One good thing came out of feeling quite unwell recently; I picked up a book to distract me. I needed something easy to follow and not too pretentious or deep. I picked this up because of the review excerpt used on the front that said it would remind the reader why they loved sci-fi in the first place. I am a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, but I find it can be challenging to work though all of the mediocre to find the best books. Although the book was dumped in the adults section, I noticed in the inside cover it said “teen”. I decided to get it anyway, some of the children’s and teen literature in English is amazing, certainly in comparison to the reams of uninteresting adult literature I find myself having to trawl through to find something that will hold my broken attention.
The book is set in a future version of what appears to be earth inhabited by numerous species alongside man which survive by hunting each other. Each inhabits its own section of the land and makes forays into that of others to hunt. When unable to hunt, species trade members of their own group with those of another to eat. Amongst humans, those who can hunt and work and valued and those who start to age or become disabled in any way are encouraged to volunteer to exchange themselves with other species as food for their tribe.
In this world we are introduced to Stopmouth, a young man ridiculed because of his stammer and seen as a potential volunteer for his tribe unless he can bring back significant amounts of food. In the midst of one such hunt for food, a beautiful young woman falls out of the sky (or roof as it is called), bringing with her knowledge of healing and tantalising hints of the origins of the tribe and of a more “civilised” tribe of humans beyond the “roof”
I find that the best sci-fi takes something recognisable and familiar and mixes it with elements that are completely new or alien. In this way we buy into the world and can bring ourselves to believe the strange elements. In The Inferior, the world we are introduced to is almost completely unrecognisable. It took me quite a way into the book to get an understanding of the way the tribe worked and understand a bit more about the woman – Indrani.
The book starts by establishing the state of the world and then turns into the story of a journey. It is very creative in the range of species and their characteristics and details about the customs and lives of the tribe. I found this an easy read that I got through in a few hours. In my enthusiasm for the tribes back story and of Indrani’s origins I raced through the book.
By the end I was keen for the characters to survive and to do well and I had gained some insight, but still was left with far more questions than answers.
This book raises some uncomfortable questions about who can really be described as civilised, how far we can go to protect our tribe and our lives and about the eating of flesh of other sentient species.