LeaderCorp didn’t care about people. Everything was a transaction to them. If the cost exceeded their benefit, there was no point.
The Shining Wall, by Melissa Ferguson, imagines a future dystopia that mashes together all the worst possible scenarios from a deeply humanised perspective – climate change, human destruction (increased radiation levels are mentioned), exploitation of the poor, genetic engineering and advanced tech.
The story opens with Alida carrying her mother’s dead body to the bio-recycler while trying to figure out how she and her young sister, Graycie, will survive in the Demi-Settlements without her mother’s income.
Inside the ‘shining wall’ full Citizens live genetically enhanced lives under the strict rules of LeaderCorp. Their servants are cloned Neandertals, bred and raised for compliance.
Outside the wall, Demi-Citizens barely survive in the sprawling slums. They rely on handouts from LeaderCorp for basics like clean water; and even that is recycled from their own bodily waste.
The Shining Wall is told from multiple points of view which are brilliantly written. From the very start of each chapter I knew who I was with as the language varied wonderfully between them.
Shuqba is a cloned Neo-Neandertal trained to be a security officer inside the city. She finds the reality of how the rules are implemented very different to what her training taught her. After trying to stop her Sapien colleague from beating a Demi-Citizen to death on her first shift, she’s exiled to the Demi-Settlements, where she meets Alida. Unlike most of the Sapiens, who view Shuqba as an unholy animal who stole their jobs inside the wall, Alida sees the human side of Shuqba.
Ferrassie is also a cloned Neo-Neandertal, but has been genetically coded to be a mere factory worker. It’s clear to the reader that she’s not very bright, but she’s convinced herself she was meant for better things and there has been a terrible mistake. Her convictions will lead her into serious danger.
Voices from the mega-wealthy – the Citizens – have been omitted from The Shining Wall. We only ever see glimpses of them, through the eyes of the less fortunate. It’s clear, however, that nobody in this system is happy. While the Citizens have great wealth which gives them a comfortable existence, they still must abide by the oppressive rules prescribed by LeaderCorp. To break the rules is to risk exile to the Demi-Settlements.
The Shining Wall is a great reminder that what people really want is safety, sustenance, human connection and relative autonomy. A life that’s lacking in any of these is bound to turn sour after enough time.
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