Neom - Book Review
by Lavie Tidar
I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
A beautifully-written short novel with intricate and rich world-building, Neom is a novel I wish were longer.
The city known as Neom is many things to many beings, human or otherwise. Neom is a tech wonderland for the rich and beautiful; an urban sprawl along the Red Sea; and a port of call between Earth and the stars.
In the desert, young orphan Saleh has joined a caravan, hoping to earn his passage off-world from Central Station. But the desert is full of mechanical artefacts, some unexplained and some unexploded. Recently, a wry, unnamed robot has unearthed one of the region’s biggest mysteries: the vestiges of a golden man.
In Neom, childhood affection is rekindling between loyal shurta-officer Nasir and hardworking flower-seller Mariam. But Nasu, a deadly terrorartist, has come to the city with missing memories and unfinished business.
Just one robot can change a city’s destiny with a single rose—especially when that robot is in search of lost love.
I believe you would call this novel a “future history,” as, rather than writing in a fictional universe where Earth exists in the general sense, it’s more about speculation into how the future is derived from our actual earth - with all our history and current events. In this regard, it’s rooted in realism, which makes the sci-fi aspects (space travel, A.I., humans being constantly connected to the internet) seem plausible (and thus fascinating).
I loved the world-building. The city as well as the desert surrounding it, the latter filled with ancient roaming robots, genetically enhanced animals that can speak, and abandoned technology. The latter aspect was my favourite.
Unfortunately, when it came to the plot, the story ends a little bit anticlimactic on all accounts. We have people coming together and storylines resolved, but some readers might be tempted to say, “okay, so what?” I thought the resolution was refreshing, but the novel was too short to make the climax impactful. This is less about the thin plot (which I didn't have an issue with, as this novel feels more like a “slice of life” than a space opera), but more so that there are quite a few characters and just when we really start to get to know them and develop tension, the story ended. I liked the characters quite a bit - everyone seems rather “normal,” with their main concern finding their place in the world - and I do wish we’d gotten more time with them.
I am definitely interested in reading more of this author’s other (preferably novel-length) work. His style and prose are lovely and engaging, and I love the world he's created. I highly recommend this novel for people who like their sci-fi on the “what will the future look like” side rather than action-based, have an interest in A.I. sentience, and like a slow, thoughtful story about connection and love.