Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

DNF Review: That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

25528808That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a standalone ucronic near-future sci-fi book.

DNF at 40% because I have no patience left and this is bothering me so much. Also, I made a goal for this year to DNF books that are not working for me. So, here we are.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a book whose premise is basically “what if colonialism didn’t bring everywhere racism, homophobia and other similar problems”, and it’s not an easy concept to explore at all. I was willing to give it a chance, but this is not how you do worldbuilding.

The worldbuilding in That Inevitable Victorian Thing lacked consistency and had a lot of unexplored unfortunate implications:

•This is, supposedly, a society in which racism isn’t (as much?) a thing. And yet, the attitude of the Empire towards people of color is “let’s collect them all”, it felt almost fetishistic. Look how progressive this alt-history sci-fi monarchy is! Yes, having a multiracial queen is cool, but was it the way to do it?
Also:
Margaret’s political training had included lessons in how to determine ethnicity based on a person’s appearance, and therefore she could often guess a person’s heritage without asking.
…what about no?
Also, the Empire’s traditions are still strictly white British ones, because of course.

•This book (in which supposedly colonialism wasn’t as terrible) is set in Canada and yet there are no native characters – not even one – in the first 40% of the book. Why? This isn’t just erasing the hardships of marginalized people, this is pretending they don’t exist. Was genocide a thing? If yes, am I supposed to root for all of this?

•For a supposedly progressive society, it is obsessed with genes, and yet the author never explored its stance on eugenics (…some passages seemed pro-eugenics, and since there are no canon disabled characters in the first 40%, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were yet another pro-eugenics future that is presented as utopia instead of dystopia).

•For a society that is supposedly not against queer people (though bigotry does exist, here and there), it’s incredibly binary, even more than today’s society. There’s no mentions of trans/nb people whatsoever, and when the intersex character discovers she’s intersex her reaction was so cissexist I decided to put down the book. I’m sure she will come to accept herself! But then this society isn’t queer-friendly at all.

(If you want to see how a truly queer-friendly society looks like, read the Tensorate series by JY Yang. If you want to read about a truly queer-friendly society that is also a dystopian space empire, try Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee! It criticizes colonialism; there is genetic manipulation but the book doesn’t erase people with developmental disabilities. Also, both these series have an all-PoC cast.)

So: the worldbuilding is full of holes. But that wasn’t my only problem with it. There were no descriptions of the setting, the futuristic technology was underdeveloped – I had no idea of how anything looked like. Alt-history near-future sci-fi is such a cool idea! But there’s no atmosphere, no coherent aesthetic, just so much wasted potential.

Now, the plot. Was there one? The first 30% is characters preparing for a debut ball in which nothing happens (…it’s over in one scene). There’s no conflict whatsoever.

For a book with such shitty worldbuilding, was it full of infodumps. I stopped at chapter 11, which is basically one big infodump. I mean, just look at this:

There was, of course, some debate on how much of the Computer was God, though the Church of the Empire was adamant in its declaration that the Computer was made by people to better understand God’s design and was, therefore, not divine in its own right. There were several dissenting groups, mostly in the American States, who stridently decried the use of the Computer to store genetic codes and determine compatibility.

…really interesting, isn’t it? Well, it goes on for paragraphs!

I also highlighted many instances of “cheatery narration”: the narration is in [character 1]’s PoV, then tells the reader about the feelings of [character 2], and goes back to [character 1]. This happened at least three times: not enough times to establish an omniscient PoV, enough times to make me wonder if an editor read this at all.

Also: boring characters, but that’s usually what happens when you have no conflict.

Why did I put up with this for 100+ pages, then? I wanted to love this. This is one of my favorite covers of all times and I wanted an excuse to buy a copy because I just love this so much (I only buy physical copies of my favorite books). Also, it has a main f/f ship.
Sadly, this didn’t work for me at all.

My rating: ★½

2 thoughts on “DNF Review: That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

  1. I’m disappointed this book is so terrible, I was hoping I’d love all the author’s books as much as the one I’ve read – but I guess not. I’m glad I didn’t buy it when it came out, like I was planning. Not including native characters in a book set in a Canada where colonialism wasn’t as terrible is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t even read half of it because it was too boring, so maybe some of these things were addressed later, but it’s still 100+ pages of worldbuilding that just doesn’t work, with no plot in sight… and honestly the author should have introduced relevant native characters early into the story.
      It’s the only book I’ve read by E.K. Johnston, are the others worth it?

      Like

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