book reviews by Althea

Company Town – Madeline Ashby ****

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Company Town
Company Town by Madeline Ashby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With this book and Lavie Tidhar’s ‘Central Station’ coming out, I feel like cyberpunk is making a bit of a comeback! (And that makes me happy!)

A version of a segment of this story was previously published in the ‘Upgraded’ (…) anthology as ‘Come From Away’. I wrote: “I suspect this ‘story’ is actually an opening to Ashby’s upcoming novel, ‘Company Town’ – the blurb and character names match. I look forward to reading the full book!”
As it turns out, it’s not actually the opening segment, but as I suspected, it works better in context than as a stand-alone bit.

The ‘Company Town’ here is a Canadian off-shore rig. (Its isolation gives the setting a lot in common with a lot of sci-fi set on spaceships – it has that kind of ‘feel.’) After a disastrous explosion a couple of years ago, the economy of the town is teetering and it’s just been wholly bought by a new corporation. The inhabitants are unsure of what the future will bring: mass layoffs? New social policies? An upturn or a downturn?

Our protagonist, Hwa, is one of those unsure of what the future will bring. She works as a bodyguard for escorts’ outcalls, and as such is a member of the sex workers’ union. Social changes could very well jeopardize her job. And indeed, her job does change – but what happens is wholly unexpected: she’s offered a position as private bodyguard to the young heir to the company who’s bought the settlement. This is no cushy job, though. The boy has reportedly been receiving death threats, and Hwa is unable to tell how much of the danger is his eccentric-billionaire father’s paranoia, and how much is legitimate.

In her new position, Hwa has access to privileged information. She discovers some disturbing things about the plans that are in store for her community. At the same time, her old friends start being murdered. As she tries to do what she can to help, and solve the mystery, her loyalties are questioned – and stretched, as she finds herself having to question everyone else’s loyalties as well. She cares about her old clients – but she also believes she’s found a kindred spirit in one of her new co-workers, the appealing Daniel Siofra.

The story is a nice, action-oriented tale with an engaging mystery – but the characters also have a decent amount of complexity. Hwa is a badass, tough bitch, but she’s not infallible, and not without her flaws. Her issues are all believably rendered. I also really liked how the society was drawn; with all the ramification of artificial augmentation being common, and how the tech affects how people interact. There were a few pop-culture references that felt a bit jarring (will The ‘Terminator’ still be popular in a couple hundred years?) but overall, I thought the book was excellent.

Many thanks to Tor & NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own.

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