"An Etiquette Guide to the End Times" and "Wake"

The Fiction Addiction

In Maia Sepp’s novella An Etiquette Guide to the End Times, Olive writes a blog answering etiquette questions for well-mannered survivalists in the semi-collapsed society. Just because the earth grows warmer every year, beachfront property is now underwater property, and infrastructure has all but collapsed, there’s no reason we have to be impolite about it. Olive only mentions a few recent headlines, inspiring the reader to imagine other potentially awkward social situations in a world where hoarding solar panels is an etiquette breach.

Harsh times make for unusual allies, and Olive notes that before the collapse, she might not have had much to say to her neighbor, Camilla, who was a PR rep back when there was anything to publicize. I loved the worldbuilding here, the casual mentions of protein loaf, retrofitted electric cars, and unlicensed chickens.

Representatives of the Core — the remaining government faction — invite Olive into what’s left of the city to discuss turning her blog into a government mouthpiece. The Core still has coffeeshops and air conditioning, telephones and formalwear, unlike the homesteaders and survivalists now living in Olive’s former suburb. There’s plenty of temptation in the offer, but there’s also a warning in what might happen if Olive chooses to ignore the “request” of those in charge of enforcing the laws. (On a more personal note, themes of a writer considering trading in her personal blogging for a sponsored, if less creative, site, really struck a chord for me.)

But that’s just background. The real story is about preparing a dinner, at which Olive will enlist the help of Camilla’s sailor friends in finding her missing grandfather, and as she collects ingredients, the novella carefully blends tiny, personal moments with larger social themes. Olive’s able to pick veggies in the back garden and use up precious stores from before the collapse. She has to trade for meat, and an unpleasant conversation with a predatory butcher is both a personal challenge as she prepares dinner, and a larger concern — without social rules, what will stop our baser instincts from taking over? And without these social norms, what’s to stop the sailors from accepting her food, and failing to respond with a favor?

My only problem with this novella is simply that it’s a novella. The half-collapsed society and cast of characters are just coming into focus when the story ends. I can only hope Maia Sepp writes a complete novel set in this world.

Maia Sepp’s new novel Wake, takes place before her previous book, An Etiquette Guide To The End Times. I don’t usually like prequels because they have to be so, so good to let readers overlook that the definition of prequel means they already know how everything’s going to end up.

But this prequel is based around Camilla, a minor character from the Etiquette Guide and someone I really, really wanted to know better. In The Etiquette Guide To The End Times, Olive says Camilla used to do PR, back when there was anything to publicize, and in Wake, we get to see it.

The world hasn’t quite ended yet in Wake, so even though there’s an unprecedented amount of glacier melt (calving, as Camilla’s climate scientist father would say), and a carefully orchestrated almond theft (nut-napping) on her morning commute, Camilla’s working at her high-pressure, high-stakes PR gig.

Camilla’s company has gotten an account with a SmartHomes manufacturer, so free (and basically mandatory) home upgrades for all employees! Like that time the PR company next my studio did some work for Arizona, and I drank all the watermelon coladas ever, and got a total sugar high. Free juice! Only the smarthomes are a bit more invasive than sugary not-soda, so when they’re hacked, everyone’s personal lives are suddenly exposed.

There was just so much to love this book! Like the nerdy accountant, who really doesn’t want his relationships with his two wives exposed. He’s not a bigamist, that is, like most of my poly friends, he is just quietly involved with two people, and doesn’t want to discuss that at work. I also loved Camilla’s discussions of her work visa, because whenever I’ve needed a foreign work visa that’s just how it goes: you hand in every piece of paper proving you’re not a criminal, that you’re a real person, and that you can legitimately do your job, and then after an anxious wait, you get back another terribly valuable piece of paper, saying you can work legally, and you promptly shove it into a drawer and forget about it entirely. Which is exactly what Camilla does.

Olive and Fred, from An Etiquette Guide To The End Times, make appearances, but this is really Camilla’s story. I could see Camilla’s hardworking optimism, totally different from Olive’s sensible practicality, but another good way to face the end of the world. There are so many threads to this story, and at times I really wondering how the nut-napping. mysterious visa problems, angry refrigerator, cute coworker, and oh, yeah, the end of the world, were going to tie back into each other. But they do.

I’m so glad this is a series now, and I hope there are about a hundred more books set in this world.

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