Akuba, like most cyberpunks, has a rough life. Oh, it has some of the generic cyberpunk tropes mind you; the larger problem to be dealt with rooted in capitalism, new terminology for not-so-distant technologies, and cool, ineffable names ascribed to those on the fringes of society.
Most of this crowd is wearing knock-off blurred style. The kind of clothes that look like they should block facial recognition and drone tracking like the good stuff, but are much cheaper and don’t do a damn thing. Repeating patterns made from the pics of the lips and chins of celebrities.
But in these short 148 pages, Livingston exceeded my expectations. Rooting the story in Akuba's debt was a nice foothold. Having it described in flashback sequences to her earlier days was effective for me to latch onto. She is not the typical love to hate protagonist. And she has an actual backstory. Huh.
Watch batteries gleam in the center of dark flowers. Henna painted with conductive ink, waiting to be turned on.
Here's the skinny: Akuba is a kid who used to be a skimmer, someone who combs through e-waste (in her particular case, in Agbogbloshie) in order to procure enough valuable parts to get by; barely. Nowadays though, that's behind her.
back when they were kids together clambering over the hills of e-waste outside of her old town in Ghana. He was two years older, much bigger, and known to throw fits when a smaller kid found a decent bit of scrap. More than once Akuba had hidden herself deep in the piles of old PC monitors and stereos to keep a nice coil of copper wire for herself. Metal was money, and she wasn’t staying in Agbogbloshie forever.
One of the other skimmers, nicknamed Shakey, has imprisoned her in a sort of hell. When she was young she needed a loan to get out of the slums. Ever since then, she's been under his thumb. The narrative's main premise then is when this goes sideways. No more time. Akuba has to pay Shakey back in one week; or else.
It’s an open secret that the sneakernet is used for a lot more than moving a few dozen terabytes more quickly than you could across the lines. The kids — "chucks" in local argot — pick up your external drive and walk it to wherever you want to send it. Along the way they add on a few other jobs, like grabbing prepaids from some chick and delivering them to the person she owes. Most of the industry uses them.
The only thing that gets in the way of this fast-paced, fun little post-cyberpunk romp then, is kind of the pacing. Livingston can turn a phrase and I think wrote Akuba very well. I have not read much cyberpunk where male authors do great jobs with female protagonists — it's a plus. She's a PoC, she doesn't let Issac the well-meaning, mansplaining, helpy-helperton tell her what's what. And the dialogue has a purpose; telling us about her not him.
You had better fucking believe I get top-shelf. Life is going to kill me tomorrow. I’ve got to enjoy what I’ve got before it’s taken from me. And if you’ve got a problem with that, then leave me alone.
If the scenes had more time to linger or it just felt like more time had been passing, I think it would have been to its credit. As is, though, it's really enjoyable. I liked the terminology, I liked the new tech, mostly revolving around a cycle of debt (and some stigmatism around it), the bombardment of advertisements; the confluence of drones, surveillance, and the globe-trotting aspects. I liked that it was not set in America but in a multitude of other places. In fact, adding in detail about these unique and interesting places, perhaps with some additional prose, may have really added to the enjoyment.
Don’t you talk to me about debt. You think you know what debt is? Debt is an abusive husband. Everyone says ‘why don't you just leave him, why don’t you be strong’ but you can’t. He’ll follow you and make it worse. He shows up at your work drunk and angry. He calls your family in the middle of the night and tells them lies about you. He’s in your finances. He’s got your passwords. He threatens your friends to find out where you are. Until you’re up four nights straight trying to build up the strength to check your email, I don’t want to hear another word out of your fucking mouth about debt.
It's better than average, has something to say, is actually cyberpunk, and has a solid female protagonist with cool tech and abilities, though. Worth an afternoon read, no doubt!
tomorrow I’m gonna get a call from the bank that they made a mistake about some fee and now I owe them five. What do you think that does to people psychologically?