“Spare and Found Parts” by Sarah Maria Griffin

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of augmenting human bodies with technology — cyborgs and the like are fascinating. I guess it’s partly because whenever my ankles or whatever decide to fail on me again, I wish I could unscrew them and fix the problem just like that, but it’s also because it creates new questions and boundaries about the nature of life and humanity.


Publication date: October 4th, 2016

That was mostly what I was thinking when I requested Spare and Found Parts from Edelweiss. It takes place in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world, specifically Dublin, although it’s now known as Black Water City (presumably derived from translating “dubh linn” into English). Computers no longer exit, because people believe they’re to blame for the disaster that killed off the old world — or at least, they’re not supposed to exist. People are born with missing body parts, and use technology to manufacture prosthetics. The main character Nell wants to do more than that, though: she wants to build a whole person.

I enjoyed this quite a lot. The worldbuilding confused me at first, but it’s the kind of book where sticking with it allows things to become clear. It’s got a seriously diverse cast of characters, including some canonically queer ones, though they’re mostly in the background — a character is referenced as having “mothers” plural, and another character appears to be non-binary. I think Nell’s probably meant to be asexual, from how she responds to flirting and so on, but the word isn’t used, and in part she sees herself as different because she’s got a clockwork heart.

The nature of these “augmentations” also means that the premise itself explores ideas about disability, and so throughout the book it’s very common to encounter people with one or more prosthetic limbs, or a missing eye, or something of the sort. It also explores trends to disguise these (with flesh-coloured prosthetics) or to celebrate and decorate them (with delicate and artistic prosthetics). Though it isn’t an overt exploration of how our world treats disability, it was still refreshing to see a book where disabled characters are the norm, and have lives outside of their particular condition.

It’s interesting to see a science-focused character, especially a female character (and generally I appreciated the gender equality and lack of absolute heteronormativity in the book — characters often say “he or she” when talking about future or possible love interests). Nell was a pretty complex and well-developed protagonist, but I fear many of the supporting characters paled in comparison, including a few who only appeared for one scene and then never again. I would have liked to see more of them.

There’s some lovely writing in this and some gorgeous metaphors. A few bits made me laugh, though they’re not the overtly hilarious type I sometimes favour, and I highlighted a fair few lines just because I enjoyed them. While it wasn’t flawless, it was definitely well written, and it was nice to read something that had a bit more poetry to it after some straightforward books recently.

In terms of plot, I would say that my one criticism would be the stakes and deadline aren’t defined until very late in the story. Although we’re aware that Nell needs to present a Contribution, there’s no concrete time limit imposed, and much of what’s going on behind the scenes has been happening for years. It’s only at the end that things seem to become urgent. So although there’s plenty happening, with some twists and turns I didn’t foresee, it does lack an underlying sense of immediacy, which lessens the tension somewhat.

On the whole, though, I found it an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre that avoided falling into common tropes, with a diverse cast of characters.

Rating: ****

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