In a provocative science fiction debut translated by Locus winner Ken Liu (The Grace of Kings), Chen Qiufan conceptualizes a near future shadowed by the drawbacks of tech consumerism.
A few years from now, electronic body modifications are commonplace and virtual reality is the drug of choice, but life on Silicon Isle mirrors the conditions of any historical high-demand, low-regulation industrial boom. Tightly controlled and barely paid by the three wealthy clans who employ them, workers termed "waste people" put in long hours processing the world's recyclable electronics, from cellular phones to bionic limbs. The arrival of American businessman Scott Brandle with a profitable automation proposal causes dissent among the ruling clans, while Brandle's translator Kaizong suspects his employer is more than he seems. A young scion of the Chen clan, Kaizong has returned from an education abroad to reconnect with his home. When he rescues Mimi, a waifish waste girl, from the abuses of rival clan thugs, their budding romance opens his eyes to the plight of the workers. Neither imagines that Mimi will soon become the spark that ignites class warfare, nor do they understand the significance of an abandoned mech-suit they find in an eerie graveyard.
Infused with dystopian and anime-inspired elements, Chen's prose springs to life in Liu's linguistically sensitive translation. Cinematic action sequences balance beautifully with moral dilemmas and vivid imaginings of cybernetic implants and addictive VR programs. Originally released in China in 2013, Waste Tide strengthens the growing body of Chinese sci-fi entering Western markets. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads