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The Past is Red    by Catherynne M. Valente order for
Past is Red
by Catherynne M. Valente
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2021 (2021)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though I found Catherynne M. Valente's The Past is Red hard to get into, it was worth persisting to the end. The story is set in a dystopian future, where the world is mostly ocean, with clusters of humanity clinging to survival on floating piles of refuse (one the size of Texas), scavenging what they can (and fishing) in order to survive. They blame their predecessors, the Fuckwits.

As the story opens, our nineteen-year-old heroine, Tetley Abednego, is 'the most hated girl in Garbagetown.' Even her twin brother Maruchan avoids her. She's beaten and abused and, by law, must thank the abuser(s) for her instruction. We read on, curious to learn what led to this, and share Tetley's recollections of her earlier life, growing up in Candle Hole.

Children only fetch their names when they turn ten as most die before that. On that quest, Tetley ended up in elite Electric City, where she first met Goodnight Moon, to become a firm friend and more. The crisis came when the ship Brighton Pier brought false hope to Garbagetown. Though saying they spotted dry land, one reveals that there's nothing but lifeboat cities 'circling the world like horses on a broken-down carousel. Nothing but blue.'

Believers were ready to expend all their remaining resources in the search, so Tetley did what was needed to save them from themselves - and was hated for it. After the story fast forwards ten years, Tetley is in a much happier situation and we learn how that happened, how an AI prototype helped her meet Big Red Mars, and what was lost along the way.

I recommend reading The Past is Red twice to fully appreciate it (it would also help to read The Future is Blue first). And don't miss the author's Afterword that addresses the 'wet apocalypse' that may well be ahead of us.

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