Cover Image: World Running Down

World Running Down

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Al Hess' WORLD RUNNING DOWN is the Mad Max-inspired-cozy-queer-trans-gay-AI-dystopian-romance of your dreams, and if you read that and don't think all of those descriptors should work together, you're wrong.

Valentine and his partner, Ace, are scavengers in the wastelands outside Salt Lake City. Their collective dream is to someday save enough money to be able to purchase visas to gain access to Salt Lake, where Valentine can finally receive the gender-affirming care he wants and deserves. When they are given a job that might be too good to be true, they jump at the chance because the payment is exactly what they want: money and visas to finally live in Salt Lake. Of course, nothing is as it seems, especially Osric, who recruits Val and Ace for the job. An AI Steward of the city, Osric was forced into an android body against his will, and wants nothing more than to return to the safety of his network. While both men are figuring their way out in the world and navigating bodies that they don't belong in, they are also tracking a collection of androids, dodging pirates, and possibly even falling in love. 

There are so many subtle nuances to Hess' story: the struggles faced by anyone in the queer community, body dysmorphia, what constitutes free will and sentience, balancing what is right against what is the easiest thing to do, sociological prejudices, abusive employers, manipulative friends, all wrapped up it a perfectly realized world that is, in fact, running down. It is never made explicitly clear what went wrong, but it is made clear that the rich escaped and left behind those that couldn't afford to leave the planet to fend for themselves. While the people left behind do clearly try to better to each other, the class and wealth distinctions are still there. In fact, the most caring and humane of the characters, aside from Valentine and a handful of other humans, are the AI Stewards; their level of care, respect, and understanding of each other and their individual needs is thought provoking. And that's the crux of Hess' novel: to make you aware that caring, respecting, and understanding those around you can take you far and make you a better person, even when it seems like the world is crashing down around you.

Valentine is an endearing character who seems to have a heart too large for his own good, and Osric and his "big, sexy brain", are remarkable characters and getting to watch their love story unfold as they discover just as much about themselves as they do each other is a true treat. I can't recommend this book enough and I'm anxious to see what stories Hess has to tell us next.

A huge thanks to Angry Robot Books and NetGalley for the advanced reader copies in exchange for an honest review.
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World Running Down by Al Hess is a new sci-fi release, set in a dystopian future where all the rich people took shuttles off the planet 100 years ago (believable). Valentine is a trans salvager who is scraping by on the outskirts of Salt Lake City by running errands. He dreams of getting a visa to the city for gender-affirming surgery and access to testosterone, but the costs are high. Along comes Osric, a sentient AI who’s found himself trapped in an android body. As Valentine and Osric explore blossoming feelings for each other, the current mission of returning a number of androids belonging to a sex trader tests the limits of Valentine’s empathy vs his personal needs.

