“You can’t see the future that’s coming.”(239)
Madeline Ashby’s most accessible novel to date sends a young, unaugmented security agent on an increasingly bizarre mission in a town built on a Maritime oil rig.
Title: Company Town
Author: Madeline Ashby
First published May 2016.
In a world where most people have been augmented to some degree, Hwa, the highly trained, unaugmented daughter of a sex-trade worker becomes bodyguard to Joel, the son of an industrial kingpin. Family plots, posthuman developments, and a serial killer all conspire to make her job more difficult than she had imagined.
I never found myself second-guessing the technology of Ashby’s near future. I never had to ask why, if the characters have the tech to do x, they don’t also employ it to do y. Ashby considers the varied implications of her fictive tech, and we see it affect the story and characters in varied ways. Advanced surveillance equipment serves heroes, villains, and bartenders. Sex with an augmented individual has specific, useful, and unplanned consequences. Virtual reality serves prurient interest, educational purposes, and commercial ends sometimes simultaneously.
The plot, necessarily convoluted and occasionally disjointed, becomes a little confusing at the end—confusion moderated by the characters offering explanations in the final chapters.
Originality: 3/6 Whatever her original intentions, Ashby gets credit for pulling off hardboiled post-Cyberpunk pre-Post-human noir, with a central heroine who lacks, at least, conventional beauty.
Imagery: 5/6 Ashby describes things plausibly, and we experience New Arcadia as the characters move through it. The novel would have benefited from more vivid, original descriptions—the eyeball kicks of Turkey City fame.
Story: 4/6 The page-turning story careens crazily across several genres. The ending felt rushed, and a little disappointing.
Characterization: 5/6 Go-Jung Hwa, immune to hacking, invisible to certain kinds of surveillance, and distanced from her own emotions, feels entirely credible. In the hands of a lesser writer, a wise-cracking, kickass female with a sex trade worker for a mother and a close-but-so-far admirer would have become an absurd piece of wish-fulfillment, a sort of Mary-Su-per. Fortunately, Ashby knows what she’s doing.
Other characters are less successful. Hwa’s love interest plays such a key role in the narrative, but he feels curiously underdeveloped and artificial. Joel, the youth Hwa has been hired to protect, seems believable, but his family are caricatures.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Overall score: 5/6 I’m hoping this novel won’t get pooched out of award consideration, at least, next year, and that some production company will take note of its cinematic potential. In the right hands, Company Town would make an interesting film.
In total, Company Town receives 31.5/42