemic: known simply as “the breaks”, the disease seems to be sexually transmitted, but affects mostly the poor and destitute of Qaanaaq. The breaks causes a sort of confusion, what seems to be hallucinations and visions of memories that don’t belong to the sick person. It’s in this world that Ankit, Kaev, Soq and Fill scrape a living. Their lives are very different, and they do not seem to be connected in any way, but the arrival of a strange woman, riding an orca and followed by a polar bear, will change everything, and reveal the bonds that unite them just below the surface.

At first, I thought that the breaks might have been a metaphor for AIDS, but I now think it’s more about interconnectedness – but you’ll have to read the book to see what changed my mind about it. I really loved the idea of the floating city, the grit and strange politics of such a place being richly imagined by Miller, but as mentioned earlier, I wish we had explored it a little bit more. We only got enough information and description to place the characters in their settings and better understand their lives, and I craved a broader view of Qaanaaq. A lot of emphasis was put on making the cast of characters very diverse, and it was wonderful to read about those people who felt real and not stereotypical.

I read that Sam Miller’s work was mostly YA, and maybe that’s why I found “Blackfish City” to be just shy of fully satisfying; I wanted the envelope to be pushed just a little further. Nevertheless, the ideas explored in this book are brilliant, the pacing and the compassionate writing make this a lovely work of post-apocalyptic fiction.
Profile Image for Adah Udechukwu.
637 reviews85 followers
June 5, 2018
Blackfish City is a great novel. If all comes together as the story progresses.
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