Wow. What a read. I adored the diverse cast of characters, how deeply Valentine’s gender dysphoria was explored, and the deep understanding between Valentine and Osric. For a dystopian novel, it was a gorgeous exploration of being in a post-apocalyptic environment doesn’t have to mean losing a sense of humanity. Thanks so much to Angry Robot for the ARC of this title!
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The writer within me was enraptured from the first line, and promptly pushed the reader into Valentine’s van for the ride. From the first instances of Valentine’s poignant voice to the last line, this story has its sweet and bitter. How could it not? In a dystopian world with a familiar concept, the rich live in cities, the poor survive in a wasteland, Hess takes the principle and makes it anew.
Valentine’s life is hard; he and his companion Ace take scrappy salvaging jobs so they can both one day afford visas to Salt Lake City. Ace wants that better world, but for Valentine as a trans man, it holds the treatments he needs to be his true self. The pair take Valentine’s van across the salt flats, dodging pirates and wildlife, doing whatever they can to see their dreams come true.
When Osric arrives into Valentine’s life, a struggling AI not used to the confines of an android body, Valentine’s big heart gets the better of him. He takes a shine to the fumbling Osric, and the pair start a banter that still gives me a warm glow. 
Osric reveals that his owners have a job offer for Valentine and Ace, one that involves a taste of the city life in clothes, and all Valentine and Ace have to do is meet their mysterious benefactor. If they accept the job, and succeed, payment comes with an offer too good to be true; visas to Salt Lake City. The job? Rescue a few stolen androids, which sounds too easy, and too good to be true. Valentine finds himself saying yes, despite Ace’s misgivings, and wanting Osric to stay with him.
Because Osric is not supposed to be in this body. As a steward over Salt Lake, he once held a position of authority, managing the city as part of a network with other AIs. He thinks an infraction has him demoted to assisting a family capitalizing on the lack of self-awareness in their androids, running a female companionship company. Something darker has happened, and Osric wants nothing more than to return to the limitless network with his fellow stewards. But when the trio find the droids, they find themselves with a dilemma too; take the world they think they want, or do what’s right even though it will cost them their dreams?
In such a desolate setting, Hess manages to find hope and spin it through Valentine, even though Valentine himself doesn’t always believe in it. That who he is matters, that everyone’s identity, including that of an AI or android, is important. Right by his side, Osric holds none of the apathy and unkindness normally found in AI stories, but instead is enfolded an empathetic understanding. Careful, wonderful, wildly protective, his personal journey is deeply moving as he finds himself.
I found myself wishing I could meet the characters, if only to share in their joy and help them with their struggles. The love story so carefully crafted between Valentine and Osric was so fraught with underlying struggles on their own personal battlefields, at one point I feared I wasn’t going to get my happily ever after. 
A part of me never wanted to put the book down, could have read it in one sitting, but as someone who’s autistic, I found myself connecting with the writing and being emotionally impacted in ways I didn’t expect. And it wasn’t just in Valentine, but the way Osric took care of him. This isn’t a key focus of the book, but I did find myself heavily impacted by it when I related to the way Valentine reacted to many of the most angst driven scenes. By Hess writing reactions I would have, that I don’t normally see in books. 
If you love the idea of Blade Runner, but want something with more hope and a lot more joy, this is your book. If you want a softer dystopia that doesn’t leave the bitter bleakness behind, this is your book. If you want to see a place where you could belong, as who you truly are, this is your book.
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World Running Down is a dystopian SciFi novel with a trans protagonist and a gay main couple that will entertain you with fast action and lovable characters.

Reading it was kind of weird though. I mean I liked it but it seemed to constantly switch from incredibly exciting to kinda boring.
It makes up for that with interesting likable characters, clever details and a story that explores the theme of wanting to be yourself in a world that won't let you.
The writing has a very FanFiction-y style to it (everyone who knows me knows that is absolutely not a criticism, I love FF) so that's just something you either like or don't. 

I give this one 4/5 stars 🌟
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World Running Down is a dystopian SciFi novel with a trans protagonist and a gay main couple that will entertain you with fast action and lovable characters.

Reading it was kind of weird though. I mean I liked it but it seemed to constantly switch from incredibly exciting to kinda boring.
It makes up for that with interesting likable characters, clever details and a story that explores the theme of wanting to be yourself in a world that won't let you.
The writing has a very FanFiction-y style to it (everyone who knows me knows that is absolutely not a criticism, I love FF) so that's just something you either like or don't. 

I give this one 4/5 stars 🌟
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World Running Down is a love story. But if romance isn’t usually your thing, DO NOT let that stop you from picking this up.

At its heart, it’s a book about bodies - what it means to inhabit them, who has control over them, and how society treats those who don’t feel at home in theirs. It’s also a book about minds - what it means to be sentient, who gets to define sentience, and who this sentience is ‘given’ to.

It takes place in a near-apocalyptic Earth where the uber-rich have already left, the professional classes (human and AI) live in a well-provisioned city, and the rest eek out an existence in a dangerous wasteland.

In this declining world, Valentine, a scavenger desperate for a visa that will grant him access to the city and the medicine he needs to transition, meets Osric, an AI who has been forcibly removed from his networked community and dumped in a body. (Much of the story’s power comes from Valentine and Oscric’s shared struggles to live in bodies they’re disconnected from.)

The two are brought together when Valentine accepts a job from a brothel owner to retrieve a group of Android women.

Hess’s writing is terrific, evocative in a razor-sharp minimalist way perfectly suited to the world. The characters and dialogue are equally strong, and often funny. Cinnamon (one of the Android women undergoing a painful transition into sentience) has some particularly great lines, such as when she’s given a copy of the bible by a group of Mormon pirates:

“I’m confused. It states that God creates light on the first day. But he doesn’t create the light source– the sun– until day three. Has this novel had a proper editor?”

