*I received a free copy of this book and short story, with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: As civilization has slowly crumbled, Katherine Miles has led a life of privilege—but also one of preparation. Now, under the ominous shadow of a society coming apart at the seams, her mettle will be tested for the first time.
This prequel short story is a triptych portraying how Kat became a hero.
I am going to differ from many of the other reviews I have read, by saying that I personally would read this short story AFTER Critical Contingencies!
Chronologically it is set before the events in Book 1 of the Slowpocalypse series, but without having met Kat first and got to know her character in the context of the main action of the series, this short story feels a little uneventful, whereas as backstory for a familiar character it provides a great insight for fans.
The story is framed as a triptych, with three snapshots of Kat’s development; from her initial training sessions, through an unofficial safety intervention, and finally to an official intervention as a Security officer for the FURC. These scenes show Kat’s strong moral compass and willingness to intervene at her own risk, and give a little more detail about the privilege of her upbringing.
I felt this story made a nice bonus for fans of the series, but doesn’t really stand alone for those unfamiliar with the setup of the compound and characters.
Blurb: Everything will change. But the moment has been prepared for.
Katherine Miles and David Belue, students at the first Federal University and Research Complex in central Florida, face a new and dangerous reality when the compound is sealed to keep the facilities out of the hands of a secessionist governor. Each will try in their own way to protect the community from threats without and within, and that could cost them their lives…
(Previously published as Certain Hypothetical.)
Critical Contingencies is dystopian fiction of a subtler kind than I have come across before – I now better understand why the series is called ‘Slowpocalypse’.
The plot centres around political espionage: with the Governor of Florida announcing the state’s secession from the US, and those in charge of FURC (Federal University and Research Complex) determined to protect the compound from the power grab underway by sealing it off from the outside world. We follow Kat and David, both children of authority figures within FURC, as they separately investigate the possibility of betrayal within the compound and try to prevent their parents’ ’empire’ from being handed over to the enemy without.
There is a definite vibe of both Homeland and 24 here in terms of the unfolding plot, but with less of the dramatic action that characterise those shows (terrorists, bombs, gunfights). Here the danger is to political and personal freedom rather than to life and limb… initially anyway! The pace is quite slow; exploring the two main characters individually before eventually bringing them together as events reach their climax.
Kat and David make an interesting pair. They come from similar backgrounds superficially and both have a very strong moral compass that drives them to do the right thing at great personal risk. However Kat is decisive, confident and keen to take action and David is cautious, studious and lacks faith in himself. It will be interesting to see how their different approaches pan out in future plots in the series.
The only slight issue I had here is related to the worldbuilding. James Litherland has created a realistic, near-future isolation scenario for his dystopia which works really well and feels authentic. It is clear that he has fully fleshed out this society, how it works and why, but these background details are not part of the immediate story and so the book does not dwell on them. This does help to keep the plot tightly focused but can leave the reader feeling a little lost as to setting details like the layout and purpose of FURC, why there is so much urgency about sealing FURC off from the rest of the world, what are the other compounds mentioned and how are they all related, and so on. My impression is the author knows the answers to all of these worldbuilding questions, but that knowledge has not fully translated into the story, leaving the reader feeling like they have come in to events part-way through.
The whole concept of the locked-down compound, with its survivalist and political issues, is a fascinating one and Litherland has done an excellent job of creating a believable world and engaging characters. Fans of well-written, slow-burning, political intrigue will definitely enjoy this series.
Miles sighed. “But we have more urgent worries than the threats from enemies within. We dare not move against them until we’ve dealt with the larger problem – the governor attempting to take over by force.”
“With all your preparations, Jon, the protocols weren’t designed to protect us against the kind of assault Roberts can launch with the State National Guard at his disposal.”
Miles nodded. “There are some pieces in place, though. We couldn’t have done more – it would’ve been obvious, and ruined everything. So now we’ll have to use a slow lure.”
– James Litherland, Critical Contingencies