I’ve been working through my own personal subset of my team’s slush allocation for the third annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC3), and one of the books that immediately intrigued me from the cover and blurb was The Mimameid Solution by Katherine Kempf.
The Mimameid Solution takes place after a series of environmental disasters, in which rising seas send climate refugees scurrying for shelter and a chain of volcanic eruptions destroys much of the world’s plant life and plunges it into a mini-Ice Age. In this deadly environment, a small group of Scandinavians wander the desolate Norwegian landscape, trying to scavenge enough food to survive while avoiding the ultra-violent bands of Celtic invaders. When they meet a Norse military outfit representing an entire society surviving in a massive compound beneath the waters of a fjord, it seems to good to be true. And as readers of dystopian fiction are bound to guess, it is.
The Mimameid Solution alternates perspective each chapter between an engineer who has been outside for years, trying to keep himself and two friends alive, and one of the soldiers from the underwater haven of Mimameid. The story takes place far enough after the disasters that many of the details are opaque—it’s not clear exactly what happened with the climate refugees or how the Celts were able to so thoroughly terrorize the surviving Norse, and colloquialisms like “Old Norway” or “Old Denmark” give the impression of a much longer term to an apocalypse still in the adult memories of the protagonists—but this is not really a worldbuilding-centered story. Know the world is deadly and the Celts are out for blood; after that, the focus is on the individual characters and societies.
And the storytelling makes it quite easy to focus on the individual characters. Both perspective characters are likable, and the smooth and professional prose style makes it easy to read quickly. The foreshadowing about Mimameid’s secrets is a bit too protracted and heavy-handed—even the blurb suggests something nefarious hidden below the surface, and the narrative takes far too much time ensuring the reader is amply prepared for those secrets to come out—but the secrets provide an intriguing plot hook, and the storytelling stays engaging as the reader waits for the other shoe to drop.
For those who have followed past SPSFC editions, a comparison to Aestus: The City by S.Z. Attwell may do a good job setting expectations. That book—an SPSFC2 finalist that finished third overall—was similarly slow-developing and heavily foreshadowed, featuring a society surviving below the surface of an inhospitable world. And that book was similarly easy to read quickly, with likable characters (including an engineer as lead!) and a dark secret to uncover.
But those secrets play out a bit differently in The Mimameid Solution, which never divides neatly into heroes and villains. There are plenty of revelations about who is lying, and the book closes with quite a collection of villains. But when the lies are stripped away, the shape of the truth remains largely unclear. Many epics reveal the shape of the conflict in book one before getting down to the business of the conflict in future installments. But in The Mimameid Solution, that shape remains partially shrouded. There are enough answers to justify the investment in the opening book, but it keeps plenty of mystery in reserve for the second and third books in the planned trilogy.
Unfortunately, some of those twists and revelations here in this book rely heavily on baffling decisions by key characters. Of course, real life is no stranger to baffling decisions, and sorting through a web of lies to determine who you can trust the farthest is no easy feat. But there were a couple instances where decisions backfired in such an obvious way that it broke immersion, and even if such cases may be more realistic than they seem, the onus is still on the book to ensure the reader is convinced.
Overall, The Mimameid Solution has plenty to offer a lover of post-apocalyptic landscapes with secrets around every corner, especially for readers who prefer books to take their time in the setup. The characters are likable, their plights are compelling, and the prose gets out of the way and lets the reader dig into the main story. Unfortunately, it also has its missteps, spending too much time signaling the risk of betrayal and relying too heavily on frustrating character decisions to drive the plot. But past SPSFC judges have been friendly to ambitious and engaging epics, even those that struggled with pacing or with fitting disparate plot elements together; in the past two years, I’ve watched Iron Truth (which I loved) win the whole competition and Aestus, In the Orbit of Sirens, and Those Left Behind (all of which saw my feelings somewhat mixed) finish top five overall. If The Mimameid Solution advances, it could easily join the list of epics finishing very high in this competition. But like those last three, my read of The Mimameid Solution has left me with mixed feelings. I certainly won’t be standing against its advancement, but it will need to truly enamor one or more of my teammates.
Recommended if you like: slow burn post-apocalyptic stories with plenty of secrets to uncover.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Self-Published and Published in 2023. It also features Mundane Jobs and a Coastal Setting.
Overall rating: 13 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads.
SPSFC score: 6.5/10 for my personal score. The official team score, as well as whether it not it progresses to the quarterfinals or semifinals, will be decided in concert with my teammates.