World Running Down is a moving, layered novel that explores a lot of important issues – power, privilege, class, transgender rights and dignity, artificial intelligence, neurodivergence in a neurotypical society - but these issues, far from coming at the expense of the story, are deeply embedded in it.

Put this on your TBR, or if it’s already on it, bump it up.
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I enjoyed this. The best part for me was definitely the relationship between Osric and Val, I loved both of their characters and the way they really saw one another, all the small ways they cared for one another and the way they were always putting the well-being of the other first. The whole relationship aspect was so well done. The plot dragged for me in a few places, and the pacing felt a bit off. I lost some of the momentum I'd built up wanting to know what happened with these characters because it felt like there was too much going on at times. But overall I still enjoyed it and especially love the idea of more trans main characters in every genre. This is definitely one to check out if you like Mad Max type scenarios and like a romance where the MCs really know and care for one another.
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If Science Fiction is to be believed the only bright thing about the future will be the burning rays of the sun beaming down to burn our skin. The futures grim, the futures dystopian. However, sci fi also tells us that humans will do what it takes to survive. Despite inescapable heat and roving bands of motorcycle pirates, people will still love, lose, and overcome. World Burning Down by Al Hess may be set in a future hellscape, but there are hopes and dreams to be had. 

Valentine Weis is a scavenger in future America who specialises in commissions others would not undertake, the reason is that Valentine has a dream to gain access to Salt Lake City and the drugs and surgery they need to deal with their body dysmorphia. Meanwhile, Osric is dealing with their own conflict. This AI has been banished from the grid and placed inside the body of an android. Val and Osric find one another in the wastelands and join forces, each hoping the best for the other. 

I have read a good amount of science fiction and fantasy that deals with queer characters, and it is great to see the genre expanding to engage with all the audience. Often, a character being gay, or trans plays a role in the story, but rarely as centrally as in World. The driving force of the story is Valentine’s body dysmorphia and their dream of becoming whole. It impacts their actions and the choices they make, even if they are not always the easiest. 

There is a lot more to Valentine than being transgender. Hess creates a kind, thoughtful and rounded characters who has a lot to them. Often Val will make a decision that will impact their life negatively in aid to help others. It is one of the things that Osric is drawn to, the outer and inner beauty that Valentine projects. World is a story of action and scarcity, but it is also a love story between two characters finding themselves and each other. 

The character of Osric is a great companion journey to Valentine's as they are going through their own form of body dysmorphia. Ripped from a network, they suddenly find themselves in a body with all the sensations and needs that comes with it. Comparing the two characters journeys could have been treated heavy handed, but Hess does an excellent job of using Osric to aid readers in understanding Valentine’s plight. Some of us have never questioned our bodies and may find it hard to understand what it must feel like to be transgender, but framing this as an AI being transformed into an Android and it makes sense. It did to me at least, but that is probably my science fiction mind. 

I loved the characters and relationships in World, but there is also some great world building and action. At the core I believe that Hess, like the character of Valentine, believes the best in people. The book has betrayal, violence, and some hard-hitting elements, but at the core it is kind. I do not wish to ruin the final parts of the novel, but as a reader you will finish it feeling uplifted.
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When I read the plot I thought it should have been a sort of dystopia with hard characters and a androids/AI rebellion.
I was wrong: it’s a story set in a world that is not very different from the one we live in with a cast of sweet and intriguing characters.
It’s poignant, sweet, moving and gripping. It made me smile and cry, I rooted for Valentine and Oscric and hope in a HEA like I was reading a romantic novel.
Valentine is well rounded and lovely character: he’s fighting to read his goal but he’s never bitter or harsh. There’s a lot of sufferance, there’s moving representation of dysphoria but this character has no chip on his shoulder.
Oscric is the Stewart AI that was forced into an android body. A funny and complex character I loved since I met him.
The author is a very talented storyteller and deliver a cast of well-developed characters, a tightly knitted plot and a complex world building.
I would happy to meet again these characters, I will surely read other books by this author.
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World Running Down turned out to be my third climate-apocalypse dystopia in a row, after Junkyard War and Perilous Times. The world is going to hell in a handcart and it’s all humanity’s fault no matter how you look at it. But these three looks at the view from that handcart are quite different. And all, surprisingly, hopeful.

At first, Valentine Weis doesn’t seem to have much hope. Or, perhaps, hope’s all he’s got without any real way of making any of his hopes come close to realization. At least not until Osric drops into his life – just about literally – with an offer that Valentine probably should refuse.

