RogerBW's Blog

Velocity, Chris Wooding 04 August 2018

2015 young adult science fiction. After the Omniwar, civilisation in the USA is just barely holding on; large swathes of country are still unlivable. The main entertainment is car racing, and the Widowmaker is the biggest race of all: and Cassica and Shiara, from a small town on the edge of the Rust Bowl, are going to try to win it.

The plot is entirely predictable, and follows the path of most mildly cynical sports stories. There are really no surprises in the betrayals and reverses that our heroes encounter, nor in the manner of their eventual triumph; everything's foreshadowed, sometimes to excess.

And yet, the characters work. Yes, you can sum them up briefly: Cassica the driver is enthusiastic about the race and the prize (two tickets to the last surviving orbital habitat, where you can live in luxury), while Shiara the mechanic is more of a homebody who's mostly going along for the sake of her friend. And yes, you can work out when they're going to fight, and about what, and when they're going to make up; but the fine detail of the writing makes them real in a way that many more successful authors can't manage.

They're the main reason to read this – well, and to some extent the action. The racing makes sense on its own terms (though it's never quite clear just what "turbos" are; they boost the car's speed when in use, they use fuel of their own, they build up heat, and they can explode), and while this is clearly a cinematic reality more than a plausible one it plays by a consistent set of rules.

There's obviously a great deal that's derivative here, but Wooding can't resist the urge to do his own worldbuilding, and that's a good thing; I'd have liked to see more of it, but I don't suppose that was the objective. And sometimes he just has impractical fun.

Used to be anyone could vote, even if they didn't know jack about it; now you gotta take a test to show you know what you're talkin' about, and keep takin' it every few years. Now they kick out and ban them politicians who promise to do stuff before the election and don't do it once they're elected, to make 'em stick to their guns and tell the truth, instead of just tellin' the people what they wanna hear. 'Cause politics ain't meant to be entertainment, and the fate of the world's too damn important to be decided on who gives the best sound bite.

Obviously this isn't one of the great SF novels, but it's rather better than the simple Hunger Games cash-in that it might have been.

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