I’ve been on a reading kick lately–I’ve read two books since the start of July and am halfway through a third. When I was younger, I could read three books in three days, but with balancing adult responsibilities and my fibromyalgia, and then the added distraction of the Internet, my reading time is less than I would like it to be. But right now I’m not doing any paid work, so I have a little more time on my hands to read books.
The first book I read this month is Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta, first published in Finland. I learned about it from a post on the website io9. I think you would call it speculative fiction. It’s set in the future, but not the shiny space-faring future (or even the gritty space-faring future) of sci-fi and there’s little science, hard or soft. It’s set in the bleak future a few hundred years from now–after the oil has run out and the coastal cities have been flooded from the rising seas. The main character, Noria Kaitio, is a young tea master in a small village in the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by New Qian. Water is scarce and a repressive army punishes water criminals. They army controls everyone’s access to it; Noria and her father believe that you shouldn’t own water. Noria comes into conflict with the army over her use of water and then finds out secrets about where to access water and this drives the central conflict of the novel.
Part of the story involves Noria and her friend Sanja searching through plastic graves (landfills) for useful trash left behind by previous generations in the past-world (meaning us in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries). They are amazed by the things that are thrown away that are still useful or in-tact. They find an old boombox and tapes and CD’s that contain notes from an expedition in the Twilight Century (the one when all the oil runs out) about sources of water that people don’t have access to in Noria’s time. What the expedition finds out is part of the mystery of the story so I won’t go into it more than that. But there’s a quote that cut into me like a knife. Noria asks Sanja if she thinks about the people in the past-world who left behind all of this trash and Sanja replies “It’s not worth thinking about them, Noria. They didn’t think about us, either.” I try not to be a wasteful person, but there is only so much one can do when you live in a society full of waste and one that is slow to change. And Sanja is right–so many people don’t think about what we will give to future generations. The people who will live in the future aren’t real yet, so who cares about them, right? (I mean, I think about them, but others take that attitude.) That’s one of the reason why I enjoy reading and why I wish more people would read more books or at least long form pieces and short stories on the internet–reading helps you out of yourself, helps you think about what other people go through. And maybe that will change what you do with yourself and help you be less self-centered. Even before fibromyalgia, I really wanted to get out of my own head sometimes, to stop thinking of myself and my problems, and to try to understand other people.
I enjoyed this book more than most I’ve read recently. The prose shines in spots, the world-building was believable, and the main character was well-drawn. I liked that I only got glimpses of what was really going on because that’s what most people get in their lives. Most of us aren’t in seats of power and control. Most of us are reacting to what’s going on around us rather than being the people who are making the big moves. I liked that it made me think about the future and about the power of knowledge and control of knowledge and resources. I’d recommend it for people who enjoy fiction about people resisting the world that’s been given to them and fighting for knowledge and for what’s right.
The book ends with this line (which some readers might not like knowing about, but I often read the last page before I finish a book, so I’m okay adding it): “This morning the world is dust and ashes, but not devoid of hope.” I can’t think of a better way to approach difficult days.