Gabino Iglesias Reviews Midnight, Water City by Chris McKinney
Midnight, Water City, Chris McKinney (Soho Crime 978-1-64129-240-5, $27.95, 312pp, hc) July 2021. Cover by Vlado Krizan and Janine Agro.
What would happen if the world was turned upside-down and submerged in the ocean? That’s the first guiding question in Chris McKinney’s Midnight, Water City, an SF novel with one foot in whodunits and the other one in classic noir. There are more questions, of course, but that first one perfectly encapsulates McKinney’s wild imagination as well as the unique setting of this novel.
Akira Kimura, the scientist responsible for saving the world from obliteration by preventing its seemingly inevitable collision with the asteroid Sessho-seki, is dead. The year is 2142 and, more than a renowned scientist, Kimura has achieved deity status, so her death comes as a shock to the entire world, especially because people live longer and crime isn’t as rampant as it once was. The man who finds her is a beloved friend and police detective who was in charge of her security for a long time and had started doing so again recently after Kimura felt her wellbeing was in danger. When he finds Kimura dismembered and frozen at home, the investigation sets him on a path that might cost him his marriage, his career, and even his life.
Midnight, Water City operates on two levels. The first is the surface, where McKinney seamlessly intertwines elements of hardboiled noir like a rough protagonist, violence, a dead person and no clues, life in prison, and an ongoing investigation, with classic SF elements like holographic art, top-notch technology that allows people to exchange their organs for new ones regularly, and entire cities under the surface of the ocean where people use vehicles that work as submarines but can also fly out of the water and traverse the sky. This part is pulpy, incredibly imaginative, and a lot of fun to read. However, what makes this narrative a must-read is the second level, where McKinney delves deep – no pun intended – into humanity in the future and how people haven’t been able to move past social classes, crime, the cult of personality, and climate change. In fact, there are certain parts where the narrator remembers what happened once the threat of the asteroid Sessho-seki was announced, and the reaction was akin to what happened with the COVID-19 pandemic:
Thought camps began to form. Consciousness nuts. Multiverse kooks. Religious zealots. Alien invasion conspiracy theorists. Gravity haters. Dozens of them. And no matter what camp, all it took was a fifteen-minute holo to sell a kid on a camp for fucking life. After watching a random fifteen-minute spiel on something they knew nothing about, performed by someone who barely knew more than they did, the kid would defend that camp’s theory to the death.
Midnight, Water City is futuristic and dark. It pushes humanity to a better place but doesn’t forget that there are flaws we might carry forward as we live longer and healthier lifestyles and begin to finally move past things like racism and homophobia. McKinney understand that the best way to create believable characters is to make them flawed, because that makes them human, and he excels at it. And he does this within the context of a novel that is clearly SF but has a heart made of noir. The way the narrator recounts his life, the crime at the center of the narrative, and the way secret agendas and murder come to play huge roles in the tale all point to a deep appreciation of the way noir often dips its toes in nihilism.
Midnight, Water City is one of those rare novels that will satisfy fans of crime fiction as well as diehard lovers of classic SF. McKinney is a talented storyteller who created an all-too-real world under the ocean that feels perfectly plausible and yet entirely new. However, despite all this, perhaps this novel’s biggest accomplishment is that it kicks off a trilogy with style and will surely leave readers eagerly awaiting for the next one.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, professor, and book reviewer living in Austin TX. He is the author of Zero Saints and Coyote Songs and the editor of Both Sides. His work has been nominated to the Bram Stoker and Locus Awards and won the Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel in 2019. His short stories have appeared in a plethora of anthologies and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and CrimeReads. His work has been published in five languages, optioned for film, and praised by authors as diverse as Roxane Gay, David Joy, Jerry Stahl, and Meg Gardiner. His reviews appear regularly in places like NPR, Publishers Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Criminal Element, Mystery Tribune, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other print and online venues. He’s been a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards twice and has judged the PANK Big Book Contest, the Splatterpunk Awards, and the Newfound Prose Prize. He teaches creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.
This review and more like it in the October 2021 issue of Locus.
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