River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hippopotami in Louisiana! This is a thing that almost happened in our real history, as pointed out in the author's introduction.
In the early twentieth century, the Congress of our great nation debated a glorious plan to resolve a meat shortage in America. The idea was this: import hippos and raise them in Louisiana's bayous. The hippos would eat the ruinously invasive water hyacinth; the American people would eat the hippos; everyone would go home happy. Well, except the hippos. They'd go home eaten.
Much to everyone's disappointment, Congress didn't follow through on this plan, and today America lives a cursed life--a beef life, with nary a free-range hippo within the borders of our country.
Sarah Gailey takes this fantastic idea and runs with it, producing a weird alternate-history Western with cowboys, tame and feral hippos, a black Englishman with the wonderful name of Winslow Remington Houndstooth; a con artist who is overlooked because "nobody ever suspects the fat lady"; a non-binary weapons expert by the name of Hero, Houndstooth's love interest; and a deadly, double-crossing, pregnant female assassin. (Oh yeah, there's a pencil-moustached white guy to front the group and buy the necessary supplies, which is how we know the other characters are people of color, but he can't stop himself from cheating the villain at cards and gets messily offed not too many chapters in.) This motley crew comes together to perform a caper ('scuse me, an "operation," according to Houndstooth's repeated protests) and clean out the feral hippos from a damned-up lower Mississippi, and also serve as the instrument of Houndstooth's revenge for the villain Travers' destruction of his hippo ranch.
Yes, it sounds gonzo. Just go with it. It's a fascinating slice of alternate-history America, what could have been but for Congress' inaction. This is the kind of thing science fiction was made for, and I'm happy this book exists.
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