Review: “Saltblood,” T.C. Parker

Rating: 5 out of 5

T.C. Parker’s Saltblood is a curious tale in which ancient superstition and horror smack head-on into a futuristic prison. Now that there’s a company capable of scraping ridiculous amounts of information about any person out there, it’s been given an algorithm: get too many “outrage units” and you get sent to a special prison on an island off of Scotland. Robin has been sent there after participating in a rally–the lack of context behind a photo of her in a rally made her look bad in a way that spurred a lot of online outrage. She arrives at the same time as Jack, who’s an alcoholic. A kind-of warden named Hampton is in charge, and the “guests” (prisoners) lead simple lives in tiny huts with cruddy food. Bill and Carol, who’ve become a couple since arriving, like to greet the newcomers. Chuck Valentine is a TV preacher who denies his own sexuality. Julia designed a memory implant that killed people. Sat is a programmer who knows more about the island than she’s saying. Hampton has at his disposal the sullen Islanders–the natives of the island who’d been reassured when the Vanderhalden company bought the island from the Scottish government that they would all have work.

There’s a wild copper “cage” all around and above the island to keep any kind of signals in or out–kind of like a Faraday cage. The island has caves, beaches, and mysterious standing stones, and the only place the prisoners aren’t allowed to go is the Islanders’ village.

This process of convicting people based on outrage means that, as Chuck points out to Robin, they’re “all celebrities here.” Most of them were convicted in the court of public opinion, and we know how fickle that can be. Incorrect people can be targeted. Photos and videos can be taken out of context. We all screw up now and then, only in the modern world that can go viral and upend your life. The copper cage, the algorithm–there’s a great touch of paranoid near-future sci-fi here. Not only does it exist side-by-side with a disturbing creature haunting the island, but it’s having an interesting effect on that creature. It’s unusual to see those two types of story combined, and Parker does it well!

Conspiracy theories abound. Vanderhalden seems to have its grubby hands in a lot of pies, and various people on the island start to realize that many of them have Vanderhalden in common. When a person is beaten and left for dead, and Robin sees him die, a countdown seems to start. Hampton is lying about what happened to the person and he knows Robin is aware of the truth. It wouldn’t take much for him to get rid of her.

There’s a bit of gore, but not much. I can’t think of any other content warnings that might be needed. I will note, however, that there’s some good lesbian rep in here. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to readers of any of the genres mentioned!

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