Travel Documents 10: Out of Sight

Street Doc

Matthew S. Cox
Genre: Dystopian, YA, cyberpunk. Poverty awareness, human rights

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The Dust Cover Copy

Most Citizens hold Outcasts in dim regard, but Sima never expected they’d throw her off the planet.

In 2411, overpopulation has spread a plaque of filthy, congested city to the corners of the Earth. Government has raised corruption to an art form, and no one hears the cries of those left to die in the dark passageways of civilization. Following the End of Nations, people cling to the only division left: social status.

Since running away from home four years ago, she’s managed to stay a step ahead of death―or worse. At sixteen, she’s getting too old to survive from begging, despite her best effort to pretend she’s younger. Worse, the sidewalks teem with little kids edging in on her turf, monopolizing Citizens’ charity with their wide, pleading eyes and genuine innocence.

A chance meeting with suspiciously nice cops leaves her more confused than ever. Between deadly gangs, unforgiving security forces, and a terrifying madam eager to exploit a girl her age, merely getting older is the biggest threat to her life. With no good choice to make, she risks the least of three evils.

Sima thought her life on Earth had been dangerous…

She hasn’t seen anything yet.

The Deets

The Scene

Worldbuilding

My first thought when reading Page 1 was ‘wow, all the tropes!’ But don’t let that initial reaction get you down. This world is a painfully relatable vision of the future. The planet really is hot, flat and crowded in Sima’s day. Citizens are good at keeping themselves distracted with their technological toys. Outcasts don’t have the luxury. If you fall through the social cracks, there’s no net to catch you.

In Sima’s day, the world has finally done away with wars between countries and opted for a world government. But this is no utopia. For those on the bottom, it’s a living hell. Murderous gangs. Poisoned food. Nuclear fallout. Human rights abuses everywhere you look. Now imagine getting thrown into that mess at six years old.
I really appreciated the worldbuilding for its avoidance of a Dickensian note when discussing the trials of living right down at the bottom of the social ladder, while giving us a clear sense of how it really feels to be desperate.
The exploration of alien ecology through the eyes of children later in the book was a master stroke, as it allowed us to see life with all the illusions pulled away, including the illusion of rationality that adults layer over experience. The situation the main characters find themselves in takes us right back to the basics and to the childhood of our species itself. In this story, we remember what really matters: Food. Water. Shelter. Agency. Each other.

The Crowd

Characterization

These characters really flow. Sima’s viewpoint and her interactions allow us to really engage with her situation, and her emotions are visceral. I very much appreciated a story that so deftly explored the mindset that homelessness puts a person in from their point of view. Too often books and articles are written imagining the experience of food and housing insecurity through the eyes of sympathetic outsiders, showing the grateful unfortunate being rescued by the noble do-gooder or heroic cop/social services worker. ‘Out of Sight’ gets it right. When you’re on the bottom, you don’t make a show of gratitude. You don’t want to be reminded of your own lack of agency. And you don’t show weakness. It can be used against you. You certainly don’t trust every stranger who comes along with a promise and a smile. Through Sima’s eyes and her lived experience, we see the logic of all these views. Her worldview was beautifully done, coloring all interactions with others, including a few people who really would like to do good. Through her eyes, we’re really looking at the terrible social situation that ensnares all of them.

The younger kids were, for obvious reasons, less emotionally complex. But they were well done and quite believable. Kids are hard to write, so I was impressed.

Oh, and there is a sassy computer system that communicates through a text interface. And it. Is. Absolutely. Adorable. The system made for a great character in its own right.

My only complaint was the characterization of the colonists in the very end of the book. No spoilers, but I will say they smacked a bit of Dickensian diffuse benevolence.

The Moves

Plot

I did enjoy this story quite a lot, but two things tarnished my overall enjoyment: a slightly saccharine ending and a bit of over-playing the hand. By page 200, I was starting to check my page count to see how much I had to go. The situations were never truly tedious, but I think one and possibly two scenarios could have been cut to give a cleaner, tighter story.

I don’t want to spoil the ending-you really should read this one-but I did find it a touch too pat. Given the beginning, a nice happy families ending was, as I said, a bit too Dickens.

Writing style

Good for the most part, this book could have used one more polishing pass. The characters are all children of slums and generally speak-and narrate-in the vernacular, but occasionally the writer’s own vocabulary bleeds through and creates a moment’s dissonance. The format and layout was beautifully clean and neat, but the occasional section could have used just a few more tweaks.

Overall Rating

A fun read, especially for the teenagers in your sci-fi family. Grab a copy for all your Hunger Wars fans and lovers of My Side Of The Mountain.