Because anything that looks too good to be true generally is – especially with people who actually still have a conscience and at least an ounce of compassion for their fellow beings. However those beings present themselves and whatever they happen to be made of.

In his very post-climate apocalypse world, Valentine lives his life on the outside looking in. Someone is offering him the opportunity to finally be on the inside. The question is whether the price is one that he’s willing to pay.

Salt Lake City is one of the few remaining, functional cities in the U.S. It’s a place where healthcare and transportation are free, where it seems as if everyone has enough to eat and a place to live. It’s a place where the rich get richer and the poor peek through the glass at all the things they can’t have without citizenship. Or sponsorship. Or both.

Valentine has none of the above. Instead his only possession is a barely functioning van, his only friend is more of a frenemy, he’s just barely breaking even on the delivery and salvage jobs he takes to keep body and soul together. And he’s trapped in a body he knows is wrong, deals with regular and depressing bouts of body dysmorphia and keeps falling further behind in his quest to save up enough money to get admitted to the place where he can get the medicines and the surgery he needs to make his external appearance reflect his inner self.

Osric, on the other hand, isn’t even human. He’s a Steward, an elite artificial intelligence who has been placed in a mere android body by nefarious person or persons unknown and sent out by even more nefarious persons to rope Valentine and his friend Ace into a job that must have one hell of a catch – because the fee for doing it is beyond Valentine’s biggest hopes and best dreams.

Which he just might manage to make come true. Not by giving in to what either those nefarious persons or his best frenemy/business partner Ace might say is the best thing – but by doing the actual, honest-to-goodness right thing. No matter how much it breaks his heart.

Escape Rating A: Before I even attempt to get into any more detail, first things first. And the first thing is that I loved World Running Down. A lot. Which kind of surprised me, not for itself, but because it was the third climate apocalypse dystopia book I read in a row, and as a subject that’s kind of a downer.

But the book itself isn’t a downer at all, which is really all down to Valentine. He just so earnestly wants to be a genuinely good person in spite of the world running down. Given a choice between the right thing and the easy thing Valentine chooses the right thing every single time – quite often to his own detriment.

He’s not unrealistic – at all – about just how FUBAR’d his world has become. He just doesn’t let that affect his own decision making process. He knows that things overall are heading towards an even hotter place than the climate, and he’s cognizant that he can’t fix much of that. But he’s committed to making things a little better as he can to those whose lives he actually touches.

Which is what gives the story both its hopefulness and its poignancy.

Valentine himself is caught in a “catch-22”. He’s trans, he needs both meds and surgery to complete his transition – which he very much desires to do. To be able to do that he needs to get residence in Salt Lake City, and for that he needs to pass a citizenship test. Which is just as big a hurdle because Valentine has ADHD or some variant of it which hasn’t even been diagnosed, making it difficult for him to study and retain certain kinds of information. Math gives a lot of people trouble. It gives Valentine a double dose of trouble, and he needs to get it to pass the test. Doing the original job would be a shortcut to his dreams – but absolutely does come at much too high a price.

But this isn’t just Valentine’s story, although we see much of it from his perspective. It’s also Osric’s story, and it’s the story of the job they are contracted for and the huge cloud wrapped around the silver lining of the payoff for doing it. Both parts of which result in discussion of artificial intelligences and the definition of what makes a being of artificial intelligence intelligent enough to be self-aware and eligible for citizenship.

And then the whole story works its way around to just how much heartache and heartbreak can be caused by trying to do what you think is best for someone you care for and how demeaning it is to make those decisions without their input.

There’s more. There’s just so much more. More than I should get into here, no matter how tempted I am. Which is very.

Between the climate apocalypse, the dystopian elements, the so, so sharp divide between the haves and the have nots, and both the political and the romantic issues that are raised by the questions of sentience and artificial intelligence, World Running Down touched on themes that brought to mind (my mind at least) a whole shelf of books that a reader might find equally appealing and/or interesting and very much vice versa.

