I enjoyed Citizen Alpha J-45, the new sci-fi novella by Jessica Kuzmier. There were a few little niggles that distracted me from the overall story, but it’s globally a well-thought out, well-written character study that I had fun reading.

At its heart Citizen Alpha J-45 is a story of racial and spiritual segregation, class hierarchy, and emotional suppression. These are very familiar sci-fi tropes, and there are many parallels between this novella and other late sixties/early seventies dystopian works such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Aasimov, and Orwell’s infamous 1984.

The difference perhaps is that the main characters here are not human, but aliens of various shapes and colours depending on their social class. Alphas are generally blue-skinned, for example, whereas Betas or the “drones” will be coloured differently, making their social status instantly recognisable. I thought this was an interesting concept.

The world-building here is excellent, especially with such a low word-count. Jessica paints a vivid and realistic picture of the planet Ganga, their society, policies, and everyday way-of-life. This is also unfortunately a bit of a double-edged sword as there is a lot of exposition. Roughly the first ten pages are used to introduce the planet and its inhabitants, and once the titular Alpha J-45 meets another character, the latter is slightly heavy-handedly used as a narrator surrogate to doll out even more details on the world and current situation. I felt this cut into the pace of the novella a bit and struggled somewhat to keep invested in the story, until the action-packed finale pulled me back in.

The prose is simple, yet easy to follow and well-structured, and the general premise interesting and engaging. Only a bit too much exposition and janky pacing stopped this good book from being great.

I look forwards to seeing what Jessica brings us next!