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  • Writer's pictureTina S Beier

The Offset (Book Review)

by Calder Szewczak

Sept 14, 2021

Dystopian/Cli-fi/literary fiction

Angry Robot

4 / 5 Stars

I received this an e-arc from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. Thank you also to Angry Robot!

The Offset is a complex and bleak novel about choice, sacrifice, and societal worth. It’s a dystopian Cli-Fi that is also, I would argue, a bit of a literary fiction.

It is your eighteenth birthday and one of your parents must die. You are the one who decides. Whom do you pick?

In a dying world, the Offset ceremony has been introduced to counteract and discourage procreation. It is a rule that is simultaneously accepted, celebrated and abhorred. But in this world, survival demands sacrifice so for every birth, there must be a death.

I have to state right off the bat that the Offset itself, the concept of a child upon turning eighteen being forced to decide which of their parents must be killed to “offset” the environmental cost of their own life, is clearly not meant to be a realistic vision of the future but a vehicle in which to show the drastic state climate change and overpopulation have placed on the world. As such, the political aspects of this concept are not really discussed, nor are we given history as to how this measure was put into practice, nor are we told whether this is a UK measure or worldwide. In truth, something like this would never pass in anything but a totalitarian state, but the concept is fascinating and creates a rich soil in which to grow interesting ideas. This is where the literary fiction aspect comes in - the book is designed to make you think more than entertain.

The book also features fluid and descriptive prose that reminded me a little of Donna Tartt, in that it’s elegiac in how it uses the physical world to evoke emotion. I very much enjoyed the bleak and harsh tone and I thought the book was the perfect length, as any longer and it would have made me depressed.

I’m rather torn about the characters. I understood them while not entirely liking them. Miri is a teenager burdened with a huge and terrible responsibility - she runs away from home not only because of the preemptive guilt she must be suffering from but also because her parents are always working and one is cold and demanding. Jac is burdened with guilt over not spending enough time with her daughter while being driven by a higher purpose. Yet, I didn’t feel I got to know either of them as much as we could have. Miri’s years of homelessness are mentioned more in passing; we don’t really “get” her as much as we could have. Jac was quite easy to understand, but you also don’t like her very much. Also, aside from her profession, we don’t learn a lot about Alix either. Then again, if we loved the characters the story would have been very hard to read, almost too dark.

The novel doesn’t feature much of a plot. Aside from a moment of intrigue, a great deal of the story features rather everyday life and flashbacks and takes place over the course of only two days. That being said, I was enthralled and never once did I stop wondering what the ending would be.

Speaking of the ending, in my mind it could have gone one of three ways and I was leaning far more towards the outcome that occurred. That doesn’t mean I think it was too predictable - in fact, I was hoping I was wrong.

Overall, this is not a happy story where we save the earth in the end. This is a warning to stop screwing around with the planet. Much like A Diary in the Age of Water (which I reviewed earlier this year) and Jeff VanderMeer’s work.

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I recommend it to those who enjoy Cli-fi, those who like their books grim, and people who liked 1984.

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