Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Runtime by SB Divya

Runtime by SB Divya is a science fiction novella and the author's debut book. I bought it from Tor.com a while ago but hadn't gotten around to reading it until now. What triggered my picking it up was reading an excellent short story by Divya, "Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse", which made me want to read more of her work. I am not actually sure whether that story and Runtime are set in the same future, since they're set in different parts of the US, but they could be.

The Minerva Sierra Challenge is a grueling spectacle, the cyborg's Tour de France. Rich thrill-seekers with corporate sponsorships, extensive support teams, and top-of-the-line exoskeletal and internal augmentations pit themselves against the elements in a day-long race across the Sierra Nevada.

Marmeg Guinto doesn’t have funding, and she doesn’t have support. She cobbled her gear together from parts she found in rich people’s garbage and spent the money her mother wanted her to use for nursing school to enter the race. But the Minerva Challenge is the only chance she has at a better life for herself and her younger brothers, and she’s ready to risk it all.

This was an interesting read, a bit different to what I usually end up reading with the racing element. Marmeg comes from the lower echelons of society which means she has no rights to anything except US citizenship and voting. Other aspects of civilised society, such as healthcare and education, have to be earned, either by being born well-off or by working very hard to make enough money to buy these things. Marmeg's plan is to win a race, or at least place in the top five, and use the prize money to get herself an education and help her brothers. The race is over several miles of difficult terrain and to be competitive one has to augment their bodies. The rich racers can buy fancy augments, but Marmeg scrounged hers from bins and wrote custom software, which is her specialty.

There was a lot of front-loaded world building in this novella. It was interesting social world building for the near future US society, but was a little tricky to keep track of since I was quite tired when I started reading. As I got further in the novella, however, I got used to the new terminology and didn't feel like I had to be really paying super close attention to follow the story. Anyway, I don't think that's really a flaw of the novella so much as unfortunate timing on my part.

I enjoyed this novella, but I didn't love it as much as I loved "Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse", which unfortunately raised my expectations quite high and was a sort of similar kind of story (with a dystopian society). So while Runtime wasn't disappointing at all, it wasn't quite a five-star read either. I still highly recommend it to all fans of near-future SF, especially stories exploring the tribulations of the most disadvantaged people in society. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for other work by Divya.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Tor.com
Series: No?
Format read: ePub
Source: purchased from iBooks store

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