a review by Nalini Haynes
Black Glass begins with Tally (aged 13) and Grace (aged 15) are sisters who are dragged around rural areas by their father Max, who keeps relocating his drug lab until he blows the roof off the house with himself inside. Grace thinks Tally was inside, so she is now alone. Grace follows their dream of going to the city, hitchhiking to get there. Once there, she finds some sympathetic people who help her until she lands a job. Tally hitchhikes to the city too, searching for Grace.
Unfortunately, with the loss of the mobile phone, and no friends or family to fall back on, Tally and Grace live separate lives; Grace with her guilt and grief, Tally with her fruitless search while she is assimilated into the homeless community, such as it is. Documentation is essential for true assimilation into the city, and without this documentation homeless kids like Tally and Grace are at risk of predators posing traditional and non-traditional threats to their well-being.
Milk is a manipulator, working behind the scenes using light, scent and sounds to alter moods. Milk prefers to work behind black glass, in anonymity, while he increases casino profits from gambling. This career grows as business and government begin to utilise Milk’s skills. Other characters are key to the story, both by participating in events and revealing the nature of the society, but I don’t want to reveal too much here.
The name of the city is never mentioned in Black Glass, to create a sense of ‘everycity’ just as Willie Loman was ‘everyman’. Mundell uses Melbourne as her backdrop, because she is writing what she knows to give a sense of place. This has enabled her to launch from the present into the future, building a realistic city of the future.
At first I focused more on the style of writing, looking for clues to explain the structure of headings with scene location and characters. Questions arose for me: is Black Glass supposed to be a government or media record after the fact? Is this about survelliance? What is going on here? So in the beginning I focused more on the style than the content, but it wasn’t long before I began to focus more on the characters as their stories unfolded.
After this beginning, I found myself hooked; Tally and Grace were vulnerable and skirting the edge of disaster, Milk comes across like your (kind of) average nerd working at his job (but with consequences), Damon and Luella’s interactions had sinister outworkings… This was a novel where there were few actual villains and yet the impact of characters’ actions could be profound. Current issues (like the trains and attitudes to race) were incorporated well, as was the concept of a global ID net. Plot twists surprise the reader as momentum gathers to the climatic ending. If you enjoy serious SF, especially dystopian novels, then Black Glass is a highly recommended read.
If you live outside of Australia, Scribe caters for international sales at its website.
This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.