Craig Hallam‘s Oshibana Complex gives classic cyberpunk a clever, fun, modern taste. A huge thank you to Inspired Quill for a review copy of the book!
|Series: –||Genre: Sci-Fi, Cyberpunk|
|Date of Publishing: September 29, 2020||Trigger Warnings: Death|
|Page count: 164||Publisher: Inspired Quill|
Welcome to Shika-One City, humanity’s final home.
Nations have come together. Gender and race are petty concerns of the past. But not everything is well in Shika-One.
Humanity can no longer procreate and has to synthesize future generations. But there aren’t many genetic templates to go around and meeting yourself on the street is a daily occurrence. With so many people wearing the same face, the synths of Shika-One strive for individuality in a world where stepping out of line can lead to the shredder.
In this pulsing neon world lives Xev and eir friends, all hard-working synths who maintain their designations to earn the XP to live and hope to afford the holographic shams that cover up their similarities. That is, until a new synth makes Xev start to ask big questions that might upset the status quo.
In Shika-One, life is cheap.
Xev is about to discover what e’s worth.
“This pastel soft, brand new creature’s only knowledge was how scary life was.”
Craig Hallam’s Oshibana Complex is everything I love about cyberpunk: a sharp dissection of the present by peeking into the future. This curious novella puts a captivating story into just a few pages.
If there’s one thing that calls to me in a good cyberpunk (or any SFF, for that matter), it’s a charismatic city. A place that either becomes the extension of our character’s gritty perspective or breathes in unison with what’s on the page. In other words, a place that makes the story alive by the way it captures the characters’ attention. Oshibana Complex’s Shika-One City is certainly that.
Craig builds a grim world that enraptures, not by distinguishing the present from the future but by melding them in his worldbuilding in ways that are frankly terrifying, but oh so astute.
Bright and dim, colorful and bleak, and overall overwhelming, Shika-One City is a world where everything is exaggerated and outrageous, a direct reaction, perhaps, to the higher powers which oppress its citizens with the monetization of expression of self. As good old cyberpunk usually dictates, Shika-One City is an electrifying place where technology has carved society, altering the very notion of being.
Everyone in Oshibana Complex has an Access, a connection point to a virtual reality world that enhances the “real world”. Or I should say, that unrecognizably blurs the line between virtual and real, to such a point that everyone’s expression of being is irrevocably linked with the use of their Access.
Without the Access link, the world becomes dull, awash in hopelessness, gray with misery. Access allows every person to customize their appearance as they will and life without it is spent as one of the blank templates, with no power to attain independence from every other blank around you.
The Access allows for certain freedoms, like infinite ways to express oneself and the dissociation from birth-assigned genders. I loved how the story incorporated that thought, like with non-binary pronouns being the default in this world.
It just makes sense, in part because everyone’s expression of identity and very appearance are “customizable” and mutable parts of oneself. It goes much deeper than that, of course, but the core of it is, in Shika-One City, the biggest (and perhaps only) freedom anyone has is the construction of their identity. What I enjoyed the most about Oshibana Complex is the way it picks up that freedom, technology, identity, and shows us a world of contrasts. Shika-One City is the expression of that, a world both forgotten and alive, that both shackles and frees.
“You ain’t free, little cooch. Your cage just switched places.”
When it comes to my sci-fi, I’m only picky to a point. I will literally pick up a book if it says “aliens”, “robots” or, the cherry on the cake, “alien robots”. But there’s a difference between picking up and enjoying, and one thing I really enjoy is reading dark worlds, and better yet, reading dark worlds where the light manages to slip between the cracks.
Reading about hyperbolic cyberpunk nightmares excites me. Places where money buys expression, where accessibility is a matter of means, and where happiness is regulated and that regulation is so ingrained that acceptance is a moot point. I love those because I hate that they are a reality, and I love how much reading about them is expression and revolution all packed into one cleverly-written story.
Normally when it comes to these worlds, it’s an easy assumption to make that technology is the root of all evil, the trigger that shoots the bullet into one’s skull and erases all humanity from Humanity. Sure, we have that in this novella, but bubbling in its shocking climaxes, its fast-paced mystery, and its razor-edged world is a delicious gray area that culminates in a compelling story.
That’s why I was eager to get more details on this world and its dynamics, between the peoples and its higher powers, how it came to be, who built it, but that isn’t really what this book is about. The real focus is the characters, their conditions in this dystopian future, and what happens when you find yourself facing unprecedented situations.
Most of all, the complexity of this novella is in everything it doesn’t say and everything it shows. The building blocks of this world play with many classic cyberpunk themes and worries while pairing them with modern ones.
Oshibana Complex drafts the future of our species as we know it, in an unusual, character-driven journey of identity with great character dynamics.
I’ll be getting myself a physical copy to keep on my shelf for the rainy days.
In short, pick this one up if you love reading: cyberpunk, dystopia, character-driven stories through thought-provoking worlds, cyber societies, fun, intriguing character dynamics, queer identities, short reads that go a long way, virtual-reality worlds, and explorations on identity, freedom, and the future of our species.