Top Shelf: Amatka

Booksellers Raul, Thomas, and Tomoko, recommending book Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
BookPeople has a cadre of booksellers on staff who have loved sci-fi for pretty much as long as they can remember—though their tastes often vary, this new literary sci-fi novel from Swedish author Karin Tidbeck has a “what if” hook guaranteed to suck in anyone as in love with words as we are. That hook?
What if words could physically shape the world?
Here are their thoughts on Amatka:

“When Vanja, an information assistant, is sent to the distant colony of Amatka to gather information for the government, what she discovers has the potential to change her world entirely. In this world, words have an unusual power—if things are not “marked,” that is named and identified as a particular thing, they will turn into molten slag, become undone, and no one wants that to happen. Or do they? In the course of her investigation, Vanja finds that there are people who are interested in another way of living, one that may have cost the lives of hundreds in another colony some years ago. But in this oppressive and Orwellian world, freedom is something unknown and forbidden. In the course of love, Vanja will discover that sacrifice is part and parcel of this freedom and the cost of trying to do more may be higher than she expects. Truly an awesome and well imagined read that is astounding in its ideas as well as detail. Sure to be a nominee for Hugo and Nebula awards!”
—Raul, 1st Floor Inventory Manager

“I’ve read more than my fair share of science fiction over the years. Some of it good, some bad, and some—like Amatka—curiously unique and truly wonderful. In the commune called Amatka, farthest from the capital, we find ourselves mired in a dystopian society that has no clue what sleeps, quite literally, beneath its feet. Tidbeck’s novel is set in an unknown world purposefully left—much like the society that populates it—ill described and gray, informed only by a limited, singular perspective. The delicate balance of a society whose continued existence relies on the knowledge of language, but also on the citizens of that society having very little knowledge of the world around them is fascinating, especially as the lines between those two needs begin to blur. Most notably the book talks about labels–their importance to this civilization, and the motivations behind labeling everything. People, products, and processes are all labeled in the orderly world of Amatka to prevent the dissolution of important things into disgusting grey goo.
     Amatka blends Communist sensibility and science fiction tropes to create a book that reminds me very much of 1984, if it had been written by Ursula LeGuin. But while science fiction has been used for decades as a platform to discuss political, social, and cultural issues that many other genres of literature don’t, Amatka is most unlike the previous generations of commentary science fiction in that it does not push a specific agenda. Instead Tidbeck uses her particularly unique style of writing to develop a lyrical journey through the madness and darkness of a society long held in check as it travels towards something that might be freedom (but may also be certain death) seeking only to make her readers ponder the power of linguistics, the nature of labels, and the strength of a single person versus the strength of many united with a common goal.”
—Thomas W. Master Bookseller

No one knows where we are. But we’re not allowed to say that.
A paperback original SF novel with an unassuming exterior that belies the expanse and complexity of the narrative, Amatka is one of those clever stories that invites you into a world at once familiar, simple, and completely alien. Language is powerful in Tidbeck’s novel, both in and outside the fourth wall. Initially, her word choice is descriptive though sparse, inflexible, and (mostly) dispassionate—reflective of the geometric structures in her world and of her lead character Vanja’s chronically depressed mental state. Gradually, as histories of person and place are ferreted out and pieced together, emotion begins to charge and inform her expression, until a transformation from structural to organic (and from being to living) takes place. Mirroring changes in Vanja, this stylistic choice is beautifully executed and amplifies a heartrending climax, illustrating the struggle between being accepted and being free.
     The continuity of life as citizens know it is literally powered by words, so words are carefully monitored things. With governance by polite and passive aggressive elected committee, Amatka is a sharp indictment of  representative democracies that suppress information and utilize social pressure to control its people, stall citizen concerns in prolonged discussion, and thoroughly crush deviation. Karin Tidbeck’s Amatka is a bizarre, provocative story of secrets, the nature of reality,  and the struggle between being accepted and being free. For hours after finishing this book, I sat, sifting through the ramifications of Tidbeck’s world and the consequences of forcing reality to fit a standardized perspective—I can’t recommend it highly enough!”
—Tomoko, Art Director

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