The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles

As you have probably noticed, the big trend in genre publishing these days is ‘cozy’. Books are getting marketed as ‘cozy’ even if they are anything but. Allegedly the world is now such a scary place, that only warm and unchallenging fiction will sell. I see the point. Sean McMullen’s Generation Nemesis is a brutal examination of just how awful a post-climate-collapse world might be. I really like the book, but it is not selling as well as I’d hoped. At Eastercon last year people straight up told me that they didn’t want to read anything that was depressing.

The challenge for writers, then, is to produce work that is at least superficially cozy, but also has something that readers can get their teeth into if they want. Malka Older is doing this brilliantly.

On the face of it, the Pleiti and Mossa books are charming detective stories about two middle-aged women who had a relationship while they were at university, and are now finding each other again. There is some peril involved for them in the process of investigating bad guys, but it is peril made mild by the knowledge that all will come out right in the end.

Where, then, is the depth? Well to start with the mystery element of the novellas is very well done. This time I managed to work out who the bad guy was before the end, but Mossa was well ahead of me in solving the case as a whole. That’s how it should be. Mossa is, after all, the Holmes of the partnership.

Next up there is the worldbuilding. The stories are set a few hundred years in the future, at which point Earth has had to be abandoned, and humanity has settled on a series of platforms orbiting Jupiter. Older has clearly put a lot of thought into how this all works. In this book we get to learn a lot more about the history of the colony, including the fate of the original colony, which was established on Io.

Colony, of course, is a word loaded with significance, and the process of telling the history of how Jupiter was settled allows Older to examine the whole process of settlement: who gets to do it, what type of world do they hope to create, and how might that turn out in practice? The latter, of course, is often very different from what was envisaged, especially if the people doing the settling were wealthy and privileged, and therefor knew little about survival.

So there you have it: The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles is another lovely little story about two middle-aged lesbian ladies who endure mild peril to bring nasty murderers to justice. Plus, along the way, plenty of things to think about should you be so minded. Perfect for today’s publishing market.

book cover
Title: The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles
By: Malka Older
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