Review by Kris Vyas-Myall
I am a great fan of brevity in my stories and think the revival of the novella has been a major boon to science fiction. However, this is one of the first times I have had to put as my criticism, it needs to be longer.
The reason I would say this is there is an incredible amount going on in the world of The Seep. It is an Earth where aliens have attempted to relieve all of the problems of mankind. And as such the complexities of such a world and fascinating when we see them touched upon. Unfortunately, this does not have room to explore them in the depth I would have liked to have seen. The hints we are see are wonderful, but they rarely become more than just hints.
What we have instead is a novel about grief. Trina is happy with her wife Deeba, however Deeba wishes to be reborn as a baby. With Trina not willing to go through this with her, it ends up being as if Deeba has died to her and her life spirals. While people try to be supportive, it is a world where people are expected to be happy and not have to go through this kind of troubles. As such Trina finds herself getting more and more frustrated with the world that is trying to help her move on.
Where Porter excels is in the character work. Being told from Trina’s perspective she is able to articulate the pain that can come from a loss like this and what it can feel like not being able to really find an outlet for your feelings. In some ways it reflects the attitude in our current society as well where an individual is expected to simply stop being sad and get on with life, rather than really being allowed to feel their loss and work through it in the way we are intended to.
Along her journey comes with her is a sentient pamphlet called Pam. Imagine if the old Microsoft Office Clippy was both psychic and able to learn and you will get the gist. Just as Trina is exploring her feelings, Pam starts to understand the world from the opposite end, going from seeing grief as a simple process for humans to move through to seeing it as a more grey and complicated part of existence.
It also touches on issues of cultural identity and appropriation. That if you remove distinction and see people’s merely as empty shells, does that not simply erase the importance of history and culture?
This is where the frustration comes in however, as the ending does not really end up exploring these questions thoroughly enough for me and comes much closer to the libertarian dystopias of the 1990s. Simply stating how important feeling and the bad parts of our lives is to who we are. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with message. I just wish it could have been more.
I don’t want this review to come across too negative. The amount of positives in it far outway the negatives. I am just left with the sense of something half complete. I think Porter could easily have filled a book 3 times the length and not run out of things to explore in the Earth of The Seep.
So do still pick it up. The writing style, character work and world-building are excellent and I hope you will be as fascinated by what Porter has created as I am.