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Review of Flight & Anchor by

Flight & Anchor

by Nicole Kornher-Stace

I hadn’t read Firebreak, the novel that this novella is a loose prequel to, before I requested Flight & Anchor from Tachyon on NetGalley. Normally I wouldn’t leap into an established world headfirst like this. However, I had a good feeling about this one. It is a standalone story that doesn’t require knowledge of Firebreak. Nicole Kornher-Stace’s writing is very intimate, very in-your-face, and the result is a slow-burn novella that has me wanting to read Firebreak for sure now.

Our protagonists are 06 and 22, cybernetically augmented child soldiers who have just escaped from a Stellaxis facility under control of the Director. She is keeping their escape secret at all costs, for it would be disastrous for her career and this program in general. As 06 and 22 try to survive in an unfamiliar, unkind city, the Director tracks them and observes from afar while trying to conceive of a plan to retrieve them that won’t embarrass her or result in heavy casualties.

The story starts slow. The first few chapters are from the point of view of a barista, Cassie, who otherwise doesn’t return. She is our first introduction to 06 and 22, whom she views as children—odd children, yes, creepy children, perhaps, but children. From there the story alternates between chapters that present 06 or 22’s limited third person viewpoints and chapters that follow the Director or even her ally, a semi-sentient nanoparticle probe she tasks with spying on and sabotaging the children. After 06 and 22 settle into a shipping container they use as a makeshift shelter, they plot their next move. With limited funds, and concerned about being identified and apprehended, they aren’t sure where to go next. They’re only twelve, after all.

So for the first half of the novella, I honestly was unsure what to make of the story and whether or not I was enjoying it. I got it. I understood what Kornher-Stace was trying to do. But I just didn’t see feel it. This changed in the second half, and by the end I was heavily invested in these characters.

The introduction of the probe was the first step towards this change of heart for me. I do love myself a sassy AI, which is essentially what this is. It’s basically the Kronk to the Director’s Yzma, if you know what I mean—an antagonist, technically, but only in the most technical sense. Its shenanigans (for lack of a better term) help propel the plot forward in interesting ways.

The codependency of 06 and 22, referenced in the title, is also so crucial to the story and one’s enjoyment of it. In her afterword, Kornher-Stace connects this to Firebreak, saying that this story gave her the chance to provide a tragic backstory to where we find 22 in that novel. Obviously I don’t have all the context for that statement, but I like it. I really liked the climax and resolution of Flight & Anchor. Kornher-Stace wraps everything up neatly, but the little references throughout the story to “years later” are tantalizing hints at how various characters (particularly our amoral Director) will regret their present decisions.

All in all, by the time I had finished with Flight & Anchor, I was hooked. An obvious comparison would be to Murderbot Diaries—for the length but also the sympathetic killer protagonists—but there are echoes here of numerous other dystopian and cyberpunk worlds I’ve visited in recent years. At the same time, nothing in this setting felt recycled or clichéd to me. Kornher-Stace’s worldbuilding is careful, simple, sufficient. As I said in my introduction, I’m left wanting to read her novel, which is pretty much mission accomplished.


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