In a dying world, the Offset ceremony has been introduced to counteract and discourage procreation. It is a rule that is simultaneously accepted, celebrated and abhorred. But in this world, survival demands sacrifice so for every birth, there must be a death.
Professor Jac Boltanski is leading Project Salix, a ground-breaking new mission to save the world by replanting radioactive Greenland with genetically-modified willow trees. But things aren’t working out and there are discrepancies in the data. Has someone intervened to sabotage her life’s work?
In the meantime, her daughter Miri, an anti-natalist, has run away from home. Days before their Offset ceremony where one of her mothers must be sentenced to death, she is brought back against her will following a run-in with the law. Which parent will Miri pick to die: the one she loves, or the one she hates who is working to save the world?
“Thrilling, terrifying and beautifully crafted, The Offset is the perfect science-fiction novel for our times. I devoured it.”
– Angela Saini, author of Inferior
“Shows how anti-natalism could also take a dystopian turn... even views aimed at reducing suffering can increase it if fanatics seize control“
– David Benatar, World-leading anti-natalist and author of Better Never to Have Been
“A prophetic, urgent, gripping read that throws into question what saving the world really means. A tender warning of a book, lest our efforts become as futile as our tragedies“
– Natalia Theodoridou, World Fantasy Award Winner and Nebula Finalist
“A bare-knuckle punch to the heart. Calder Szewczak made me suffer – brilliantly“
– Chris Panatier, author of The Phlebotomist
- Widespread review coverage in major print and online outlets, in general fiction and SF/F press.
- Author interviews, blogposts, and interviews in online media and bookblogs
- Radio and podcast interview appearances
- Blog tours with sci fi-focused and generalist bookblogs and bookstagrammers
- Online launch event/s
If you're a reviewer, bookblogger or bookstagrammer interested in reviewing or otherwise highlighting The Offset, please contact publicist Caroline Lambe at firstname.lastname@example.org
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 35 members
This book. From the opening sequence I was hooked, The writing is wonderful and fast paced. There is natural worldbuilding to the eco-dystopian future that feels true to the story and not forced.
What I appreciated about the book was the humanity in its characters.
Dr. Jac Boltanski was my favorite character, she is utterly selfless in her work and professional life but selfish
in her personal life. There is a juxtaposition between doing good and being good that I really liked. At times I did not agree with her choices. This elevated the complexity of her character which was really well done and interesting to read.
Miri the main protagonist is hard and at times unlikable (in a good way) while navigating through the choice of having to choose a parent that dies, the one she loves or the one who is working to save the world. She is 18 and immature with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her choices and feelings are natural to forcing a developing person to make an unimaginable decision.
The graphic aspects of the book were used in a way that solidified the world the characters live in and amplified the gravity of the situation. It was done with intent and did not overhaul the story and what the authors were trying to say.
Overall it is an impactful emotional rollercoaster of a story
(Content warnings: death, public execution, animal cruelty/death, medical content/trauma)
Gah, what an intense book. It follows Jac, the leading scientist working on the one project that may bring the world back from the brink of certain death, her runaway daughter Miri, who despises her and holds Jac's life in her hands, and Jac's wife, Alix, desperate to save Jac (and, consequently, her work) - at the price of her own life. The writing is very vivid and visceral, the attention to small details in things like worldbuilding and descriptions makes it feel palpable, the way that the fate of the world and the strained family dynamic are intertwined is super fascinating. Miri's chapters gave me a little of that "10s dystopian YA starring rebel teen girl" vibe at first, but that's not the kind of book this is; it's not YA, first of all, and then there's the fact that both her mothers are main characters, as well.
There's something really neat about a dystopian sci-fi book where 2 of the main characters are a married lesbian couple and the third one is their child and the fact that they're lesbians isn't really brought up, there's no homophobia or anything. Like, yes, stories where non-straight characters' sexualities are significant and relevant to the story are also important, but it's nice to read a book every now and then where it's just not made into a Thing and they just get to exist the same way a straight couple would, you know? Anyway. All three of them are the kind of character I really like that's not *likeable*, necessarily, but GOD, are they compelling - I love a complex female character who you don't exactly like/relate to/agree with, but you do feel for them, get their thought process, find them captivating. Jac's like that, especially.
