Runtime by S.B. Divya
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is another of Tor's novella line. I must tip my hat to whoever is overseeing this, because each of these stories I have read so far is a perfect representation of its length and purpose. This story is a fine example of something with more worldbuilding and characterization than can be stuffed into a short story, but is a bit too light on plot for a full-fledged novel. But the novella length suits it very well.
In a near-future America with a rigid caste system, Marmeg Guinto is running in a grueling cross-country race, the Minerva Sierra Challenge. She is trying to win or place well to be able to afford the higher education that will gain a better life for her and her family. In this particular cyberpunk-ish future, her equipment includes exoskeletons and implanted computer chips, and teenage Marmeg is a coding genius. Spoiler: she doesn't win the race because of a technical disqualification, but the actions she takes during her attempt (saving another contestant from a rockslide) leads to her attaining her goal, and granting her a chance to get away from her overbearing mother.
All well and good. The writing is crisp and punchy, and the pacing is brisk. However, I didn't really connect with the characters. Honestly, the worldbuilding interested me more than the story itself. I would like to read another story in this world, with a real exploration of the caste system and the "licensing" procedure, and what that means for the unlicensed people. This story is a good introduction to the author's world, but I think she could do better with it.
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