A LOCUS AWARD FINALIST
ONE OF THE GUARDIAN’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY BOOKS OF 2017
A surreal debut novel set in a world shaped by language in the tradition of Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin.
Vanja, an information assistant, is sent from her home city of Essre to the austere, wintry colony of Amatka with an assignment to collect intelligence for the government. Immediately she feels that something strange is going on: people act oddly in Amatka, and citizens are monitored for signs of subversion.
Intending to stay just a short while, Vanja falls in love with her housemate, Nina, and prolongs her visit. But when she stumbles on evidence of a growing threat to the colony, and a cover-up by its administration, she embarks on an investigation that puts her at tremendous risk.
In Karin Tidbeck’s world, everyone is suspect, no one is safe, and nothing—not even language, nor the very fabric of reality—can be taken for granted. Amatka is a beguiling and wholly original novel about freedom, love, and artistic creation by a captivating new voice.
Tidbeck reimagines reality and the power of language in her dystopian sci-fi novel. Vanja lives in a world of small colonies where all produced objects revert back to primordial sludge if people do not constantly name them; the failure of one colony in this duty resulted in catastrophic loss of life. To avert similar chaos and destruction, a highly regimented communist collective tightly controls every activity (including recreation, job placement, and child-rearing) and encourages citizens to report any lapse in naming or other inappropriate behavior. The regime, however, has recently allowed some private enterprise, including Vanja's employer, a producer of hygiene products. Despite her shyness, Vanja is sent to interview the inhabitants of the outer colony Amatka about what products would help them and their underground mushroom farms withstand the harsh tundra climate. In this new environment, Vanja encounters the small subversions of the local librarian trying to save history, her retired-doctor housemate whose questions rattle Vanja, and a famous poet who mysteriously disappeared years before. Emboldened by their actions, Vanja starts to doubt the commune's motives and rapidly learns that there is more going on than anyone is willing to admit. Tidbeck introduces the mysteries and mechanics of her world slowly while leaving the origins of these pioneers opaque. Her ending takes a turn into much weirder territory, but her tense plotting, as well as the questions she raises about language, control, and human limits make this a very welcome speculative fiction novel.