Book review: The Enclave, by Anne Charnock

9 07 2017

Anne Charnock is a British science fiction author and former journalist whose three novels to date (A Calculated Life, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind, and Dreams Before the Start of Time) all involve near-future extrapolations of present-day society. She’s been shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award and the Kitschies, and has also featured in ‘best-of’ lists.

TheEnclave

Charnock’s novella The Enclave is set in the same imagined future as her debut novel A Calculated Life (which is on my TBR pile) but explores a different set of characters and can, I think, usefully be treated as a standalone. Caleb is a twelve-year-old migrant, possibly an orphan (he’s not sure if his mother is still alive), who’s rescued from the refugees and the gangs by Skylark, a ‘talent scout’ for rooftop janitor and recycled-clothing entrepreneur Ma Lexie. Caleb—whose talent for needlework accrues from early experience as an assistant, and then a successor, to his mother’s improvised surgical work among the bands of refugees fleeing France for the relative security of northern England—is an ‘organic’, a base-level human who has not been subjected to the widespread ‘inoculations’ which are tailored to induce heightened aptitude, docility, and loyalty. All Caleb wants is security, and a chance to learn his mother’s fate, but Ma Lexie sees him as a meal ticket and perhaps as something more.

This is a gritty small-canvas exploration of an unsettlingly possible dystopia, and save for the background detail of ‘inoculations’ would qualify as ‘mundane SF’. By focussing so tightly on Caleb and Ma Lexie—there are other important characters, but they’re less sharply defined—Charnock pares the story down in a way that underplays it in the moment, but leaves it riven with undercurrents. It’s disturbing and effective.

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