I’m working my way through the Hugo finalists of this year, and I just finished ‘Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach’ by Kelly Robson from that list.
In the future, mankind has destroyed the ecosystem and the survivors have fled underground. After a time, a new generation of mankind returns to the surface to rebuild the world. Then time travel is discovered, and interest in restoring the Earth wanes.
Minh is an ecologist, desperately trying to keep her restoration projects funded. She gets the opportunity to lead a project to survey the Mesopotamian delta… in the distant past. She assembles a team of two people to help. The three of them are accompanied to the past by a representative of the time travel corporation.
Honestly, after finishing Lucky Peach — I’ll abbreviate the full title, if you don’t mind — I still don’t understand why it would be useful to survey a river delta in the past. Since it’s more or less the central premise of the story this annoys me to no end. But, okay, moving on.
Intertwined with the story is the tale of Shulgi, a king who is beset by demons, and struggling not to be estranged from his partner. It slowly becomes clear how the two stories relate.
Minh is an ecologist who has been around to see her dreams of restoring the Earth’s surface blossom then die on the vine. She’s bitter and seems concerned most with isolating herself and keeping her slowly collapsing projects running.
Kiki is an admin. A youngster, from the next generation of people after Minh. When she was born, the world seemed to be improving, but with the coming of time travel the world slowly slides back into darkness. She is determined to make her mark on it, though, and is willing to do anything to achieve that goal.
Hamid is even older than Minh. He’s a closed-off person, but calm and steady. He’s a biologist, who has known Minh for years. He loves the time travel project, for it allows him to see real horses.
Fabian, finally, works for the time travel company and has a job guiding people on tours through the past. He’s a cynical bastard, who doesn’t care about using violence and bullying against the people of the past, given that time travel doesn’t have consequences for the future they will all eventually return to.
The characters and the premise of Lucky Peach are intriguing, but the resulting story doesn’t work for me. The further I came, the less I cared.
It’s well-written, but I just didn’t like where the story went. It’s like a photograph of a great subject but with completely wrong lighting. In essence, the story deals not with pollution, or time travel. It investigates what being human really means under extreme circumstances. Interesting, but not what I was expecting. And I hate that. Not only because it is not what I was expecting, but in this case it leaves all kind of interesting other ideas by the wayside.
In short, ‘Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach’ is a good story, it’s just not for me.