THE COURIER'S NEW BICYCLE - Kim Westwood
Not being one for speculative fiction, this isn't a book that I would have sought out, even with its cross-genre aspects. However, THE COURIER'S NEW BICYCLE was being talked about a lot by my fellow Sisters in Crime and, I'm not completely opposed to the occasional foray outside my comfort zone, so all in all the recommendations seemed like a good enough reason to try it out.
It did take a little while to work out the style of the book. Westwood has developed a laid back, ironic, almost gentle sort of a style which initially doesn't quite seem to gel with many aspects of the story. It actually took a little while to grasp how important many of the sub-texts of this story are because of the style. Particularly, as this is not a book that has a happy outlook for our futures. It's profoundly disturbing to think about the lengths that people will go to in their pursuit of personal gratification - in this case post a pandemic that has rendered a large proportion of the population sterile making fertility treatment the new "must have". That "must have" is pursued ethically and unethically, despite the mindless dogma of the religious zealots in charge of government; despite the breathtaking cruelty to other species.
In this world Salisbury Forth, gender transgressive, courier of contraband hormones, is a protagonist with issues unique to this particular time and setting. An activist working to free animals from the cruelty hormone factory farms, Sal is also trying to find love, stay alive in a dangerous place, avoid the worst excesses of the religious oppression of the "other", and keep hearth and home safe. It's almost like Sal has set out to become the ultimate target - flying in the face of the rules and norms of gender, the keeping of certain pet animals, owning a bicycle, working as a courier of contraband hormones (the ethical kind), fighting the source of the unethical kind.
It was also rather surprising to find a bicycle almost a character in the book. In Westwood's future Melbourne a bicycle is a highly sought after article. Sal's love for, and reliance on that bicycle was a palpable and meaningful part of who Sal is.
There is a lot going on in THE COURIER'S NEW BICYCLE, and perhaps it was the slightly laid-back style, but in the early parts of the book I did struggle quite a lot to engage, and to keep up with the unexpectedness, the other-worldliness of the entire world that Westwood is building. As I got a handle on the style, and the breadth of the issues being covered revealed themselves, everything started to work a lot better. For readers who prefer crime / mystery fiction, there is a traditional mystery element to this book, but really, the main point is the view of future Melbourne, the building of an entire world in which human activities happen - life, love, partnership, hate, killing - the whole gamut. Twisted to suit the time and the place and particular circumstances. All of which built people and a place that were often fascinating, not always particularly likeable.
If absolutely nothing else was achieved by reading THE COURIER'S NEW BICYCLE (and that's not accurate), it's a book that certainly made me glad to be on the old woman side of life. As this book describes a future world that I'd want absolutely no part of, I was profoundly relieved to realise I'd be unlikely to live long enough to have to. Which says a lot about the experience of the book.
Salisbury Forth is a courier of contraband in the alleyways of inner Melbourne, a city of fuel rationing, rolling power outages and curfews.
It′s a stressful life, post-pandemic. A vaccine dispensed Australia-wide is causing mass infertility, and the government has banned all remedies except prayer.
Vigilantes prowl for transgressors while the pious gather like moths under the streetlights at dusk. Then someone starts trading tainted hormones on the boss′s patch. Salisbury must find whoever is trying to destroy the business before everything goes belly up ...