Short Story Review: “City of Ash” by Paolo Bacigalupi

4 of 5 stars.

A post-apocalyptic landscape opens like a flower from the innocuous start of this short tale as the protagonist awakens in her basement refuge and gets her bearings. She judges her days by the images in her dreams and the ambient air quality. This day starts with a good omen–a dream of her father flying. And the smog is not so bad that she can’t see the Taiyang construction site where her father works.

Maria resides in a fallen America. She and her father are one of thousands of Texas refuges turned away at the borders of Oklahoma, Utah, Nevada and California. They reside outside Phoenix where running water is a pipe dream and clear air no longer blows in.

America was falling apart all around them, like God had swiped his hand across the map and left a different country in its place.

You weren’t supposed to get turned back by militias at the border of Oklahoma or see people strung in the margins of the interstates. But she’d seen both. Her father kept saying that this was America, and America didn’t do these things, but the America in her father’s mind wasn’t the same as the America that they drove across . . . There was America before Cat 6 hurricanes and megadroughts, and there was after–with everyone on the move.

Chinese interests provide work in the area with the construction of the Taiyang Tower her father’s lucky to work on. This is there ticket out of there, and possibly the country. Maria braves the smoke-filled air scented by burning forests to use the outhouse, and then recycles, filters and re-drinks her urine waiting for her father and practicing her Chinese. By the time she realizes her father hasn’t returned home on time from work and his daily errand to the Red Cross water station, the smoke is nearly impenetrable . . .

This tale appears in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I’ve previously read this author’s excellent “Pump Six”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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