Book cover: Prime Meridian - Silvia Moreno Garcia (a young Mexican woman in a space suit)Amelia lives in Mexico City, crowded into a tiny apartment with her sister and her resentment. She makes ends meet as a friend-for-hire, dreaming of a future on Mars that seems ever further out of reach. But when a new client turns out to be her wealthy ex, Amelia’s options seem as though they might open up.

There’s a candour about Prime Meridian that won me over from the start. Amelia glowers off the page, her daily frustrations and challenges all too familiar to anyone desperate to hang on to their dreams when faced with an uncaring world. This is a future so near you can smell it, made up of daily trade-offs – the value of Amelia’s time vs the cost of reaching her clients; the need for privacy vs the expense of drinking coffee in cafes; friendships vs social utility. She navigates snobbery and casual sexism, avoiding the gangs as assiduously as she avoids her sister.

It’s hard not to consider Amelia as lonely as she is frustrated, stewing in her own self-loathing. She takes money from people she despises because it’s still better than any of the dead-end jobs her sister keeps pushing her at.

All of which makes this novella sound dreary and depressing, but it’s not – just as Amelia isn’t unlikeable in spite of her hard edges and uncompromising pragmatism. I fast found myself rooting for her, perhaps because – even though we’re seeing them through Amelia’s bias – the people she interacts with seem entirely deserving of her disdain.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia depicts her supporting cast mercilessly without ever stuttering into caricature: Fernanda’s uncaring showboating; Anastasia’s snide, undermining comments; the solicitous yet somehow disinterested attention of Elías, who seems to be more attached to his idea of Amelia than the reality of who she is and what she wants.

Easily the most likeable member of the cast is Amelia’s client Lucía, an aging B-movie actress who is as fascinated by Mars as Amelia herself. Her memories of shooting cult movies with billowing dresses and rayguns, space pirates and out-of-place Vikings add a vibrancy and warmth to the story – and leave their mark on Amelia, drawing her out of her protective shell. Lucía’s Mars is as fictional as the girl on the Visit Mars billboard Amelia stares at; but both seem at times more real than the actual colony beyond Amelia’s reach.

This is arguably not SFnal at all in spite of its near-future setting and love affair with the Red Planet, but I’d urge any SF reader to pick it up. I enjoyed it for its tone of voice and the skill with which Moreno-Garcia captures her cast in the briefest of vignettes. It cements my desire to read all of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work – this has nothing but its setting in common with Certain Dark Things, and I’m fascinated by the literary edges and chameleon qualities of her work.

****

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Prime Meridian will be released in summer 2018.