It’s hard for me to decide on a rating for this one. I’m going to have to mull it over for a while, there were layers.
I read mostly SFF and horror, leaning towards the Weird and LGBTQIA+, Jewish, Autistic, and otherwise diverse authors and themes. Books are my favorite activity (reading, writing or drawing in, making).
Nonbinary, pronouns they/them
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Content warning Spoilers for halfway through and ending!
Written when I was about halfway through the book: So there's this thing the author is doing where he's trying to imply that the Joins are a marginalized class because of the ignorance and bigotry of Solos, and it's so clearly a non-marginalized person's understanding of marginalization it's getting a bit uncomfortable to read. Becoming a Join has a high financial cost that's discussed multiple times throughout the book, as well as having intense psychological and physical evaluation requirements and being entirely at the mercy of someone choosing to Join with you. And you're also putting yourself in the hands of the large corporation/government's very specific laws pertaining to Joins and Joining procedures and tracking. Many Solos are also demonstrably living in reduced circumstances, in slums and poverty (the main characters literally go to the slums to check out Solo-only bars, because that's the one place you'll find them), with far fewer and more dangerous job opportunities (Solos are unable to pilot cargo aircraft for example, or Pod technology, they're left using antiquated personal vehicles and driving surface cargo despite mega storms that make this incredibly dangerous. All other technologies seem to have developed alongside Join, leaving Solos using outdated tech for everything from transportation to housing and communication). Yet being a Solo is repeatedly treated as some choice that demonstrates a bigotry towards and misunderstanding of Joins, and conversations where Solos discuss their upset about these circumstances (e.g., the alto sax player who bemoans the fact the Solos are basically locked out of creative careers like music) are treated like micro aggressions against the Join main characters. Despite the similarities to Sens8, this isn't a genetic condition that people develop at birth, it's literally a technology attainable only by the extremely privileged.
Written when I finished it: Join redeemed itself slightly from my earlier assessment, but not in a very satisfying way. The main character(s) have a change of heart without almost no sign and very little motivation, and end up sacrificing a great deal to sabotage the ambitions of the company/government and the Joins, in order to redirect their attention to saving the Earth. Though it also ends with the company/government making joining so cheap and accessible that the goal is basically to eradicate Solos, so I dunno.
Overall, it was an interesting premise? And I kept imagining all the characters with 80s/90s clothing and hairstyles based on the descriptions? But it felt more like a thought experiment than a coherent narrative.
The unnamed protagonist’s struggles with burnout, and yet her urges to self-sabotage by forming just the types of connections and doing just the kind of over-work that got her here in the first place… extremely relatable. And there are so many detailed descriptions of delicious food…
Ropa’s voice is one of the best things about this book, she’s a little punk with a heard of solid gold and from the top where it seems like we’re going to have a fairly straightforward “medium helps a ghost” story through when it gets much darker and stranger, it’s her humor and thoughtfulness that keeps you mindful of the stakes. Really enjoyed this, I can’t wait to see how she tackles her next set of problems.
I loved this. The structure of the book is that each chapter focuses on a species of these sentient, generally humanoid Beasts that live in the city of Yong’an - their history, their biology, their favorite foods, the industry they work in. But each chapter includes the trials and travails of the writer as well, and they add up to a singular overarching story that is funny and poignant and satisfying.
This was extremely sweet and spicy and the time travel elements had the feeling of an 80s action movie plot, I really enjoyed it.