reviewed by Zeke Teflon
Australian sci-fi author has produced a novella that seems eerily relevant to the present-day political situation in the United States, with the rise of Donald Trump and the racist right, and Trump’s scapegoating of Mexican and Muslim immigrants.
But given some details in the story, Australia’s own immigration problems seem more likely to have inspired The Four Thousand, The Eight Hundred than the situation in the U.S. (Large numbers of desperate emigrants from south and southeast Asia are attempting to immigrate to Australia. Many of them have been locked up for years on “the world’s largest open-air prison,” Nauru Island.)
The two primary characters are Camille, a doctor and a member of the Sivadier minority on Vesta, and Anna, the port director on Ceres. The plot revolves around the scapegoating and persecution of Camille’s minority by a make-Vesta-great-again demagogue and his followers.
That persecution is bad enough that members of the Sivadier minority feel compelled to flee en masse, some hitching rides on cargo between the two asteroids, some fleeing by more conventional means. This, and the escalating persecution by the Vestan government, force Anna into making an impossible choice.
The Four Thousand, The Eight Hundred does a disturbingly good job of describing the horrors of scapegoating and persecution; it provides its victims with a human face, something that is the exact opposite of what persecutors do, who routinely describe their victims as “freeloaders” and “vermin.”
On the negative side, there are remarkably few descriptive passages in this novella. Much of it could be set anywhere where demagogues persecute a minority.
The book would have been richer with more physical description of both the characters who populate its pages and the places they inhabit.
But that’s not the point of The Four Thousand, The Eight Hundred. It’s intended as a cautionary tale about demagoguery, scapegoating, and the persecution of minorities. In that regard, it succeeds frighteningly well.
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(Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on its sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel. A large sample from Free Radicals, in pdf form, is available here.)