Another from my list of 2023 books, this is a book review of World Running Down by Al Hess, an LGBTQ+ romance set in post-apocalyptic Utah! The novel came out on Feb 14, 2023, from Angry Robot, and it’s a sweet, heart-warming novel jam-packed with queer rep!
What is World Running Down About?
Valentine Weis is a salvager in the future wastelands of Utah. Wrestling with body dysphoria, he dreams of earning enough money to afford citizenship in Salt Lake City – a utopia where the testosterone and surgery he needs to transition is free, the food is plentiful, and folk are much less likely to be shot full of arrows by salt pirates. But earning that kind of money is a pipe dream, until he meets the exceptionally handsome Osric.
Once a powerful AI in Salt Lake City, Osric has been forced into an android body against his will and sent into the wasteland to offer Valentine a job on behalf of his new employer – an escort service seeking to retrieve their stolen androids. The reward is a visa into the city, and a chance at the life Valentine’s always dreamed of. But as they attempt to recover the “merchandise”, they encounter a problem: the android ladies are becoming self-aware, and have no interest in returning to their old lives.
The prize is tempting, but carrying out the job would go against everything Valentine stands for, and would threaten the fragile found family that’s kept him alive so far. He’ll need to decide whether to risk his own dream in order to give the AI a chance to live theirs.
Before I get into it, while described as “post-apocalyptic,” it’s such in the way Judge Dredd or the game Borderlands is post-apocalyptic: Salt Lake City is still a functioning city but with wastelands surrounding it. The city has barricaded itself, and the areas around are left to fend for themselves. We’re given a very loose backstory on why this is the case – it has something to do with how, years prior, generation ships left earth behind, taking with them presumably law and order, and the cities thus became insular. The lack of detail on this wasn’t a problem for me. It’s not explained in the classic 80s movie Cherry 2000 either, and that movie is one of my top three favourite post-apocalyptic B-movies.
In fact, a great deal of World Running Down reminded me of that movie. It, too, has insular modern cities surrounded by wasteland. It, too, deals with androids (though not about A.I. sentience), and it, too, has a wasteland mercenary as a main character. Yet, that movie is mainly pulp action with a bit of a love story, whereas this one is mainly a love story with a bit of action. As such, this is not so much a post-apocalyptic book with a love story than an LGBTQ+ love story with a bit of post-apocalyptic flair.
A lot of the novel deals with body dysphoria: first, Valentine’s, as he’s a trans man that hasn’t been able to transition, so the female aspect of his anatomy causes him great distress, and he’s often misgendered by others; and second, Osric’s, as he’s an A.I. foisted into an android body, so he shares a similar distaste with his own body. There are also themes of bad friendships and A.I. sentience and what that means about consent.
More About This Love Story
In terms of the love story, it’s human and android – the Terminator-style of robot that’s like human skin over an exoskeleton.
While I enjoyed their romance and thought Hess did a great job of giving them understandable foils in said romance, I found Osric a little … boring. Valentine had a fully-fleshed personality, but Osric was a bit flat for me. Maybe he was supposed to be – as he even mentions being a boring person at one point, or perhaps he is such to provide a balance for Valentine’s often profusion of emotions (an aspect of what I perceived was his neurodivergence). Either way, I think their relationship was fun, sweet, and had good tension.
In terms of the story, while I was engaged and the story moves at a fast pace, it doesn’t have an overly-intricate plotline. My interest was piqued, but I wanted a bit more depth or time with the A.I. sentience story. While I do love character-focused novels, and the love story is the main focus, I could have used a bit more twists in the storyline.
Overall, World Running Down is a thoroughly enjoyable and thoughtful read with a cute-as-heck love story, poignant themes, and a fun setting! Definitely recommended!
You can purchase the book on Amazon or wherever you get your reading material!
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