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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
The Bush Clinic by Stella Atrium is a speculative fiction novel and the first book in Atrium's new Tribal Wars series. The Bush Clinic is unique in that it harnesses the powerful evocation of futuristic human off-planet space colonization against a social structure that has gone backward to resemble a time before man had ever even landed on the moon in our real-life timeline. Women are relevant only in so far as they are useful and necessary, but not for more, in a rural tundra valued outside the bush for one reason: they are ripe for exploitation. This is science fiction in the context of space, time, the introduction of hybrids and interesting new 'animals', and the human post-pioneering of the planet Dolvia. Really, this is literary fiction that follows two women in the age-old battle of fighting gendered violence and subjugation in a world made hostile against them by men, corporations, and choice.
The Bush Clinic is a difficult read, particularly as a man of color raising daughters of color, having spent my own entire childhood in a third-world country. The parallels Stella Atrium draws between the commodification of tribal people and ethnographic feudalism for and against human/human-hybrid/alien-hybrid is a stomach-churning piece of 21st-century realism. I know what living under martial law looks like. I know what the refugee experience feels like. I know what it means to be viewed in a foreign land as 'other' and 'less than'...and Stella Atrium nails it. The pacing of the novel proceeds as a slow and steady burn. We meet a female physician named Dr. Greensboro who has more agency than the youthful Dolviet protagonist Brianna Miller, but Greensboro is still ruled under the warring clouds of greed and patriarchy. As readers are given time to witness the horrors of all manner of violence, we are also provided a near photographic depiction of the planet it occurs on. The Tribal Wars series is an ambitious undertaking but, based on its introductory novel, it's likely to be a brilliant one.