Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Best Novella – The Novella has definitely seen a resurgence in recent years.  I think this is down to two key factors.  The e-reader allows smaller items to be marketable and we are seeing various publishing houses now getting onto this bandwagon.  A novella can be a short read and it allows authors to create a very precise unusual tale or even a series.  In this category I will be looking for the story that for me creates a world in miniature that in short-form I can see it and taste it and that the story feels complete.  I don’t mind a series, but I do want the tale to be wrapped up and not feel that it was either too open-ended or that a lot of the story is missing. A great novella is the perfect three-minute pop-song and can be joyful or tragic but always leaves that lasting impression long after the end of the last note.

Publisher – Jabberwocky Literary Agency

Published – Out Now

Price - £6 paperback £2.84 Kindle Ebook

Amelia dreams of Mars. The Mars of the movies and the imagination, an endless bastion of opportunities for a colonist with some guts. But she’s trapped in Mexico City, enduring the drudgery of an unkind metropolis, working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to old folks with money who hope to re-juventate themselves with it, enacting a fractured love story. And yet there’s Mars, at the edge of the silver screen, of life.

It awaits her.

I suspect you like me got into science fiction through the big spectacle. Space (let’s face it) really is the final frontier with all those exciting planets, gorgeous views and mysterious aliens. And if for example you compared it to the 1980’s Liverpool I grew up in you wouldn’t think twice about going into it. In this novella I will warn you we will not go to the actual planet but instead this is a remarkable tale about the competing desire to live our dreams while battling that other need to give into the obstacles in our way just for a quiet life.

Amelia when we find her is a mid-twenties freelancer (a.k.a. unemployed) woman who when we first meet her is taking up jobs on friendrr.  A website where you get to hire someone to act as your friend, confidant or even on rare occasions a family member. It is a job; but Amelia knows people are not her forte as she cannot do charm, and what she wants more than anything is to get her life back on track and leave the planet for Mars. Amelia was a super smart student; studying botany at university but now that life is pretty much gone; once she left her studies mid-way and she now lives with her sister in a small apartment awaiting the next job to be texted to her phone. Her one aim is to save enough to get to Mars but on current ad hoc jobs that will be years away. In the meantime, she is under pressure from family and friends to do a variety of legal and non-legal jobs to give the bills being paid. To make matters worse the rich boy who once won her heart and ghosted her; Elias, has now started to seek her out.  Life is getting even more complicated.

The heart of this story is Amelia and while she isn’t necessarily the most sympathetic lead, I really found myself rooting for her to find a way through the mire.  She is bright, independent and stubborn but also, she is stuck. This novel really captures that sense of life post-university where you’re very clear on what you wanted to do but bills, family, friends and lovers get in the way. There is a worrying sense that she is getting both closed off and ever closer to just giving up and following the advice of her more earth-focused nearest and dearest. When everything is in the way of your ambitions how long before you decide to try the easy life instead?

What makes this come alive for me is how the Mexico of the future is portrayed. This is a country that has extremes of poverty and wealth. Gangs blockade subways, blood donation is an additional income stream and yet for people like Elias most problems including his own mistakes can be waved away with cash. It feels a very stagnant unchanging place and there is a heaviness to these scenes that almost feel like they’re pulling Amelia to Earth and I like the way that actually it’s not technology stopping Amelia its class and poverty which tends to get lot in a lot of science fiction. In contrast she also via Friendrr meets Lucia a former film star and they often discuss the magic/artifice of the movies and the difference between the art and the business. These scenes are lighter and scenes from the movie while very much B-movie also give you that sense of the world beyond ours.  For Amelia she can see someone who wanted their dreams but found the road towards them wasn’t always straightforward.

Moreno-Garcia for me writes fascinating immersive tales and I really need to read more of her work (I also recommend The Beautiful Ones which was last year a Subjective Chaos finalist). Her characters and her world building and the depth of the tale really stands out as doing something different to the norm.  This is a very very fine entrant into the novella category. I shall definitely be having this one in mind for final choices in a few months.