So if you’ve ever read any of the following, you will probably also find World Running Down to be running right up your reading alley. And if you like World Running Down, these may also appeal; A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune, Automatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz and The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson.
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Set in a post-collapse Utah, this book has trans people, gay people, androids, Mormons, and pirates. What more can you ask?
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World Running Down was a lovely, quieter take on the future- one replete with AIs of various sentiency, and one with at least a bit of societal collapse. I have seen some reviews mention that it doesn't feel quite post-apocalyptic, and I feel like that is a great way to say it. Because it isn't necessarily the apocalypse- things aren't really at that level of degradation- but neither is it the bustling world we know today. There are cities, and technology, and forms of government, but they're few and far between, and the vast areas between them are kind of lawless hellscapes.

To start, we meet Valentine. I loved that the author provided illustrations of the characters, because I was able to picture them so well! I found Valentine to give me Jasper Jordan vibes, probably from his goggles, but either way it endeared me to him immediately. He's trans, and in a world with very limited resources, getting the medication and surgical procedures he so desperately needs are outside his current financial grasp. That is heartbreaking, full stop. And obviously relevant in our current society, which is even more infuriating because we don't have any global collapses to blame for our ignorance. I digress, but I felt for Valentine from the start. He travels in his van with his bestie Ace, who... honestly sometimes she was more of a frenemy than an actual friend, but their complicated relationship was kind of refreshing to see. Sometimes, we need to see examples of unhealthy relationships (as long as they're portrayed as such, which this does) just as much as great ones. They're traveling around working as couriers basically, trying to earn enough money to become citizens of Salt Lake City.

Osric is an AI. A sentient AI, who used to be part of a collective group of fellow sentient AIs, who now finds himself in this random body he never asked to be in. When Osric and Valentine end up on a mission together, they find they have a lot more in common than meets the eye. I loved the parallels the author created between Valentine's and Osric's body dysphoria. Both simply don't feel comfortable in their current skin, and neither chose the bodies they are in, and obviously this made them even closer, as they were able to relate to each other in such a significant way.

There are a lot of other aspects I enjoyed about this book, too! Things like: Quasi-Apocalyptic Road Trips™, desert pirate clans, other AIs who are being treated like possessions and we hope will eventually not be, complicated relationships, incredibly atmospheric desolate desert settings, thought provoking questions of morality, and lots of humorous and adorable moments along the way. If you like any of the aforementioned, you should probably give this book a go!

Bottom Line: World Running Down was thoughtful and entertaining, with characters I cared about and a story that provides plenty of commentary on current social issues.
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It’s time to melt those cold hearts, World Running Down is so, so sweet. The world might be falling apart but it is brimming with kindness and compassion. When the AI of this future gained sentience, they didn’t rise up, instead they negotiated rights and now work alongside humans managing their cities.

It’s not without conflict or danger, there are pirates in the wastelands of Utah after all, but it doesn’t feel a hopeless future. Instead it feels like one where the people left behind, those who might have been rejected by society before, have made a better, more accepting place. The cinnamon rolls of the world have not been crushed.

Osric being downloaded into a flesh body gives space for the story to explore body dysmorphia and relate to Valentine’s own experience in a body that doesn’t feel right. At the start, Osric’s distress is palpable, and it is not hard to feel what has been done to him is wrong. So in that same thought, it should also be wrong that Valentine must live in a body he is uncomfortable in.

The stolen androids that Valentine and his partner are hired to retrieve are owned by an escort agency. While Osric makes it clear that the androids are not the same as him, if they have the possibility of becoming sentient, is it fair to leave them in that position? Bodily autonomy and choice are an important theme of this story, explored from several angles.

It’s presented as a post-apocalyptic world, but only briefly mentioning what happened. Climate change followed by the rich abandoning the planet in their spaceships… So I’m sat there thinking, this doesn’t sound too bad. However I was left wondering why somewhere like Utah would still be populated in post climate collapse world. The world-building is pretty lightweight, which is fine, because the stars of the show are the characters and all their adorableness.
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A sweet, heart-warming novel jam-packed with queer rep!  

A great deal of this book reminds me of the 80s b-movie Cherry 2000. It, too, has insular modern cities surrounded by wasteland. It, too, deals with androids (though not about A.I. sentience), and it too has a wasteland mercenary as a main character. Yet, that movie is mainly pulp action with a bit of a love story, where this one is mainly love story with a bit of action. As such, this is not so much a post-apocalyptic book with a love story than an LGBTQ+ love story with a bit of post-apocalyptic flair. 

