Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi (book review).

It is 2050. The Earth is barely habitable. Those who can afford it leave for the Colonies in space. Those that can’t struggle against radiation that poisons everything in slow, painful increments. Some eke out an existence dismantling the ruins of civilisation so the Colonies can have a piece of history.

Some try to keep the peace. Some try to remake the world into their vision of what it should be. One man looks down from the Colony and decides to return to Earth to be part of a new frontier.

All of these stories mingle and spread out in this very dense novel, ‘Goliath’ by Tochi Onyebuchi.

I think I would have liked this book more if I’d studied it for a class instead of just reading it. It is deep. Deeper than I want my everyday fiction to go. If you are looking for a novel with a thread of plot to follow this isn’t the book for you. The vignettes in ‘Goliath’ are insights into the lives and surroundings of the characters. There is no hero’s journey with a clear quest to find a shiny McGuffin. Onyebuchi takes the reader on a journey within themselves as much as into the lives of his characters.

It had me questioning my white privilege and how the world works. As it is, in such a close future, Onyebuchi references many examples from recent history that give layer upon layer of injustices that time has not changed, from the Attica Prison Rebellion to the Fergusson riots. ‘Goliath’ highlights the present by placing it in a near future that shows how little things have changed despite the many hashtags and protests.

The lack of plot made this slow going for me. The prose is beautiful and rich with meaning but sitting down to read a section didn’t leave me frantically turning the page to find out what happens next. With so many characters telling tales they began to blur together a little.

Many characters speak in a local vernacular that I found impenetrable as a white, non-American. The language the characters speak gives a great sense of who they are but also draws a distinct line between me as a reader and them, ostracising me from their world.

‘Goliath’ is a great example of how Science Fiction can be more than just throwaway genre fiction. It is a wonderful work of social commentary that dives into racism, gentrification and automation. It asks us how we determine ‘value’ in our society in ourselves and each other. But it is not a fun read. It is too dense for that. This is a book to read a couple of pages and then mull them over for a while. This is a book for lovers of literature and current affairs.

This is a book that takes black history and places the ‘now’ as part of that history, which is fitting that it was released in Black History Month. But if you prefer your novels to have a lighter sprinkling of politics and social commentary this is not for you.

GF Willmetts

February 2022

(pub: TOR, 2022. 336 page hardback. Price: $26.99 (US), $35.99 (CAN), £15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-25078-295-3

check out website: www.tor.com

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