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New Release Review


Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan

Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan
Book Name: Waste Tide
Author: Chen Qiufan
Publisher(s): Tor Books (English) Changjiang Literature & Art Press (Chinese)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Dystopia
Release Date: April 30, 2019 (English) 2013 (Chinese)

Originally written in Chinese and published in 2013, this edition of Waste Tide is translated by Ken Liu and published by Tor Books. It is also Chen Qiufan’s debut book.

Set in a dystopian China of the future (post 2020s), Waste Tide is an excellent example of environmental science fiction and is inspired by the author’s own experience of growing up near one of the largest e-waste centres of the world. We main follow four characters. The story is told in multiple perspective and takes place on the fictional Silicon Isle, located off China’s south-eastern coast. To avoid spoilers, I will not be discussing the plot in detail.

Waste Tide is one of only a few sci-fi books I’ve read this year, but it made me want to read more. It’s dense with ideas, so don’t go into it expecting a fast-paced sci-fi story. Qiufan addresses issues such as class oppression, exploitation of workers, technology use and its disposal, and more. It is not a light read and it was a little complicated at times. Despite this, I never felt it was too heavy or confusing. The pacing is slow at times and the plot drags a little on occasion, but stick with it, the story picks up in the second half.

One of the main strengths of this book was the worldbuilding. It is clear Qiufan has put a lot of time into creating this complex and harsh world. The relationship between the government and the clans is really interesting and the politics between the three clans clearly showcases the ruthless nature of the isle. You also get to see the daily lives of the people living on Silicon Isle, as well as the conditions that the waste people live and work in. There is so much detail! I cannot say enough good things about it. I think this book would benefit from a reread, because you’ll pick up on the things you may have missed with the first reading. The only complaint I have about the worldbuilding is it overshadows the plot a bit.

As I mentioned earlier, this mainly follows four characters’ perspectives, each one part of a different economic and cultural background. Mimi is a waste girl, which means she is part of the lowest caste on Silicon Isle. Luo Jincheng is the leader of one of the clans that controls the isle. Scott Brandle is the representative of Terra Green, an American corporation that wants to capitalise the isle by modernising the recycling process. Chen Kaizong is sent to Silicon Isle as Scott’s interpreter. Each of these characters are well written with distinct personalities and interesting background. I really appreciated that we got to see the events through the eyes of four very different people.

There are two main issues I had in terms of characterisation. Firstly, I had a small issue with the characterisation of Mimi. She plays quite a passive role through a lot of the book and I wanted her to play more of an active role in her own story, instead of being the person that things just keep happening to. Secondly, the representation and treatment of women isn’t the best. Mimi is the only main female character and a lot of bad things happen to her. It’s not just that there is a lack of women in this book, it’s that bad things happening to women are used as a plot tool for the male characters. Maybe part of this is due to the dystopian world of this book. Other than that, I thought Qiufan did a good job at creating and developing the characters.

Overall Waste Tide was a fantastic book and I would highly recommend checking it out, especially if you are looking for a new sci-fi book. It’s not the easy book to read, but it is well worth the effort. The main strength doesn’t necessarily come from the plot but from the complexity of the setting and the ideas behind the book. I didn’t really know much about it going in, but I’m glad that I decided to check it out. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for any more translated work coming from this author.


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