My main issue with the book is that I found the ending too abrupt; it ends on a strong note, but I think the story would've felt more complete if it went on for a couple chapters longer - it's not difficult to guess where it goes from there, but I would've liked to actually see it. I was certainly hoping for a reunion between Jac and Miri.
I do also have qualms with some aspects of the premise of the book, especially how it presents overpopulation and global warming (for instance, how it felt as if the blame was placed equally on all of humanity, without acknowledging the leading role of corporations and rich capitalists), but I'm not going to nitpick the worldbuilding that is more implied than stated, anyway. And while I wasn't convinced by the idea of the Offset as a tool for battling overpopulation, the Offset as a *cultural phenomenon* I found much more compelling, if incredibly grim. The idea of such vehement anti-natalism arising as the main philosophy in a world that has been completely used up and ruined by humanity is... painfully believable. It might be a weird comparison, but something about this book kind of reminded me of Fahrenheit-451 in that "bleak dystopian vision that feels extreme and all too real at the same time" way? This the kind of book that I'd absolutely LOVE to discuss in a book club or write a too-long essay about for English class or something.
(Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC!)
4 dark dystopian stars (coming out Sept 14th!!!)
+ setting: post-apocalyptic environmental dystopian London (& a bit of Greenland)
+ premise: if people choose to have a child, the child must choose one of their parents to be "offset" (killed) when they turn 18yo
+ LGBT rep: f/f marriage (Miri's moms) & a nonbinary side character
+ Miri (17-18yo): a daughter who must choose which of her moms to offset
+ Jac: Miri's estranged mom, who is the leading global environmental scientist working to reverse climate damage
+ Alix: Miri's beloved mom, who is a retired doctor
+ this is a character study (daughter & 2 moms) with a fatal micro-countdown (Miri's offset) inside of a macro-countdown (global offset/mass-toxicity)
+ themes surrounding the right to procreate, overpopulation, environmental degradation, societal collapses, man vs. nature, and the good vs. bad in humanity
+ the authors weren't afraid to GO THERE and this has some pretty dark scenes (the pigsuits and London Eye jail are nightmare-fuel)
+ so much to think about... I think this will stick with me as a unique dark dystopian
- Some sections were a bit info-dumpy with the history of how the world came to be in that state
- I needed just a bit more from the ending.
TW: public executions (electric chair, firing squad), anorexia/bulimia (not explicitly stated which one), infant abandonment and death (off-page), death, global environmental/societal collapse, domestic abuse (off-page), attempted murder (off-page)
This is a really interesting and refreshing take on the post-apocalyptic, cli-fi genres.
Somewhere in the near to far future, humanity has reached a breaking point. Climate change has decimated the planet's resources and the planet is on the precipice of extinction due to overpopulation. To curb this decline, the Offset was created--a contractual agreement that when two individuals decide to bring a child into the world, on their 18th birthday, one of the parents must die as chosen by the child. A death for every new life. An offsetting, population control.
The Offset follows Miri within the last few days before her 18th birthday. She has to decide which of her mothers will be Offset: Jac (who has been absent but is working on a project that might quite literally save humanity) or Alix (who has been present, but not in all the ways that Miri has needed). Miri believes her decision was made years ago to kill Jac, but can anything change her mind?
This was a fabulous book. It really delved into what I felt was a new conversation on what it means to bring life into a dying world. Who feels that they have that right? What about the children who never asked to be born who are then faced with an unimaginable decision? How does this affect society as a whole? Is life truly worth living if your options for death are typical violence, the effects of climate change, or parricide?
I enjoyed reading this book and thinking about these larger questions, which seem too-close-to-home as climate change becomes an increasingly real threat. I look forward to what writing duo Calder Szewczak writes in the future.
**Big thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an eARC copy in exchange for an honest review!
An electrifying debut that tackles issues of parenthood set against a dystopian future where limited resources and a dying earth necessitate a population control. The solution is a public ceremony: when a child turns 18, they have to choose one parent to execute in exchange for their life. The Offset begins its story two days before Miri's 18th birthday where she has to choose which one of her moms is going to die - Alix the dedicated doctor who gave birth to her and to whom she is more attached or Jac the famous scientist whose work aspires to save the planet by planting trees in the radioactive wasteland of Greenland.
