According to the Mayan Calendar the world as we know it is about to end – but despite the threat of impending eco-apocalypse, Sydney Travers, an impetuous blonde runaway, is determined to reinvent herself as a top hi-tec fashion model in Seoul. The glitzy Asian metropolis is also a haven for Damien Meadows, an inept drug smuggler and untrained English tutor desperate to buy a fake passport to the planet’s safest terrain. For Lee Mee Hee the road to the city is slick with tears: grieving the loss of her newborn son to famine, she lets a kind Foreign Aid medic smuggle her from North to South Korea in the bottom of a truck.
Assessing all three from a secluded mountain villa is Dr Kim Da Mi, a maverick Korean-American bioengineer with a visionary scheme to redesign humanity and survive the coming catastrophe. Mee Hee and her fellow refugees are offered sanctuary – in return for signing up as surrogate mothers – but convincing prime Caucasian specimens Sydney and Damien to donate their DNA is a more complex procedure. Over a long hot summer, seduction bleeds into coercion and mutual betrayal, until Lucifer’s Hammer, the long-prophesied meteor, nears the Earth and the ruthless forces backing Dr Kim demand a sacrifice…
Author: Naomi Foyle
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Where I got it: copy for review (thanks, guys!)
All right. First off, Seoul Survivors, despite its ‘eco-apocalypse’ buzzwords, is not so much a story about a global disaster in itself as it is a story about how a certain small group of people choose to try to deal with it, in order to survive. It’s a character piece rooted in science fiction, rather than being the more typical science-fiction adventure that I was half-expecting. And, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, I found myself enjoying it all the more for this approach than I think I would have if it had been a straight-up “avert the catastrophe, save the world” drama.
This book was a challenge to read, for several reasons – but at the end of it all it’s a challenge that I found personally rewarding. The paths that the protagonists set themselves on in order to secure their futures in the face of that aforementioned catastrophe are what shape the story – it’s about their journeys, and why they’re all doing what they do instead of why things are happening to them. That said, they are ultimately rats in a cage to Dr Kim, the mastermind behind the “salvation” they’re all seeking – though not all are equally as willing to jump through her hoops, because what’s a character drama without conflict? I loved this approach, and the author handles it with promising skill and style (Seoul Survivors is her debut novel).
Their journeys are engaging enough that I found the book difficult to put down at times (another box, ticked!), and a large part of that is, I think, due to Ms Foyle’s incredibly vivid visual style. She paints Seoul in verbal pictures that practically leaped off the page and into my mind’s eye; it’s bold and colourful, and at times I felt like I could actually have been right there, on the streets on hot days or in the clubs on brightly-lit nights. The first chapter, for an example, introduces us to Sydney Travers as she’s working on a photoshoot for a famous Seoul fashion photographer, and I was immediately dropped right into that scene through its clarity, urgency and even with a sense of empathy for Sydney as she does what she does – which is evidently a lot more of a physical ordeal than non-models might realise!
Obviously, the story is not all fun and games despite the newfound celebrity model status and lifestyle that Sydney finds and enjoys, at first. Johnny Sandman, the standout antagonist (Sydney’s ex-boyfriend, and Dr Kim’s eventual rival at ConGlam, the company funding her bioengineering project), is a loathsome character at the centre of a great deal of the more graphically violent scenes in the book. Fair warning – while the detail in these scenes is perhaps not as graphic as it could be, the content of them is still violent enough to be disturbing to a good many readers. To be fair to the author, however, it never quite crosses the line into gratuitous violence – there is the sense that we are shown what we’re shown because that’s just how disturbing (and disturbed) a character Johnny Sandman is, and this is how seriously he takes his grudge against the protagonists, however twisted and psychopathic it might be. Though it still bears emphasising that if you aren’t at ease with graphic physical or sexual violence, this book might be a difficult one to read all the way to the end.
If you CAN make it to the end, however, then I hope you find the finale as powerful and affecting as I did. The author’s visual style never lets up – the almost cinematic quality of her writing stays consistent throughout, and I suspect that this played no small part in how moved I was by how things turned out for Sydney and Damien. This is no Hollywood-style, save-the-world-and-go-home-happy story – it’s realistic enough to give the edge and the advantage to the people with the power, and on this the author is uncompromising – when deals are made or promises given, you don’t get to back out without paying a cost. And everyone pays.
So, in summary, this is definitely not one for the faint-hearted or the sentimental – but if you like your pre-apocalypse drama of the realistic and unquestionably adult variety, then I would recommend this book.
Side note: there is an android. It is creepy as all hell. Because what sci-fi story is complete without a creepy android?