Listen to or download this article:
In a dystopian future, two young women struggle for livelihood, love, and a better future in the very altered city of Seattle.
Sarah Igarashi came to Seattle out of desperation in 1949. World War II has ended, but not as described in our history books. It was won through the invasion of Japan by American military aided by metal robots known as Iron Boys, an invention of a manufacturing genius, Robert Sinclair. Sarah sees in the lights and new transportation systems of Seattle while she attempts to reunite with her cousin Penelope.
Both young women survived the internment camps during the war, but Penny, receiving the bulk of the family inheritance, lives in a large house shared by other relatives – a luxury compared to anything Sarah has ever known. She will have to work and pay rent to Penelope, which will mean long, dreary shifts in a Sinclair factory for pennies a day.
As Sarah begins to see what America has become, she longs for something better. Forced out on her own, she discovers that immigrants like herself are targets of violence and oppression. But a group calling itself the Patriots is quietly initiating a rumble of rebellion, speaking out for equality in a society that has become increasingly stratified. Sarah is gradually drawn to them despite the danger of involvement and the over-reaching power of the Sinclair-dominated system.
Awarding winning author Sarmiento was raised in the Pacific Northwest and has lived in Japan, so the settings and the diverse cultures of this fascinating fantasy are well within her ken. The most curious and attractive feature of her novel is that the plot is based around family failings and restarts, with the futuristic twists serving more as background and color for the personalities and their clashes and reconciliations. Instead of being “about” the new technologies that have changed the world for better or worse, as is generally the case in future fiction, The Fortune Follies is about people seeking comfort, safety, and some hope of success in an unpromising atmosphere of gloom and overarching avarice.
Japanese speech, characters, and culture provide a further layer of interest. The reader will see Penny’s search for love, slowly warming her cold, arrogant exterior, while Sarah’s determination to stop the greed machine will overcome her need for personal security. Though their differences are notable and a source of constant tension, both women find solace in music.
Sarmiento’s broad vision makes this novel work, with careful and smart details as the treatment of immigrants and the poor still rankle in today’s real America. The reader could envision a sequel involving a war between people and machines, but that, of course, if up to the author.
The Fortune Follies won First Place in the CIBA 2018 CYGNUS Awards for Science Fiction novels.