Miri is a rebellious and petulant teenager upset with both of her mothers. She has run away from home, but is found again just before the ceremony. While Alix and Miri reconnect. Jac stumbles upon some shocking finds while inspecting her life's work that suggest some foul play. There are psychological and social ramification to the project Jac is fronting, but further exploring this issue means missing out on a critical time for her wife and child. The focus of the story is on these characters, each to her own choices and dilemmas.
Thank you Angry Robot and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Wow!! What a story this is and I think it should be required reading for anyone who doesn't think climate change is a big deal. This story presents a world in complete chaos from the rapid warming from climate change and the resulting societal collapse is frightening. The resulting food shortages, collapse of industry and mass deaths have led to a law that requires any new birth to be offset by a death. When the child reaches the age of 18, the child chooses which parent is to die, and this is the means to control world population and give the rest of humanity a chance to survive. The story follows Miri who is 2 days from her 18th birthday and choosing which of her mother's is to die. She has previously left home and thinks she knows exactly what she will do but events happen that may change everything. Her mom Jac is one of the most important scientists on the planet trying to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and reduce the potential heating of the earth. Her other mom Alix is a nurse. Just before the offset is to happen, Jac discovers there is something very odd going on with her forest experiment in Greenland and the consequences may doom humanity.
This novel really does do a phenomenal job of conveying what some potential consequences of climate change are and it is sobering. The reality that some of these changes are possibly not in the too distant future should be a wake up call to everyone that we need to make systemic changes now or it will be too late. Highly recommend this to any science fiction fans!!
The Offset by Calder Szewczak
Pros: intense worldbuilding, interesting characters
Cons: abrupt ending, several unanswered questions
Miri is angry at the selfishness of her parents who brought her into a dying world, especially Professor Jac Boltanski, “humanity’s last hope”. She always knew Jac would be her offset, the parent chosen to die for the sin of procreating when their child turns 18. And Miri’s 18th birthday is two days away. She’s home again after running away 2 years ago, and no longer sure she’s making the right choice.
Meanwhile Jac has discovered a problem with her project and travels to a lab far from home, knowing her time is short.
The book is short and to the point, focusing on the characters and the world they inhabit. It’s told from the points of view of Miri and her mothers, Jac and Alix. Miri is angry and lashes out, but has also been through a lot of challenges, so you understand at least part of where she’s coming from. Jac’s focus on work is admirable considering she’s trying to undo climate change, but it’s clear she missed out on a lot of family stuff because of it. I really liked Alix and felt she got a rough deal. I felt sorry for her not having her wife around for their last few days together.
The worldbuilding was excellent and intense, with so much of society broken down but the acknowledgement that the rich will still get the best food, care, and opportunities. I appreciated that the authors (writing duo Emma Szweczak and Natasha Calder) show us how the poor and the rich lived, and how easy it is to take certain things in life for granted when you’ve known nothing else.
The anti-natalists are terrifying, but also somewhat sympathetic. In a world where overpopulation has caused so many problems it’s easy to see how so many people would advocate against procreation and create the offset. This is brought to a head when the characters visit a ReproViolence clinic and it becomes clear that the offset isn’t the only violence surrounding procreation.
The story is compelling and I found it hard to put the book down. Chapters are short so it’s easy to squeeze a couple in.
I found the ending rather abrupt, expecting to see more of how things worked after Jac learned what was happening with her project. There were a number of questions I wanted to see resolved that were left hanging. The authors have expressed that this may be the first of a series, so here’s hoping there are more books.
The Offset was an interesting read. The premise reminded me of Unwind by Neal Shusterman, bleak but with a hint of hope.
The Offset is written by Calder Szewczak who is actually two separate people – Natasha C. Calder and Emma Szewczak, who met while studying at Cambridge University.
The Offset is actually the name of a forced ceremony if you like, a choice you have to make on your 18th birthday. Which parent do you want to die? It’s become normal for children in Calder Szewczak’s story to go through this when they reach adulthood as there are, simply put, too many humans on Earth now and sacrifice of one means survival for all.
Breed fewer. Breed better.
I was really excited when Angry Robot gave me this book because one thing I love is dystopian stories. They really get your head thinking in ways that other books in the SFF genre don’t. This particular story follows 17 year old Miri who is days away from her own 18th birthday and her Offset. She has not been in contact with her parents, Jac Boltanski and Alix Ford, both female, for a couple of years and knows that she is going to have to head back home and make a decision.
