Can one really resist a book with a title like Maia Sepp’s new novella “An Etiquette Guide to the End Times?” I know that I cannot, so I was happy to dig into this strange little book to see exactly what it was all about.
The world is on the brink of destruction. Resources are scarce and rationed as the planet is repeatedly wracked by natural disasters and super storms. A type of barter system has replaced money as the main means of swapping goods and services. The members of the privileged class are largely sheltered from the worst of the effects but there is an uprising in the works as people become increasingly frustrated. 2028 is not a great year to be alive but the Canadian government is going into overdrive to try and placate the people. Unfortunately for Olive O’Malley, the government has its eye on her to become a part of their propaganda machine.
Olive writes an online etiquette article that is getting increasingly popular and the government wants her to host a radio show for them. Of course, the content of the show would have to be approved by the government and Olive would become little more than another cog in the propaganda machine if she were to accept their offer. It would mean that she would not have to worry about food and other necessities ever again. Also, the government is dangling the possibility of reuniting her with her missing grandfather as well. Olive knows that she will suffer dire consequences if she refused but is having trouble seeing herself as part of the “Core.” In order to bring her grandfather home, she will either have to accept the government’s offer or turn to a world of dissent and eco-terrorism to get what she needs.
With a title like “An Etiquette Guide to the End Times,” I was expecting this to be an odd book and maybe even a bizarre fiction novella. I was wrong in that expectation but that does not mean that I did not enjoy the book. Sepp brings a light touch of sarcasm mixed with a heavy dose of social commentary to create a fresh take on what the world may look like if the climate continues to change due to human activity and the planet is depleted of its natural resources due to population growth. There is a wit here, albeit a dry wit, that keeps the story moving along in spite of its sometimes weight subject matter and allows the reader to not become too bogged down in the heavy atmosphere of the novella.
I was surprised to find this novella to be a serious work rather than strictly satirical or bizarre look at the future. The events of the novella are grounded enough in reality that they can be imagined as happening if a similar future as the one envisioned here comes to pass. While this is a book with little action and a lot of character development and political and societal commentary, it is a quick moving book that never becomes dull. While I have read other works in a similar vein, Sepp keeps the story fresh and compelling throughout. If dystopian fiction is your thing, this is the book for you.
I would like to thank NetGalley and Maia Sepp for this review copy. “An Etiquette Guide to the End Times” is available now.