This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.
This is a very short story (56 pages in Bluefire reader on an iPad), and it's less of a sci-fi (notwithstanding the cover which I pay little attention to anyway!) than it is a 'sigh and fie on you!' story, but in the end it was just the right length. Any longer and it would have been padded, and I would not have liked it so much. Any shorter, and it would have been inadequate.
The world this is set (Mexico in the near future) reminded me very much of the kind of world William Gibson created in Neuromancer. This author does it just as well if not better, but here it's nowhere near as hi-tech, so it's more relatable. In this world lives twenty-five-year-old Amelia with the emphasis on old, because that's how she feels. Another two years and she won't be able to make money by selling her blood to old farts who think it will rejuvenate them. Amelia's only dream is of visiting the colony on Mars.
She lives with her sister Marta, who extracts a steep price for her sister's iffy employment prospects by using Amelia very nearly as a full-time baby-sitter and school bus for her kids in lieu of a decent contribution to the rent and food. Other than her blood, Amelia's only utility seems to be through her assignments from the Frienderr app which pairs companions with people in need of one.
Amelia doesn't even do so well at that because she's really not a people person, but she manages to keep a regular gig with an aging B movie actor named Lucía, who likes Amelia to sit with her while they watch her old movies and she talks about them. She's supposedly working on a memoir, but doesn't seem to make much progress.
Things look like they might change for Amelia when her old and wealthy boyfriend Elías shows up, "renting" her company on Frienderr. Amelia feels like she has to go because she really needs the money. It's obvious that her boyfriend wants her back, but you never get the impression that things are going to follow your typical romance novel path, or worse, your typical young-adult author path, especially since when he left before, Elías did so abruptly and without a goodbye.
That's the beauty of this novella, because the author keeps throwing you for a loop as soon as you get comfortable with the way you think this story is going. She never takes the easy path either, and I could see that right from the off, because she wrote it in third person whereas a lesser author (and your typical YA author!) would have gone for worst person voice (aka first person) which would have ruined this story for me, as it has far too many others which I've DNF'd sadly.
You can't enjoy a painting if your nose is pressed to the canvas nor appreciate a posing model by putting their skin under a microscope. There needed to be a certain distance from this character so you could properly enjoy who she was becoming, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia delivered it like an expert sculptor, exposing every graceful curve, chipping steadily down to every artful dimple and shadow with very little waste, nearly every line contributing to the final image of a strong woman, the like of which we see far too little in sci-fi stories.
The sole exception to this, for me was the movie dialog. Some chapters began with a lead-in, in the form of a movie script based on one of the movies Amelia watched with Lucía, but tailored to Amelia's life. I took to skipping these because I felt they took away from the story rather than added to it. If the last one had been left in place, but the rest removed I would have probably ended-up building a santuario religioso to this author! And that's another joy now that I think about it: she's Mexican by birth and uses some Mexican terms in the story without any apology and without a tedious translation en suite. I appreciated that: that she treated her readers like adults, not students who needed to learn a foreign language. It was perfectly done.
I loved this story and I highly recommend it. I shall be looking at other work by this author and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.