Company Town is a novel by Madeline Ashby.
Finished on 25.8.2016.
New Arcadia is a city and a huge oil rig off the Canadian coast run by the Lynch Company. Hwa is one of the many residents. She works as a bodyguard for the local escort services and the sex workers’ union. It’s pretty much the only work available to her, on the one hand because she is a martial arts expert, but on the other hand because she doesn’t have any bio-engineered augmentations like everybody else – Hwa has Sturge-Weber Syndrome and was never deemed worthy for investments like this by her mother. Those facts are also what bring her to the attention of the elderly head of the Lynch Company, Jonathan Lynch. His heir Joel is being threatened, so he hires Hwa as a bodyguard for him. Hwa’s loyalties are torn, though, as her former protegées are being murdered most gruesomely and she really needs to figure out what’s going on.
Ashby very much won me over with her previous novels, vN and iD. Company Town isn’t connected to those two, but shares with them a smart and in-depth look at a possible technological and political development from an innovative angle. I loved it.
Ashby tackles many things in her vision of the future, all of which already have their roots in how we handle things today: how a company can own, sell and buy an entire town (albeit on an oil-rig), how bio-engineering can solve many problems, but also conjure up entirely new ones, how sex work can potentially be handled if you removed most of the social stigma, but only a smaller part of the underlying power structure, and so on. The many and detailed ideas she has about the future form a complex, but coherent, fitting and realistic whole that is utterly intriguing and would pay off in and of itself.
Additionally to that, though, we get a heroine who is a disabled woman of color – and none of that keeps her from being a highly competent body guard, love interest (although the romance is only a small part of the story) and capable detective with a fresh personality. She’s far from flawless, but she is pretty much a perfect character. And to me (as a white woman) it feels like that Hwa’s cultural heritage was well-researched and respectfully handled by Ashby (also a white woman afaik). And Hwa is not the only lovely character in the book.
Sometimes there is a little too much going on, though. The plotting is generally the weakest part of the book, walking along some rather well-trodden paths. Especially that it’s yet again about a serial killer targeting sex workers is a little galling. I would have loved it if sex workers hadn’t been a community on the fringes of society anymore in this book (albeit a more organized community than what we’re used to in our world).
But this is just a small gripe I have with a great, entertaining and fast-paced book that shows us a vision of the future we should think long and hard about before actually making it a reality.
Summarizing: Definitely worth it.