Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone Novella
Publisher: Tor (May 17, 2016)
Author Information: Twitter| Website
Length: 96 pages
My rating: 3 stars
The Minerva Sierra Challenge is a grueling day long race across the Sierra Nevada mountain range of the western United States. Participants internally augmented with enhancement chips and garbed in intricate exoskeletons; most of them corporately sponsored with support teams and the best tech money can buy. The winner assured of fame and fortune across the world. And into this renowned competition comes the most unlikely of contestants: Marmeg Guinto.
This bouncer from a poor family secretly enters the competition with money meant for tuition to nursing school and with tech pulled out of rich people’s garbage. Hell, even her implants are black market knockoffs, which she earned by her “illegal” cyber jobs. But even with all the odds stacked against her, Marmeg is driven to compete and win this competition by a lofty goal, a near divine purpose, a burning desire: to raise herself and her family out of poverty, to be able to attend college, to help her brother get his citizenship papers, and to finally be able to have the surgeries to become a gender neutral person.
As a social commentary goes, Runtime is an engaging, believable narrative of a possible future where technological advancement and continuing discrimination has shaped a society similar yet very different than our own. The Minerva Sierra Challenge a nice vehicle for S.B. Divya to entertain readers while the underlying morality issues are slowly revealed. Marmeg’s personal journey through this place grounding and livening up what would otherwise be a rather straightforward social justice tale.
Where this novella excels is in the writing style of S.B. Divya. The crisp, clear, and concise narrative effortless to read, quickly pulling you in and engaging you in Marmeg’s story without ever overloading your reading senses with too much information (i.e. no info dumps to be found here). Simple yet elegant, the author’s writing is extremely palatable and uniquely suited to the novella format.
Where Runtime struggled is in the story line itself. Even with its grueling and treacherous race scenes (where not only the terrain but other people are hazards), this is a work of social commentary, whose underlying messages about modern society’s ongoing struggles with technology, social stratification, gender identification, and bioengineering cannot be overlooked, because they are so tightly woven into every paragraph of our protagonist’s story that to extract them would cause the story itself to cease to be. And since modern “morality plays” are not particularly appealing to me, I found it difficult to enjoy Marmeg’s journey. Every second of my reading time spent comparing her society to our own rather than being held spellbound by this competition of enhanced humans traversing a mountain range in a day. Others might find the novella’s commentary on modern problems amazingly insightful or uniquely empowering however, so this particular criticism might merely be my personal preference in reading subjects.
Set in a dystopian society with a strong female lead who is dealing with many discriminatory, societal issues, Runtime is a quick, enjoyable read that will satisfy lovers of clever works of social commentary. While somewhat successful in mixing an exciting race narrative into the morality mix to keep things from becoming preachy, the novella will definitely be remembered more about its spotlight on our current societal issues and where the future might take us rather than the racing competition itself.
I received this novella from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.
Eep, I’ve been remiss in reviewing Tor.com novellas lately, I always forget and when I do remember my galleys are expired already. This was one I wanted to check out.
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It’s sometimes difficult to keep the social commentary in the background when dealing with these kind of issues, and to deliver such commentary in a off-hand way, so it stands to reason that not everybody manages it. Nonetheless, this sounds interesting and I will certainly take a look. Thanks for sharing!
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Hope you enjoy it. 🙂
The world, the Race, the exoskeleton, the plot – I was reading the first few paragraphs saying “yes, yes, yes” to everything… but then I came to social commentary. I agree 100% about it being hit or miss, but I fan of how technology advances can effect our morale and ethics, so I think I’d actually a bit more than you.
And I completely forgot this novella even came out this month until I saw this review XD
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Does it get preachy?
Not too much, but there is really no scene where the social issues aren’t paramount over the other parts of the story.
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Humph. I see what you mean.