A lot of the novel deals with body dysphoria: first, Valentine’s, as he’s a trans man that hasn’t been able to transition, so the female aspect of his anatomy causes him great distress, and he’s often misgendered by others; and second, Osric’s, as he’s an A.I. foisted into an android body, so he shares a similar distaste with his own body. There are also themes of bad friendships, and A.I. sentience and what that means about consent. 

In terms of the love story, it’s human and android - the Terminator-style of robot that’s like human skin over exoskeleton. While I Iiked their romance and thought Hess did a great job of giving them understandable foils in said romance, I found Osric a little … boring. Valentine had a fully-fleshed personality, but Osric was a bit flat for me. Maybe he was supposed to be - as he even mentions being a boring person at one point, or perhaps he is such to provide a balance for Valentine’s often profusion of emotions (an aspect of what I perceived was his neurodivergence). Either way, I think their relationship was fun, sweet, and had good tension.   

In terms of the story, while I was engaged and the story moves at a fast pace, it doesn’t have an overly-intricate plotline. My interest was piqued, but I wanted a bit more depth or time with the A.I. sentience story. While I do love character-focused novels, and the love story is the main focus, I could have used a bit more twists in the storyline. 

Either way, though, World Running Down is a thoroughly enjoyable and thoughtful read with a cute-as-heck love story, important themes, and a fun setting! Definitely recommended!
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“Osric drew in a labored breath. “I’m – I’m not supposed to be in this body.”
Valentine tugged Osric’s shirt closed. “Me neither, hon.”
–Al Hess. World Running Down

Here’s a post-apocalypse tale set in the desert outside Salt Lake City that channels Mad Max and The Wizard of Oz, well, sort of. Valentine is a scavenger in the wasteland who dreams of getting a visa to Salt Lake City where he can get free health care, and, more importantly, the gender change he longs for. Ace, his partner, just wants to get out of the scavenger business and live somewhere other than a beat-up van that smells like socks while avoiding salt pirates’ arrows on every run. The two show up in an outlying gated city only to find an android from Salt Lake City waiting for them with a job and before you can say yellow brick road, the trio is on their way to recover stolen sex-worker androids in what should be an easy haul.

Though Valentine’s trans dreams are front and center, this isn’t just a book about LGBTQ angst. Osiris was an important steward AI in Salt Lake City before crossing someone who got him stuffed into an android body and sent off into the desert. The sex androids are all intelligence-limited, except maybe they’re not as dumb as they seem, and maybe they don’t want to go back, while  Ace is a gal capable of making the hard calls to get what she wants. It all adds up to a great romp in the desert with well-realized characters. Highly Recommended.

(From my Amazing Stories column: <a href="">Science Fiction To Look For – February 2023</a>)
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I LOVED this book. It felt very made for me personally? Queer stories, queer joy despite the burden of inaccessible healthcare, a thoughtful AI system that is also adorable, great characters-- basically I've been gushing about this since I was only about 15% in, and already ordered a physical copy from my fav local bookstore. I  think in less thoughtful hands the allegory between trans (human) body dysmorphia and an AI shoved into an android body would be too literal and too on the nose but it felt right here-- probably because of the banter between Valentine and Osric, and even when the two of them fought and compared notes on how a similar situation affected them both it wasn't too much at all. It felt right. 

As much as I love (Osric) the main characters, definite shout out to the Machine-Women as well, later stage shining stars of the story who kept and held my interest. As much as I'm a sucker for cute robots (/robot-adjacent entities) even beyond that I would read a spinoff of them! And I wanted to know more about the Network and how life was like inside it as a real time thing.

World Running Down is a quick read because it always keeps going and never lingers too much in one place or story beat. There's so much I loved throughout the story as a whole and I'm really happy Angry Robot approved my NetGalley request for the ARC on this one.
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The world is broken, and even though there appears to be wealth and opportunity barricaded behind city walls in this future, the price is high and hard to achieve to get past the gates. 

Both the main character, salvager Valentine Weis, a transgender man, and Osric, an AI stuffed into an android body, have similarities. Both suffer from body dysmorphia. Valentine wants to get a visa for Salt Lake City so he can get surgery, better work and go back on testosterone. And we’re not told initially what rules Osric broke or what crime he committed to get himself cut out of the friendly and soothing network the AIs of Salt Lake City, called Stewards,  live in.

Valentine and his argumentative and abrasive partner Ace, with Osric tagging along, are tasked with recovering stolen androids who worked at a brothel. (Androids have fairly simple programming, compared with Stewards, and are not sentient.) The brothel owner intends to reward Valentine and Ace with visas for the recovery of the androids.

