In Maia Sepp’s novella An Etiquette Guide to the End Times, Olive writes a blog answering etiquette questions for well-mannered survivalists in the semi-collapsed society. Just because the earth grows warmer every year, beachfront property is now underwater property, and infrastructure has all but collapsed, there’s no reason we have to be impolite about it. Olive only mentions a few recent headlines, inspiring the reader to imagine other potentially awkward social situations in a world where hoarding solar panels is an etiquette breach.
Harsh times make for unusual allies, and Olive notes that before the collapse, she might not have had much to say to her neighbor, Camilla, who was a PR rep back when there was anything to publicize. I loved the worldbuilding here, the casual mentions of protein loaf, retrofitted electric cars, and unlicensed chickens.
Representatives of the Core — the remaining government faction — invite Olive into what’s left of the city to discuss turning her blog into a government mouthpiece. The Core still has coffeeshops and air conditioning, telephones and formalwear, unlike the homesteaders and survivalists now living in Olive’s former suburb. There’s plenty of temptation in the offer, but there’s also a warning in what might happen if Olive chooses to ignore the “request” of those in charge of enforcing the laws. (On a more personal note, themes of a writer considering trading in her personal blogging for a sponsored, if less creative, site, really struck a chord for me.)
But that’s just background. The real story is about preparing a dinner, at which Olive will enlist the help of Camilla’s sailor friends in finding her missing grandfather, and as she collects ingredients, the novella carefully blends tiny, personal moments with larger social themes. Olive’s able to pick veggies in the back garden and use up precious stores from before the collapse. She has to trade for meat, and an unpleasant conversation with a predatory butcher is both a personal challenge as she prepares dinner, and a larger concern — without social rules, what will stop our baser instincts from taking over? And without these social norms, what’s to stop the sailors from accepting her food, and failing to respond with a favor?
My only problem with this novella is simply that it’s a novella. The half-collapsed society and cast of characters are just coming into focus when the story ends. I can only hope Maia Sepp writes a complete novel set in this world.
I received an eARC of this novel from the publisher, which never prevents me from snarking about a bad book. All opinions are my own, as always.