Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach By Kelly Robson
Sci Fi Novella
Published March 2018
Nominated for the 2019 Hugo Awards for Best Novella
Synopsis (from GoodReads):
Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.
In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.
I’ve been trying hard to look for interesting Sci-Fi/Fantasy stories which explore the impact of pollution and environmental destruction on the planet, as well as human societies, so I was pretty excited when I picked up this little gem. I think it’s going to be the kind of novella that people will either love, or it will bore them to death. The pacing is quite slow to start, and there’s a lot of focus on the scientific/bureaucratic kind of stuff, which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. The second half focuses on the time travel expedition to Ancient Mesopotamia. The novella primarily follows Mihn’s POV, but there are short chapters (a page or two at most) in between that are from a Mesopotamian Chief’s POV.
(*Quick note* This is a new section I’m trialing in my book reviews, so if you think this section is helpful, please let me know in the comments below)
Mihn is a somewhat jaded 83-year-old ecologist and river restoration specialist. She was part of a generation know as Plague Babies, due to diseases that ravaged the world at the time, and as a result has prosthetic lower limbs due to stunted growth.
Kiki is an eager young administrative assistant who becomes the third member of Mihn’s research team.
Hamid is a hermit biologist who is obsessed with horses. I thought he was hilarious.
Fabian is a tactical historian representing TERN (the research group that discovered time travel).
What I liked:
- The world was both fascinating and believable. I liked the exploration of the interplay between environment and human society. For example, the actual physical effects of environmental change, such as diseases, as well as humanity’s varying responses.
- I enjoyed the intergenerational female friendship that develops between Mihn and Kiki. It felt realistic, and very relatable. I think that there’s often a perceived gap between different generations which prevents people pursuing friendships, so it was nice to see the walls Mihn has built between the two break down.
- Though it won’t be to everyone’s liking, I found myself quite fascinated by the scientific and bureaucratic elements of the story, such as grant proposals and management of ecological projects.
- I also liked the time travel portion of the story, which takes place in Ancient Mesopotamia. This section had a lot more action, and the pace picked up and really took off. Since the foundations of the worldbuilding and characters were laid in the first half, the plot was able to take centre stage in the second half.
- Since there were only six named characters, the development and relationships received a fair bit of focus, though Mihn and Kiki were the clear leads.
- I thought the inclusion of short chapters from the perspective of a Mesopotamian Chief were pretty cool, as were the hints at their politico-religious system.
What I disliked:
- Sometimes I was a bit confused and unclear about what was happening (for example, I didn’t realise Mihn had six prosthetic legs until quite late in the novella).
- The extreme body modification one of the characters goes through was quite confronting, although the motivations were believable.
Have you read this novella? Have you read any other Hugo Award Finalists? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!