Review: Phreak by JE Solo

Book cover of Phreak by JE Solo with shadow of a person in hoodie against a chainlink fence

In Phreak, the new science fiction novel by J. E. Solo (Twitter link), global warming and environmental devastation have led to a bleak dystopian future. A fascist government is in control in Newfoundland, corporations produce fake meat products with groanworthy trademarks after many animal species have gone extinct, and society is on the brink of collapse. Into this world, “an unusually sensitive child is born,” and as they grow up, their acts of resistance result in, at great personal cost, glimmers of hope.

I was already intrigued by the novel’s premise when I was offered a digital Advanced Readers Copy of Phreak by publisher House of ZoloPhreak starts grounded in the childhood memories of the unnamed, nonbinary protagonist mapping the story of their life onto a terrain that turns out to be far less abstract than I initially thought. Science fiction elements are kept to a minimum, at first, as we get to know the protagonist, their quirky and flawed family, and the equally fascinating characters they encounter throughout their life. The novel dwells in these personal moments and vignettes from the protagonist’s life against the backdrop of a technologically advanced but fallen world, while narrative threads and fascinating worldbuilding play out in unexpected ways.

Phreak often worked against my narrative expectations with its fragmented, time-jumping, and vignette-style approach, and in the process delivered a singular character whose clear and deeply felt recollections warn us how close we are to delivering a similarly bleak future to the next generation. You’ll want to get your hands on this novel as soon as possible.

Phreak is available in digital formats (EPUB, Kindle, and PDF) now and print soon.

The author is also taking a virtual book tour, and read Chapter 1 in Second Life on April 30, 2020. Here’s the recording on YouTube.