Image: Random House
In my opinion, Hugo Award winner Will McIntosh is one of the most underrated speculative fiction authors writing today. What I find most appealing about his work is that although his novels are often expanded from earlier short stories, he never writes the same book twice. Other than falling under the comprehensive umbrella of “soft” or social science fiction, his four adult novels to date — Soft Apocalypse, Hitchers, Love Minus Eighty, and Defenders — bear little resemblance to one another in terms of themes or subject matter.
With Burning Midnight, McIntosh does something different again, dipping his toes in the lucrative waters of young adult genre fiction. The set up is only mildly dystopian, without a totalitarian government in sight. Instead McIntosh focuses on the widening poverty gap between the everyman and ruthless, monopolistic corporations.
In the near future of the book, people hunt for, buy, and sell mysterious coloured spheres capable of bestowing anything from enhanced abilities, to super human gifts on their custodians when “burned”. (To do this, you need a matching pair, which are then held to the temples until the colour begins to fade.) The rarer a colour, the greater its power, creating a system in which only the wealthy can afford the physical and intellectual advantages burning spheres brings.
Although lighter on social commentary than McIntosh’s previous works, likely due to the fact that it was written for a younger audience, Burning Midnight still makes some interesting points about the ethics of burning spheres, especially in relation to the worlds of academia and competitive sports.
If you’re thinking the spheres sound too good to be true, it won’t surprise you to hear that they are. The whole time I was reading I waited for the other shoe to drop, yet I was still caught off guard by the “Monkey’s Paw”-style horrors that befall “burners” in later chapters.
Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh is now available for pre-order and will be published by Delacorte Press on February 2, 2016.
Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reading Copy from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.