To the trio's dismay when they find the androids, they discover that the androids are becoming sentient, thanks to an accidental restriction removed on their programming during their theft. This places Valentine in a difficult position; as desperately as he wants a visa, he has no intention of sending sentient beings back into a situation in which they don't want to be in, and who will certainly be abused by the brothel owner.

There is community happening amidst the harsh life on the Utah salt flats, and interestingly, the very pirates Valentine was scared of at the book's outset become the people he and Osric must rely on during their scary attempt to resolve the situation with the androids.

In fairly economical storytelling, Al Hess considers identity, gender, sentience, bodily autonomy, and who has rights in this post-apocalyptic society, without resorting to being overbearing. I liked all the discussions Valentine and Osric have about identity, friendship, and kindness, even amidst some pretty awful moments, before resolving to a satisfying conclusion.

Thank you to Netgalley and to Angry Robot for this ARC in exchange for my review.
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What an absolutely amazing story, I really enjoyed this one.  Valentine and his partner Ace (partner in work not intimacy) are salvagers, people ask them to salvage items, stuff that may have been lost or stolen and they want it back.  Valentine is transgender, he binds his chest and uses he/him pronouns, but his partner, who is female, still calls him her or she which irritates him and causes fights between them.  Valentine's dream is to become a citizen of Salt Lake City, which one has to pass a citizen exam and pay a fee.  Val and Ace are saving their salvage fee in hopes of one day becoming citizens.  A salvage job is offered to them from a citizen of Salt Lake, they are approached by an AI in human male form, Osric, who gives them the details of what is to be recovered and what they will get once recovered.  The job is a dream come true, they would become citizens and provided with enough money to live comfortably.  Only problem is what they have to recover are AI's that were being used in a brothel, and who are becoming self aware.  The dilemma of returning the AIs to an environment where they will be forced against their will to perform sex acts, bothers Val. Osric and Val become close and over the course of the story a couple, which was  a very sweet part of the story.  I would recommend.  Thanks to #Netgalley and #Angry Robot for the ARC.
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"World Running Down" is a dystopian story that follows a trans-man who has trouble getting the medical care he needs to fully realize his male body and an AI who was put into an android body as punishment. Both characters are exploring what it feels like to be in a body that doesn't fit who they are. I loved the idea of this story and what exploring it from two perspectives at once could mean. However, for me, the story got bogged down in the characters' feelings, and it started to feel repetitive. The action of the story doesn't start until about the halfway point, and before that focuses on the characters and their feelings of otherness. While this is a worthwhile topic to explore, it was starting to feel like it was done in magic marker instead of a fine-point pen. I prefer plot-driven stories though, and I think someone who enjoys character-driven stories would enjoy this book more than I did. I also think someone going through similar experiences would feel very seen while reading this, and I wouldn't be surprised to start seeing this book in people's favorite lists.

While it wasn't for my personal reading tastes, I am rating it a three because I think the topics are important to see in fiction and because the plot is unique and intriguing.
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This book is SUCH a delight, wow. It's a book about queer and trans joy, found family, the euphoria of being at home in your skin, and the quest it can take to get there. It's set against a sci fi desert that reminded me personally of Tales from the Borderlands, and like all good sci fi, it ties itself intimately to modern day concerns - income inequality, inaccessible healthcare (especially gender affirming care), transphobia, and the necessity of community bonds. It also feels like a deeply personal novel, and I'm grateful Al Hess put it out in the world for us.

With a 5 star review, there's obviously not much I didn't love about this book. The villain dialogue was at times a bit cookie cutter, and I wish we'd learned more about the plotline of animal/android hybrids, but those are minor gripes. Overall, I tore through this read from start to finish, and left with a huge grin on my face. I honestly wish I'd taken my time with this one, so that I could spend more time in the world, but I couldn't help myself. 

World Running down features philosophical questions about the meaning of life while traveling through a post apocalyptic desert, ADHD rep, a joyful romance between a gay AI and a trans man (with parallels between their dual journeys from dysphoria to euphoria), motorcycle riding Mormon pirates, and more. If any of that even remotely interests you, please do yourself a favor and read this book. Thank you to Angry Robot book and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review; this is definitely one I'll be recommending and revisiting.
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