Graft by Matt Hill (Angry Robot Books-Feb. 2, 2016)-An augmented woman named Y is at the center of this unusual, beautifully written SF tale. The Manchester of 2025 is a rough, dangerous one, and people get by the best they can, and this often includes crime. Sol and his partner Irish are no exception. They run their own chop shop and do ok, but when Irish decides to carjack a luxury car, Sol has no choice but to go along, and what Sol later finds in the trunk will change his life. When Sol discovers Y in the trunk of the stolen car, she’s wrapped in clingfilm, with feeding tubes in place, and Sol is horrified. He does his best to free her and make her comfortable, but he has no idea what he should do. He takes her to his home, and removes the staples from her mouth, and ponders what the next step should be. Obviously someone will be looking for her, and Sol assumes these people aren’t good guys. They’re not. Not even a little bit. He’ll find that out soon enough. What follows is alternately horrible, wondrous, and heartwrenching and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it.
Sol and Y’s bid for safety is interspersed with the story of how Y came to be; how she came to have three arms and superhuman strength, her kindness with her “brothers and sisters” and horror at the hands of the “makers”, who are employed by a very creepy, very bad dude called the Manor Lord. He wears human teeth on his cape. I think that pretty much says it all. This all isn’t just fun with bionics and augmentation, oh no, Y and those like her are made to order for very rich, very strange, very BAD people. It’s human trafficking on a futuristic, unspeakable scale, and unfortunately, not too hard to imagine. Sol’s estranged wife, Mel, who runs a brothel, gets an offer to have a trial period with one of their creations, and is horrified at what she gets. She’s eventually called on to help Sol and Y, and may have the chance forge a path to her own sort of freedom. Sol and Y also get help from an unlikely source: a hired gun named Roy that’s disgusted with his past and doesn’t care much for his future, other than to maybe earn a bit of redemption where he can get it.
Sol and Y are two of the most complex creations in SFF that I’ve read in a long time. The scene where Sol gently removes Y’s staples is intimate and poignant and his awkward, stumbling attempts to help her are lovely in their depiction of simple human kindness, the need to make another not hurt. As Y begins to trust Sol, and finds herself, and spreads her wings, Sol finds a sense of purpose that he hasn’t had in a long time. We also get a glimpse of Sol and Mel’s relationship before it fell apart, and the love that they still have for each other, even though it’s over, is obvious, even if neither would admit it. Even Roy gets his own story, outside of these events, but his is told in a more visceral way, but it suits him. He’s kind of a visceral guy.
Y can’t speak and she communicates in gesture and audible clicks, and the odd, but very real, friendship between her and Sol is really the exposed, beating heart of this fantastic, devastating book. Hill builds a future that none of us wants, and gives us, in Sol and Y, people that strive to be their best in a brutal, unforgiving world. Y’s reclaiming of herself, her body, her agency, her mind, and ultimately, her heart is glorious to behold, and even though this story isn’t wrapped in a pretty bow, it’s ok, because we, as readers get to fall in love with these amazing characters, who strive toward the light even in the darkest of circumstances. I’ve never read anything like this, and I suspect I never will. This gorgeous, heartbreaking book will stay with you long after you finish it. Matt Hill is a huge talent and I can’t wait to see what he has in store next.