One of the brilliant aspects of the science fiction genre is the willingness to take risks. For better or worse, The Smoke by Simon Ings is the pinnacle of this concept. Set in an alternate universe dystopia, The Smoke plunges readers into a small story about family and love surrounded by classic scifi.
I would lying if I said I was able to breeze through this novel and eat up every moment of it. The first part of this book, while ambitious, will force some readers to abandon ship before the true heart of the story begins. Written in second person, it is an intriguing read and expertly transitions from second person to first person. However, because this world is so new to readers, it can be jarring to piece together the plot and environment while simultaneously getting used to a foreign writing voice. Because of this, I found myself tempted to not finish the book.
It is a shame that the first portion of the novel can easily turn so many readers away because once the first major twist is revealed, the story quickly picks up from there. The Smoke follows Stuart, an architect student, who moves to a London where humans and a community of people known as the Bund live together in seemingly harmony. Technology is on the rise, death may be a thing of the past, and both parties are close to colonizing on the Moon. But as Stuart delves more into the city and starts dating a Bundist named Fel, tensions begin to rise.
By far the most intriguing aspect of this story is the family drama. Ings masterfully creates tension as Stuart’s home-life and Bundist lifestyle collide. His craft culminates at a Christmas dinner scene about halfway through the novel. It is every young couple’s worst nightmare. Stuart’s only salvation through all of this is his eccentric aunt Stella who is by far the most entertaining character of the novel.
Despite the world Stuart lives in, the forefront of this story is love. Stuart struggles with toxic masculinity, his relationship with his mother, and projects these repressed issues onto Fel. It is a very relatable work, one that may resonate with readers. Through the narrative, it is clear that it doesn’t matter what world you live in. What truly matters is the people you surround yourself with and the love you feel for those people.