by Su J. Sokol
Deux Voiliers Publishing, 2014
Cycling to Asylum is a strange and mostly successful blend of various genres. It opens with several chapters of light science fiction, set in a version of New York City in the near future. Screens are everywhere; paper has become an expensive rarity. There are holo maps and holo-boards, phaser rods, and holographic bumper stickers.
“Below me, the newest zip-and-soar yachts mix with older ferries and sailboats. Above, mini-balloons hover and swoop, a colorful counterpoint to the security drones.”
Hostile police are all over the city, eager to crack down for an authoritarian state. The writing can be crude. The morning is “hot as a bitch,” pain is later compared to sandpaper over an open wound, air-conditioning is “like a splash of cold water on my face.” In other words, the writing is good but not quite up to the standards of literary fiction. That said, there is still plenty of storytelling to enjoy and the dialogue is particularly strong. The science fiction largely provides the backdrop to the story and the reasons for Laek, the history teacher with an activist past, fleeing the country with Janie, an activist lawyer, and their two kids, Siri and Simon.
“I’m a teacher,” Laek thinks to himself. “But what have I taught? Are these kids ready for what awaits them? For what they’ll find outside the protective walls of our school? My eyes scan the crowd. Even fewer have made it to graduation day than we’d thought. The dropouts are doing mandatory military — fodder for the war du jour. Those who aren’t in jail.”
This is the world they are keen to leave behind once Laek’s past threatens to catch up to him. Montreal has declared itself an international sanctuary city and they head there, trading in New York, “my city, in all its awfulness” for “something a little less awful, maybe.” Once there, the science fiction is largely forgotten, replaced by a more traditional tale of immigrants settling into a new country. Everything is new: a new language, new schools, new friends, new jobs, new weather (“My tears are turning to ice! My eyelashes are frozen!”). The usual story, in other words, with little new for readers to sink their teeth into, Montreal’s role as New Métropolis aside. But there is still a dash of young adult drama to come — each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the four main characters, two adults and two children — and in the end we’re happy to hop off the saddle in their company as they strive to better themselves and make the world a better place.
Review by Peter McCambridge