Schoolteachers, managers, and pretty much all people in charge often complain of the growing amount of paperwork they are required to complete before any sort of planned excursion; health and safety is an area of apparent great importance and concern. In Spaceboy’s new title ‘Leech Girl Lives’, written by Rick Claypool, there is an entire society based on the notion of extreme safety. The promise of utter safety may seem like something worth fulfilling, but it turns out to have more sinister roots than you’d care to imagine.
Margo Chicago is an Art Safety Inspector whose job, as its title might suggest, is to confirm that artworks are of no danger to the public before they open for exhibition. This usually straightforward task is made more difficult by Locan Warhol (fictional descendant of Andy) and his Recklessist movement; Recklessism being the trend of making dangerous art installations, most obviously just to piss off the inspectors who have to demand appropriate adjustments.
When Warhol’s latest artwork, Hazard no. 457, turns out to be a huge mockery of herself and the department she represents, a boulder in the museum falls and kills several workers, and an unfortunate encounter with some futuristic wildlife leaves her with leeches attached to her shoulders instead of arms, Margo is unable to find a suitable solution. At this point, the image of the utopian Bublinaplex (basically just a massive protective dome) in which she lives seems stained with bitter lies, and Margo concludes that the only way she can learn the truth is to get herself banished.
Banishment, to most people, involves being forced into the tropical wasteland that surrounds the Bublinaplex; this pretty much equates to death, since a whole manner of deadly overgrown critters live there. However, Margo happens to have two advantages up her hypothetical leech sleeve: her lover was banished some time ago and she hopes to reunite with him, and she knows that there is another working society outside the Bublinaplex where the banished are actually transported to.
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Margo immerses herself a bit of deliberate carelessness, hoping to be banished, but after learning that she is somewhat immune from that particular fate she takes it upon herself to simply jump into the hole that leads to this mysterious other place, wherever it may be. On arrival she learns of a society that is somewhat more dangerous than the conditions she is used to in the Bublinaplex, although several moral issues with the life she used to lead – concerning the practice of using cyborgs as personal assistants – suggest to her that though she herself was protected, many others suffered at her unknowing expense.
More secrets unfold as Margo adjusts to life in the ‘real’ world, some of which she’d have been better not knowing, and others that demand justice; she is more than willing to help with the latter, particularly as her leech arms have proven to be extremely useful both in combat and for biological purposes. She joins a force of rebels trying to overthrow the makers of the Bublinaplex because of its unjust and immoral methods of creating the cyborgs that are part of daily life there, and as the title might suggest, despite all the hardships that she’s had to endure, the leech girl lives.
The style of the narrative – and general tone of the book – is light-hearted, easygoing and sprinkled with irony, although it has deep roots as a commentary on the ways we are already manipulating machinery and hiding ourselves away from some of the consequences of such practices. A large chunk of the book is written with a dual time scheme, still following Margo but at two points of her story, with alternating chapters titled ‘earlier’ or ‘later’. The events of each of the two are so different that the majority of my questions at this point were “how did she end up there?” rather than “what’s the big secret?”, which prevents the anticipation of the final Big Reveal from stealing the pleasure of the story.
Another thing I thought was done well was the fact that almost an entire narrative was told before any hints were given about the corruption involved with the Bublinaplex – Claypool tricks the reader into thinking that Art Safety is all that Inspector Margo is going to have to combat in this book, before unveiling quite literally a whole other world that will provide her with real problems to try to redeem.
It’s a fun and action-packed tale about a girl with disgusting arms but great principles, and definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of books in which something is always happening.