In the past year I’ve read three books set in North America in post-apocalyptic landscapes, including Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and Severance by Ling Ma. I enjoyed both, but Fragile had me spellbound. I was completely pulled in by the depth of Alexa Weik von Mossner’s descriptions of a devastated society that seems all too real.
If I had read this book a few years ago, I would have labelled it as scaremongering but realistic dystopian fiction. None of it feels far-fetched after the last couple of years of pandemic, with its PPE shortages and panic buying and the climate disasters of heatwave, wildfires and flooding. It feels all too close for comfort. We even had shortages of common medicines such as the contraceptive pill in Europe because of a rejected batch from China, and one container ship blocking the Suez Canal caused major logistical backlogs worldwide. Alexa Weik von Mossner has definitely being paying attention and incorporated these issues into her novel.
The year is 2057. The world has been irrevocably changed by rising temperatures and rising sea levels. There are no more farm animals, and legal meat production has been shut down to preserve stocks of antibiotics and reduce carbon emissions. Meat substitute is called art-meat, with the slogan ‘Better than nature!’ However, people want real meat, so illegal puppy farms produce dogs for human consumption.
It certainly raises an interesting question for meat lovers: how far would you go to taste meat? And would you eat man’s best friend if that was the only option? Especially if cultivated/cultured meat (i.e. tissue culture in a lab) was readily available. As a pescatarian/vegetarian, my son has already asked me whether I would eat cultivated meat and I don’t really feel the need.
The first scene is a group of activists rescuing puppies from a horrific meat farm on the Atlantic coast of the USA. One of these activists is Shavir, a young woman who works in a coffee outlet by day, but spends her spare time volunteering with Roots, a counterculture group started during the early 2050s Global Supply Crisis, living in makeshift cubicles in abandoned office buildings, tending an urban farm on the roof. She has recently left a rather one-sided relationship with a rich idealist and garden designer who helps sponsor Roots, Finn Larsen.
In the second scene, Jake is watching a holographic news report on his Spine, an embedded device that make mobile phones and televisions obsolete. He is watching news about sweatshop workers in Cambodia who are rioting because their houses are being demolished to build a sea wall to protect not their homes, but factories. They shake their fists at the drone cameras, angry at the western world that caused the environmental catastrophe. This will affect Jake personally because he works for SAFE: Special Agency For Essentials, responsible for sourcing medicines and other essentials. Many medical supplies are normally shipped from Cambodia for the City of New York: antibiotics, antivirals, anticoagulants.
On behalf of New York City, Jake’s job is to solve the logistical nightmare that is the global supply chain in the face of unpredictable weather and shortages of antibiotics and other lifesaving medications. Without antibiotics, no surgery can take place. As he is fully aware, distribution of the food and medications they secure is uneven, biased in favour of the rich area of Manhattan. And it is distributed according to an impenetrable AI system that only its creator understands. Overriding it is not an option, even in an emergency, when hospitals run out of the antibiotics they need to perform surgery. The system will only allow them to reallocate resources once a state of emergency has been declared.
To add to the chaos, the city is undergoing a serious heatwave over and above the 2°C raise in global temperatures. The only way many people cope is to take an emotion regulating drug called Emovia. Now the supply of this is also failing and could lead to major civil unrest. What is more, it is not deemed to be a critical medication, whatever the consequences if it runs out. Jake will have to cheat the system to ensure supplies and prevent revolution.
Jake and Shavir know each other by sight as Jake takes a detour every day to buy his morning coffee from her as he is so attracted to her. In spite of their different backgrounds, they form a relationship which will test their loyalties and provoke many heated discussions.
It’s an indication of how immersive this is that I scarcely wrote any notes about this book. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who enjoys speculative fiction and climate fiction (cli-fi). Ten out of ten!
When you’re a bookaholic, the chances that you recognise similarities between recently read books is pretty high. I’ve always marked this as coincidence, but an alternative term used by several book bloggers is book serendipity. I noticed several in this book.
Book serendipity: drug side effects
In Aerobics Can Be Deadly, Sho Tanaka warns that using nicotine patches on an empty stomach can be dangerous. In Fragile, “emotion regulators weren’t meant to be combined with stimulants. Drug interactions could be disastrous, ranging from mood swings and aggressive behavio[u]r to blackouts, seizures and organ failure.”
Book serendipity: sweeping something under the rug
In The Quincunx, Johnnie watches the footman sweeping the dust under the rugs. In Fragile, Jake says “The market’s swept clean” and his boss David replies “Then start looking underneath the rugs.”
Book serendipity: warmed sake
In Aerobics Can Be Deadly, Sho Tanaka’s sister Jenny serves him warmed sake rather than tea. It’s woody scent is intensified by heating it, apparently. In Fragile, Shavir’s friend Troy is bored working at the restaurant bar once diners are seated and his only jobs are to heat a few bottles of sake and draw beer. I didn’t realise sake was supposed to be warmed; I’m sure it was drunk cold when we visited a tasting place in Japan.
One thought on “Fragile by Alexa Weik von Mossner: superb dystopian climate fiction”