Chlorophyll and Gasoline by S J Fleming

Best Novella Nominee

Publisher – Kindle edition

Published – Out Now

Price - £6.89 paperback £0.00 Kindle eBook

Willow is a curious young woman who lives in the Yggdrasil, a city-sized tree host to dozens of villages eking out a living in the post-collapse world. On occasion, she plunges down into the dark and unmapped roots of Yggdrasil, trying to find rare plants or technological relics from the past. On a sortie to a new location, Willow finds a strange living statue that calls itself Suzy. In speaking to this statue, Willow starts to feel compelled towards helping this lost soul. However, before she can help Suzy, she must deal with the pushback at home, as not everyone believes Suzy to be the same kind person that Willow does.

One of the joys of science fiction is the what if or the what’s next dimension.  Where are we going as a species is an ever-worrying concept especially when we note that our planet is over-heating and the seas now choking on plastic – will we survive?  If we don’t survive what’s next? In this novella SJ Fleming gives us a world where humanity has gone and instead a whole new race is in its place a few hundred years later and the old world is buried below a giant city tree. It explores acceptance and how our differences may either make us stand apart or bring us together.

In this unusual tale we see a race of plant-based lifeforms now living in an unusual word tree (aptly called Yggdrasil) they regularly examine the depths of the tree for either unusual plants that can aid medicine or even technology. A young woman named Willow discovers a robot who calls herself Suzy that has been inactive over two hundred years. Willow is initially frightened but slowly the two bond and eventually Willow finds Suzy’s abilities as well as her helpful demeanour mean they start to bond and feel ever closer to one another. Willow wants to introduce Suzy to her community, but the elders feel technology is a bad thing that destroyed the old world. A battle for hearts and minds is about to begin.

I enjoyed this short tale.  There are a lot of interesting ideas being explored and its not a story about good versus evil more a battle of ideas wrapped around a touching growing romance between Suzy and Willow. The setting is creative, and it strongly remind me of Becky Chamber’s Wayfarer’s work as its more an emotional character-focused journey rather than an epic SF battle. I do enjoy these slice of life tales and I think this is a diverting read that fans of Chambers would enjoy. But I think I would like to have seen a little more depth in the story – more exploration of what led to this world being created and ideally a little more at stake in the finale as the result never really feels in doubt. 

Overall this is a fine novella and I will be watching for Fleming’s work in the future and be intrigued as to how their voice develops in future tales. In terms of Subjective Chaos, I think though I would be wanting a little more to get my final vote.

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