Oshibana Complex by Craig Hallam

"Nations have come together. Gender and race are petty concerns of the past. But not everything is well in Shika-One.

Humanity can no longer procreate and has to synthesize future generations. But there aren’t many genetic templates to go around and meeting yourself on the street is a daily occurrence. With so many people wearing the same face, the synths of Shika-One strive for individuality in a world where stepping out of line can lead to the shredder.

In this pulsing neon world lives Xev and eir friends, all hard-working synths who maintain their designations to earn the XP to live and hope to afford the holographic shams that cover up their similarities. That is, until a new synth makes Xev start to ask big questions that might upset the status quo."

Oshibana Complex follows Xev through eir life in Shika-One, which is a dome designed to protect what remains of humanity from the harsh environmental conditions on Earth. Everyone in Shika-One is a clone based off of a few original templates, but there are only so many templates, so everyone strives for individuality to keep from running into someone with the same face. Everyone lives, works, and dies in Shika-One and one day is depressingly similar to all the others. Work is mind-numbingly repetitive and the cost of messing up are high. Xev starts the book with training a new "synth" (or clone) at eir job at the Burger Stop. What Xev doesn't realize is that eir world is about to be turned upside down, and e will have to question what makes life... life?

This book was one of those that I finished and had to sit with for a minute because the ending was, WOW. Since then, I just keep thinking about this one, it was so well done! It took my brain a minute to settle around reading a story where everyone in the book is non-binary, but once it did, it was really amazing. There were a lot of really sad, and soul-crushing moments for Xev, but I really really loved this vision of the future where gender just doesn't exist. This book tackles some really heavy meaning of life stuff as well, and I feel in the space of this book the answers were really satisfying. I also loved the hints that the soundtrack to this story was 80s synthpop. Because being able to cue up just that playlist and listen to it while reading was perfection. I could FEEL the neon in this one!

Out of curiosity, I looked up what "Oshibana" meant since it's not immediately clear from the story. And I found this definition from Wikipedia: "Oshibana is the art of using pressed flowers and other botanical materials to create an entire picture from these natural elements." It's certainly an intriguing title for this book in this context, but this review will remain spoiler-free so I'll leave it at that.

“We’ve been left behind like an old-timey headstone, just to show that the human race was once here. We replay the same days with the same faces, more like a recording than a life. And the synths out there just sit like shams on the merry-go-round, letting it happen as long as everything keeps spinning and the ones who fall off are someone else.”

– Craig Hallam, Oshibana Complex

I highly recommend this one! If you need a gritty neon, dystopian cyberpunk future where gender is a thing of the past that really makes you think, you should definitely pick this one up. Oshibana Complex is available for pre-order on Amazon or from Inspired Quill now! This book is set to be released in one week on September 26th, 2020.

A free copy of this book was provided to me by Inspired Quill and author Craig Hallam in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: lgbtqia+, cyberpunk, sci-fi

Representation: non-binary MC (and everyone else)

Content Warnings: suicide (mentioned), drugs, character death, violence, gore, depression, panic attack