[Edit: Ah man, I started writing this review at the end of January, and then moved house the following day. The house move completely threw me and this review got lost – which is completely my own fault because I’d really enjoyed it!! Anyway, here it is ….]
You know when a book is quite odd, but all the better for it? That’s something that I love about a good short novel too – the ability to get across a lot of strange information in a few hundred pages. And it’s exactly what I got from The Seep, which not only deals with science fiction but also grief and identity.
Title: The Seep
Author: Chana Porter
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: 21st January 2021
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley
Rating: 4.5 stars (rounded down to 4)
About the Book
Trina Goldberg-Oneka is a trans woman whose life is irreversibly altered in the wake of a gentle—but nonetheless world-changing—invasion by an alien entity calling itself The Seep. Through The Seep, everything is connected. Capitalism falls, hierarchies and barriers are broken down; if something can be imagined, it is possible.
Trina and her wife, Deeba, live blissfully under The Seep’s utopian influence—until Deeba begins to imagine what it might be like to be reborn as a baby, which will give her the chance at an even better life. Using Seep-tech to make this dream a reality, Deeba moves on to a new existence, leaving Trina devastated.
Heartbroken and deep into an alcoholic binge, Trina chases after a young boy she encounters, embarking on an unexpected quest. In her attempt to save him from The Seep, she will confront not only one of its most avid devotees, but the terrifying void that Deeba has left behind.
What really struck me about this book were the pervasive themes of change and grief. I’m a cis woman, so I can only wait to be corrected if my interpretations are incorrect here (and please do correct me if I am making any incorrect assumptions).
Trina has fought hard to be comfortable in her own body, and assumes that her new life under the alien The Seep is a happy one, but when her wife Deeba decides to remove the painful memories of her own past and to be reborn as a baby in this utopian world (and asks Trina to be her carer and mother) Trina refuses. Instead of celebrating Deeba’s decision and transformation, she instead reacts with grief and despair, because she has lost her wife, her partner, her lover and her companion.
Blaming The Seep – this apparently benevolent alien force who just wants its humans to be happy – for her own misery, Trina sets out to destroy it. The Seep is also quite a fascinating entity. In order to make humans happy, and to reduce conflict, it allows humans to cross boundaries of race, culture and image by changing their appearance wholly. But Trina, as a Black, trans, Native-American, with clear personal identities, is shocked to find a friend whom she always thought was Black was actually a white man wearing the skin of his dead lover.
There are so many possible allegories and interpretations, from hiding identity behind the power of technology (ie the internet), to the grief associated with both losing and gaining an identity, to the need for culture and past experiences to shape who we are today. And, for a woman who has fought to change her physical appearance to match her identity long before The Seep arrived, Trina feels her own struggle, and her own personal identity being cheapened and eroded.
This is precisely what I love about short novels; somehow there is more to interpret and more to appreciate because the themes and issues are so much broader, but evoke so much feeling. There’s also a lot here that is very vague, but I can cope with that.
I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.