You see there is a whole dynamic around the Offset. If one parent dies before the Offset, then the survivor is pardoned for their crime of procreation. This means that if one parent decides to kill the other one they can survive so there is almost this battle between the parents the nearer it gets to their child’s eighteenth birthday. There are examples of this in the story that open questions in your mind – one man suspects his wife fell pregnant and tries to cut out her womb. I really liked the dynamic of it in this world, as scary as it is, because humans really aren’t that far away from a bleak future like this and this story, which inadvertently highlights it, makes you think.
To light a candle is to cast a shadow.
Her Mum, Jac, is essentially the saviour of the human race. She is the great mind behind Project Salix which is based in Inbhir Nis (Inverness) and from it trees have been planted in the frozen tundras of the Arctic to help produce more oxygen and restore the planet’s atmosphere. There was an accident previously that turned the Arctic into a nuclear wasteland but the project has helped create trees that can grow on that large piece of untouched land thus helping to balance out the planet. Her other Mum, Alix, used to be a medical doctor in a London hospital but retired a few years ago and generally stays at home in their four floor house in London.
It’s important to note here that Jac and Alix have crafted a good life and this is a life of privilege that Miri has been created into. Miri sees that the rest of the population are sprawling among one another looking for food, medicine and just trying to survive as her story with us begins. Places in London have been recycled such as The London Eye which is now referred to as The Eye and is a prison. Those large glass pods filled with prisoners waiting for their trial, execution or deportation. Rickshaws replace cars and normal life as we know it has gone. It’s pretty grim compared to how London is now.
“And it will happen sooner rather than later. Maybe only a few years from now. We’ll burn up in the heat and suffocate on the carbon.”
The story is split into chapters that are either focused on Miri or Jac primarily. Personally I found Miri the more interesting character until the last 20% of the book when I wanted to know much more about what Jac was up to. Miri starts our story by witnessing someone else’s Offset. This immediately pulls you into this world like through a portal. She is trying to use that to desensitize herself to what she has coming in a matter of days, imagining that her mum, Jac, is the one dying so that her preferred parent Alix can survive. Miri herself is a young woman who doesn’t know what she wants. She is confused and has to weigh up her options before her decision but the only people she can ask for help want her to choose differently. Her story quickly sees her reunited with mum Alix but it is a frosty reception that Alix receives from her wayward daughter who she hasn’t seen in two years.
Jac’s chapters are more science based and fans of The Martian will absolutely love her. She is meticulous, calculating, ruthless with decisions, intelligent and the saviour of the human race. She sees that there is a problem with Project Salix and a day before her daughter’s Offset she has to travel to Inbhir Nis to try and rectify the issue. Something has gone wrong and the atmosphere is changing. She doesn’t know why but if she can’t fix it this could spell out the end for the human race and her girls.
“It’s always the way. The mother takes the punishment, even though the crime is not of her making alone.”
The character development in this story is very grey. What I mean by that is that the three main characters are brought to life but everything around them is not. This has been done on purpose. For example, there are robotic guards called Pigsuits. No-one is inside them as far as we can tell but they are menacing. Not quite as large or terrifying as a Big Daddy from Bioshock (computer game) but they have the same effect. Panic. Fear. Worry. There are some supporting characters in the book too but it’s clever – we don’t get their names. On purpose too. The Archivist, The Engineer, The Thief. They have these titles which I think stops you getting so attached to them and really keeps the focus on Miri and her impending choice.
For an absurd moment she feels like a helium balloon limply grasped in a child’s hand, ready to slip loose and float away on the breeze.
Flashbacks occur in the story and normally I prefer to stay in the present but I found these flashbacks useful as they gave us little nuggets on information, emotion and context into what was a very jagged story. They helped me to understand how relationships and opinions had been formed, or altered, by previous encounters and situations.
Rating – 4/5 You see the whole time you read this book, the question in the back of your head is who is Miri going to choose. I won’t spoil it for you but honestly when I got to the end I legitimately said aloud “Ah, f*ck”. It’s so much more than an ending, it’s a punch to the gut. I would say that this is a Science Fiction Dystopian novel. I have seen some reviews saying there is too much science but for me I didn’t think that. I found it enough for me to try and understand the seriousness of the situation and the weight behind Miri’s choice. I loved the dynamic and found it as scary as it was refreshing. A really well thought out idea crafted with the intention of making you think. This is a must read for fans of The Martian and anyone who has enjoyed any dystopian stories.