Originally written in Chinese and published in 2013, this edition is translated by Ken Liu and published by Tor Books. It is the author’s debut book. Set in a dystopian China of the future (post 2020’s), this is an excellent example of environmental science fiction and is inspired by the author’s own experience of growing up near one of the largest e-waste centres of the world. Mainly following four characters, this is a multiple perspective story that takes place on the fictional ‘Silicon Isle’, located off China’s south-eastern coast. To avoid spoilers, I will not be discussing the plot in any detail.
Waste Tide is one of only a few sci-fi books I’ve read this year, but it made me want to read more. This book is dense with ideas, so don’t go into it expecting a fast paced sci-fi story. Qiufan addresses issues such as the environment, class oppression, exploitation of workers, technology use and its disposal and more. In this way it is a very interesting read, however it does mean that this is not a light read and it was a little complicated at times. Despite this, I never felt that it was too heavy or confusing. The pacing is slow at times and the plot does drag a little occasionally but stick with it as it does pick up in the second half. While I enjoyed this book, I will say that the author chose to focus more on the world building and the plot suffers a bit because of it. I think this book would definitely benefit from a reread, because you’ll pick up on the things you may have missed with the first reading.
One of the main strengths of this book was the world building. It is clear that the author has put a lot of time creating this complex and harsh world. The relationship between the government and the clans is really interesting and the politics between the three clans clearly showcases the ruthless nature of the isle. You also get to see the daily lives of the people living on Silicon Isle, as well as the conditions that the waste people live and work in. There is so much detail to the world building and I cannot say enough good things about it.
As I mentioned earlier, this mainly follows four character perspectives, each one part of a different economic and cultural background. Mimi is a ‘waste girl’, which means she is part of the lowest caste on Silicon Isle. Luo Jincheng is the leader of one of the clans that controls the isle. Scott Brandle is the representative of Terra Green, an American corporation that wants to capitalise the isle by modernising the recycling process. Chen Kaizong is sent to Silicon Isle as Scott’s interpreter. Each of these characters are well written with distinct personalities and interesting background. I really appreciated that we got to see the events of the book through the eyes of four very different people. There are two main issues I had in terms of characterisation. Firstly, I had a small issue with the characterisation of Mimi. She plays quite a passive role through a lot of the book and I wanted her to play more of an active role in her own story, instead of being the person that things just keep happening to, if that makes sense. Secondly, the representation and treatment of woman isn’t the best in his book. Mimi is the only main female character and a lot of bad things happen to her. It’s not just that there is a lack of women in this book, it’s that bad things happening to women are used as a plot tool for the male characters in this book. It was only after finishing this that I really started to think about it but the representation of women in this book isn’t great. Maybe part of this is due to the dystopian world of this book. Other than that, I thought Qiufan did a good job at creating these characters and developing them through the book.
Overall this was a fantastic book and I would highly recommend checking it out, especially if you are looking for a new sci-fi book to check out. It’s not the easiest book to read but it is well worth the effort. The main strength doesn’t necessarily come from the plot but from the complexity of the setting and the ideas behind the book. I didn’t really know much about this book going in but I’m glad that I decided to check it out. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for any more translated work coming from this author. Have you guys read this book? I’d love to know what you thought. I hope you are all having a wonderful day and I will see you next time.