Review: Waste Tide

At parties, people no longer showed off their new gadgets, jewelry, or hairstyles, but prosthetic cochleas that improved the sense of balance, artificial muscles with augmented contraction characteristics, prosthetic limbs that obeyed mental directions, or updated firmware that enhanced sensory organs. ~ Chen Quifan, Waste Tide

Waste Tide by Chen Quifan
347 pages
Published by Tor, 2019
Genre: Sci-fi
Re-readability: I probably won’t revisit this realistic dystopia
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by Pete
Spoiler-free review

Mimi is drowning in the world’s trash. 

She’s a waste worker on Silicon Isle, where electronics—from cell phones and laptops to bots and bionic limbs—are sent to be recycled. These amass in towering heaps, polluting every spare inch of land. On this island off the coast of China, the fruits of capitalism and consumer culture come to a toxic end.

Mimi and thousands of migrant waste workers like her are lured to Silicon Isle with the promise of steady work and a better life. They’re the lifeblood of the island’s economy, but are at the mercy of those in power. 

A storm is brewing, between ruthless local gangs, warring for control. Ecoterrorists, set on toppling the status quo. American investors, hungry for profit. And a Chinese-American interpreter, searching for his roots. 

As these forces collide, a war erupts—between the rich and the poor; between tradition and modern ambition; between humanity’s past and its future. 

Mimi, and others like her, must decide if they will remain pawns in this war or change the rules of the game altogether.

Waste Tide fits perfectly into that narrow spectrum of near-future sci-fi that feels as if it almost isn’t sci-fi at all. 

At first, the plotlines of Scott Brandle and his assistant, Chen Kaizong, who represent the American company TerraGreen Recycling, cast the story firmly in noir territory. However, this quickly changes when Mimi, a “waste girl” of Silicon Isle, is introduced. Partway into the novel, she becomes the de facto protagonist—a refreshing change after she is initially introduced in what feels like a more symbolic role.

Silicon Isle serves as a microcosm of a polluted world divided by class, and the juxtaposition of the wealthy natives and businesspeople of silicon isle and its thousands of suffering waste workers is blunt and effective. But driving this grim narrative is a fast-paced plot filled with brawls, car chases, and mechs. 

Though I admit to losing the thread of the politics of Silicon Isle (and at times, the characters’ motivations), I enjoyed this near-future dystopia and its explosive pacing.

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