Hess's dystopian Utah relies on AI, robots, and the growing, stark split between the haves and have-nots. Trans salvager Val is just trying to get by--but an unexpected connection changes everything.
Why strangers needed to ask about a person's appearance, gender, or physical makeup at all he would likely never know.
Al Hess's World Running Down tracks the adventures, challenges, unexpected meetings, and joys of a trans salvager in a futuristic, dystopian Utah.
Valentine Weis is coping with body dysmorphia, and he dreams of making enough money to afford citizenship in Salt Lake City, where the privileged have access to endless food options, shelter and safety, and, most importantly to Val, surgical and medical options to aid his transition.
But for now, Val is eking out an existence in the rugged city outskirts. And a typical day might involve facing mortal danger from roving pirates, cyborg animals, certain AI beings, and even his own salvaging partner Ace.
Yet he remains hopeful for his future--and begins to believe that despite the constancy of his fight for survival, he might even be falling in love.
I love a dystopian story, and this setup as well as the unorthodox relationship at the heart of World Running Down drew me in.
Osric is an AI made to inhabit an android body (ahem, "meat suit") in order to find Val and Ace and offer them a lucrative job: to track down a group of missing android escort-prostitutes and return them to their grim existence as forced sex workers.
But the android escorts are beginning to show signs of self-awareness, which shouldn't be possible--and which could change basic laws, the thinking around artificial intelligence, and the way the current civilization thinks about its foundation.
He'd known the cities were like this.... But it was something else to see it....
He'd do whatever he needed to in order to gain access to this abundance.... And he hated himself for it.
Society's split between the haves and have-nots is as pronounced as ever in Hess's novel, and literal barriers keep the struggling less fortunate outside the glittering cities full of technology, opportunity, and wealth.
Val is an underdog and fights for others who have been dismissed or taken advantage of. He's an appealing, unexpected hero, and his heartbreak and heartwarming connections were lovely to dive into.
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If this book sounds down your alley, you might want also to check out the books on my Greedy Reading Lists Six Fascinating Dystopian and Postapocalyptic Novels, Six More Fascinating Dystopian and Postapocalyptic Novels, and Six Great Stories about Robots, Humans and Alien Life, and AI.
Al Hess is also the author of Yours Celestially, Key Lime Sky, and the series Hep Cats of Boise.