Originally Published for TheNerdistheWord January 2017
At The Nerd is the Word, we love bringing attention to local nerdy literature! Why not check out the fascinating novel Cycling for Asylum by Su J. Sokol? Visit the local Ottawa bookstores Books on Beechwood or Perfect Books for a copy, or visit one of these links :
Create Space Publishing , or BookstoRead
Science-fiction as a genre is an exploration of the imaginative “possible”. We use it to explore the likelihood of eventual space travel, meeting new peoples, and exploring undiscovered locations; anything that could one day, perhaps, exist. Near-future science-fiction is the soup-du-jour in the world of Speculative Fiction, genres such as dark satire, dystopian fiction, and cyberpunk being very popular. This level of storytelling can affect a reader in shocking ways, as it explores possibilities we may well experience within our lifetimes. Who knows which of our musings or fantasies might come to pass this year, this month, this week, or tomorrow?
Su J. Sokol in Cycling for Asylum explores the consequences of a repressive American Government, bringing up issues that are very real for us living in the “past”(our present), such as police brutality, systemic discrimination and bureaucratic tyranny. This remarkable piece of local literature takes the pulse of many modern readers and resonates across the very newscasts North Americans see daily.
As an activist living under a false identify, the character of Laek lives in constant fear of being apprehended, or barred from the benefits of living in New York city with his family. He becomes gradually more anxious as the policies and decisions of the American government start to put undocumented residents and ethnic groups at risk. After recovering from a serious injury following a violent protest against new oppressive legislations, Laek and his wife Janie make the decision “go underground” and escape the country. Without making their teenage daughter Siri and their son Simon aware of the reasons why they must depart, they set off on their bikes for a permanent “vacation” in Montreal, which has become a universal haven for migrants.
Settling down in a new place is not easy; Siri rebels when finally told that Montreal is their new home, while young Simon struggles to understand. As the family incorporates itself gradually in francophone Canada, they realize that their plight is not unique; countless newcomers have escaped unsafe environments and governments to make Montreal their new home. Janie and Laek attempt to acquire refugee status, but how to explain that staying home in the United States was dangerous, when to the rest of the world is it still considered a stable place? Such refugee claimants already exist contemporarily, and many refuse to accept their stories as true. Who believes allegations of torture, or of imprisonment without a trial, from the American Government?
Laek’s reasons for living with a false identity are unraveled during court proceedings, putting his family’s place in their sanctuary at risk. As the couple fights to prove they are not part of the danger they are trying to leave behind, they desperately strive to earn the trust and respect of Quebecers. Cycling, their favorite eco-friendly mode of transportation, as luck would have it, becomes the common ground between migrants and locals, and paves the way to the family’s acceptance.
Sokol delivers an emotionally charged novel, where the tensions between family members feel visceral and very real. The chapters alternate in points of view between the four characters, thus sometimes the same events are described by different people. This provides the reader with important insights and interesting perspectives, but also begins to feel a tad tedious at times. The sociological aspects of this novel are very thought-provoking, offering a gentle example of Sokol’s philosophical views which endeavours to inspire a better world. Some elements, of Sokol’s future world, however, are somewhat lacking in imagination; more specifically, the inventive advancements of the near-future. As an example, Sokol’s views on futuristic videogames seem to match your cranky great-aunt’s distaste for them. The novel places the natural world on a pedestal, reaching for a return to simpler pastimes, and consequently describes upcoming virtual realities as nothing but ridiculous opportunities to slash and dash avatars to pieces, body parts and blood soaring. This can come across as disappointing for nerdy readers who have higher hopes for innovations in future gameplay and immersion.
As mentioned, Sokol’s particular flavour of speculative fiction allows us to imagine the immediate future. As opposed to space opera or dystopia authors who prefer to depict the upcoming eras of humanity by jumping over large gaps of time, Sokol brings us an image of a transitional era, a guess as to how the advanced world, for better or for worse, must have come about. If literature is meant to be a mirror held up to society, Sokol’s writing is a stern and blunt warning against problems that are easily conceivable, with solutions that could be undertaken – provided we take her cautionary message seriously, in the here and now.
Reviewers and fans are calling Cycling for Asylum a work of prophecy, and believe the outcome of present events will turn out exactly the way Sokol predicts. This week, the media has been filled with theories regarding to what the drastic change in American politics will bring for our southern neighbours, and by consequence, our nation. The rise of attention for issues such as police violence, xenophobia, and the erosion of bureaucratic justice are just a few examples of very real problems that Sokol presents in an only slightly mutated form. At least we can take some small consolation in the fact that, in Sokol’s future world, Canada is the safe paradise at the end of the journey.