Runtime by S.B. Divya. ★★★
In a future where America’s class system is even more stratified, Marmeg Guinto is determined to run in the Minerva Sierra Challenge, a day-long race across the Sierra Nevada where all the contestants have cybernetic enhancements. But most of the contestants also have the newest gear and corporate sponsorships. Marmeg has none of these. She’s racing in the gear she savaged from rich people’s trash and with the money her mother wants her to use for a nursing program. Racing is her dream, and she’s pinning everything on it. The chance for a better life for her and her brothers depends on her winning the Minerva Sierra Challenge.
It’s not a great plan. She’s gambling a lot, when realistically her chances aren’t that good. Then again, who’s she hurting besides herself? It’s money she saved, and if she fails it’s all on her. The main issue was the roadblock I had in connecting with Marmeg. “Follow your dreams” is great in theory, but I’m too cynical to believe it. This is probably more of a “me” issue than a “book” issue.
Marmeg lives in a near future with technology obviously more advanced than ours. The rich are able to afford implants in their brains and other body parts to improve their abilities, creating another gap between classes. There’s also societal conflict over reliance on technology, evidenced by a mysterious bunch of transphobic mountain men Marmeg runs into during the race.
In this future, there’s a third gender, moots, who seem widely accepted (although not by everyone, as evidenced by the transphobic mountain men). Marmeg wants to “become” a moot… and that’s where I become concerned. Runtime seems to be conflating gender identity with physical bodies, as being a moot means having surgery to remove physical sex characteristics. If Marmeg doesn’t view herself as a man or a woman, why does she need surgery to start referring to herself as such? I don’t know, it just feels iffy to me. If anyone knows of reviews by nonbinary reviewers, I’d appreciate if they sent me links.
I think my main problem is that the plot felt so straight forward. There’s a few twists and developments, but it was just never that interesting.
Oh, and since I haven’t mentioned it, Runtime‘s a novella, not a full length novel. It’s short enough that I read it in a single evening. While it’s not a story I’m ever going to revisit, others may find more enjoyment in it than me.