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Seeds for the Swarm, by Sim Kern

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rylla McCracken is a denizen of the Dust, the impoverished region that used to be known as the American Southwest before the aquifers were pumped dry. She has always yearned for something more, something better–education, but also a place to live where clean water–any water–is widely available. A place where life can flourish across a landscape, not just in narrow bands and with imported resources.

And Rylla’s activism wins her such a place: a scholarship at Wingates University. Wingates is filled with passionate young thinkers like Rylla–most of whom have far easier upbringings in places outside the Dust. But–you know there was a but, and there’s more than one–Rylla’s cultural background has definitely not prepared her for this. Even the methods of accessing online information are different in this brave new world. She misses her family, particularly her older brother and his partner. And the climate disaster she always knew existed is much, much worse than she thought. The students and faculty at Wingate are supposed to be finding ways to help the planet survive and thrive–but Rylla almost immediately stumbles on evidence that all is not as it seems.

This is a book that definitely remembers the “punk” part of solarpunk. It is not a subtle book. It is three chords and a
yell. And the stuff it is yelling about is worth yelling about. Climate change, economic inequality, species extinction…there’s a lot to hit hard here, and Kern really turns up the amp up to 11.

This is not without drawbacks. The addiction subplot in particular seemed to be very linear and handled so simply as to be nearly simplistic–which is not my favorite thing to do with a difficult topic so many people have immediate experience of. But in general, moshing around the world they’ve created gives Kern a chance to mull over a large range of ideas, through a wide-eyed and justly angry young woman. Rylla makes mistakes. Some of them are incredibly stupid mistakes. But they’re not out of character stupid mistakes; they are exactly the sort of thing a person with her personality and background would do when plunged into a tech-saturated academic environment without
support or cultural background to navigate it. There’s a seque coming, and the plot requires it–but I’m excited to see where it goes.

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