In China, sometime in the near future, Silicon Isle has become the place where the world’s electronic trash is shipped for recycling. The land is heavily polluted, migrant workers are exploited by three ruling clans, an American company is trying to get a foot in the door, ecoterrorists are determined to disrupt the operation, and a biological weapon may lead to the evolution of mankind.
The first half of this book is just excellent. The setting is a future where cybernetics are much more advanced, body modifications are the norm, and virtual drugs offer escape from the harsh reality. However, as always, the more things change the more they stay the same. Greed and hunger for power reign supreme, the environment is sacrificed on the altar of consumerism, the division between the classes, in this case the migrant workers and the locals, lead to social tensions, and big corporations try to take over the economy of developing countries by making empty promises of profit and advancement for all. At the same time, people are not quite ready to let go of the old ways, meaning that for all the technological progress mysticism, folklore, and traditions still refuse to give way despite their staleness. The social commentary is astute and on point while providing a realistic and intriguing background for the story to unfold in front of. The two main characters, one a migrant worker and the other a translator working for the American company, are interesting and likeable, and their lovestory is believable and engaging enough.
So, the stage is set beautifully and the plot is chugging along nicely until the whole thing goes of the rails completely in the second half. The book goes over the top with extensive violence and fighting happening over many pages, and rather unbelievable things suddenly being possible without much of an explanation. The action is ramped up to eleven to the detriment of the plot and the character arcs. After the deft setup in the first half all this feels unbearably conventional and, for me at least, boring. The shift is so sudden and jarring that it practically killed all of my interest.
Although it is a book that sadly falls short of its potential, it is still absolutely worth reading. Putting one of the most important problems of our time, trash and all that it entails, at the centre of this tale and treating it as the complex issue it is alone deserves a lot of praise and also some lenience.