In the 2050s, Earth has begun to empty. Those with the means and the privilege have departed the great cities of the United States for the more comfortable confines of space colonies. Those left behind salvage what they can from the collapsing infrastructure. As they eke out an existence, their neighborhoods are being cannibalized. Brick by brick, their houses are sent to the colonies, what was once a home now a quaint reminder for the colonists of the world that they wrecked.
A primal biblical epic flung into the future, Goliath weaves together disparate narratives—a space-dweller looking at New Haven, Connecticut as a chance to reconnect with his spiraling lover; a group of laborers attempting to renew the promises of Earth’s crumbling cities; a journalist attempting to capture the violence of the streets; a marshal trying to solve a kidnapping—into a richly urgent mosaic about race, class, gentrification, and who is allowed to be the hero of any history.
I received a digital advanced readers copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
What does a future in which the wealthy have left Earth to colonise space look like? What are the stories of those who are left behind on Earth, now a desolate wasteland wrecked by climate change, radiation poisoning, pollution, and gentrification? Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi sets out to answer these questions, told and explored through a kaleidoscope of harrowing yet insightful perspectives and vignettes.
Goliath is not a plot-driven novel. Rather, Goliath is more of a character-driven story, different characters and their lives strung together to paint a full and detailed picture of the world that the characters live in. The story follows several intersecting perspectives that juxtapose each other; there are reoccurring characters, specifically a group of Black and brown labourers whose lives intersect with one another as they try and make the most of what they can, and there’s also a gay white couple who decide to start a new life together on earth after living in the space colonies.
Captured and envisioned through the experiences of its characters, Goliath hauntingly delves into a wealth of themes: racism, classism, privilege, gentrification, colonisation, and climate change. The story can weigh heavy at times – because despite the fact that the story is set years and years into the future where space colonisation is possible, all that is wrong in its world feels terribly familiar, a reflection of the present through a murky window. Though the Earth in the story may look a little different, the very core and the violence and pain is still the same, and the class divide is a chasm. In this way, Goliath doesn’t feel like a warning about ‘what could happen’ but feels more like a warning of ‘what will probably happen, eventually’. Maybe, Goliath isn’t a glimpse into a dystopic imagination; it’s a glimpse into our inevitability if, in my most hopeful interpretation, injustice and capitalism and systemic violence are left unchecked.
Most distinct is Goliath’s strong anti-gentrification position in the story. Because despite cybernisation and advanced medicine and how death is redefined and reshaped by technology, such luxuries are only afforded to the wealthy. It isn’t for the people left behind on a polluted Earth; it’s for those who left Earth a long time ago – so long ago that the people who left romanticise Earth, insofar that they choose return, only to re-colonise and re-gentrify it. Where then, does that mean for those who were left on Earth, who are now being pushed out once more from the remnants of cannibalised cities being rebuilt and cleansed – just not for them?
At the heart of the story though is one that is deeply human. Across all the perspectives, Goliath is a story about loss and identity. Amidst landscapes of such immense loss and desolation, who are you and who do you become? The story explores how the characters hold onto things that once were, things that gave their lives shape and meaning and identity, and how they hold onto these memories and the past tightly so that their lives feel more than just mere survival. Living to survive can feel dehumanising, and so the characters find joy and moments where they can think about the future in blueberry bushes, horses, and each other.
Goliath is incredibly rich in detail, the storytelling intense yet immediately immersive. Readers who enjoy atmospheric storytelling will enjoy the distant future Earth that Onyebuchi paints with his words. Though the vignettes and different characters can feel fragmented at times, to make the most of your reading experience of Goliath may involve you to zoom into the details aplenty but to also zoom out to examine its wider themes. More, the characters’ stories doesn’t feel like fiction sometimes. Onyebuchi’s attention to detail and how he just captures raw emotion makes the story feel like a stained glass window-like memoir of the characters lives. Goliath is also thematically rich – but it’s the kind of story where you have to do a bit of work to engage with its underlying themes and the raw emotions rippling underneath the surface. If you want a simple, straight-forward read, Goliath may not be for you – but if you want a story that will engage you, provided you’re willing to do the work to engage with it, then you’ll be rewarded.
Though I think Goliath is a necessary and urgent piece of science-fiction, the pacing is incredibly slow and it weighs heavily (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing). I found myself re-reading chapters to truly grasp the weight and implications of each story. This is not a reflection of how good or bad the book is – but, as I said, the story is incredibly rich with detail, so this is a book that demands to be read slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully. Don’t read this book to ‘enjoy’ it – I found it challenging to ‘enjoy’ – but read this book for its harrowing thoughtfulness and intensity, and so I can appreciate it as such. Whether you ultimately like it or not, this is the kind of book that stays with you.
MY CONCLUSION: NOT FOR ME, BUT MAYBE FOR YOU
Thematically interesting and a harrowing vision of the future, Goliath is a portrait of race, climate change, and colonisation told with astute and razor-sharp storytelling. Though slow and heavy, Goliath is undeniably a feat of fiction, a thoughtful, critical and anti-gentrification exploration into an apocalyptic trajectory of our present.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Set in 2050s where the wealthy have colonised space and left Earth, the story follows a cast of characters in their lives, choices, and consequences.
Perfect for: Readers who like slow-paced books, readers who like character-driven stories, readers who like thematic stories with lots of detail; readers looking for a story critical on socio-political issues.
Think twice if: You don’t like slow-paced books.
Genre: adult literary science fiction