Sip is the debut novel from American Brian Allen Car. It’s classified as science fiction, but it reads more like a surrealist post-apocalyptic western, a world with one impossible feature that leads to an all-too-possible future.
In Carr’s novel, people can get high off of drinking their own shadows. The effects are strange and far-reaching, as addicts go to any lengths to steal shadows, and domed cities are erected to exclude the light and prevent “sippers” from getting in. In another sense, though, it’s no more harrowing than the stories of addiction we encounter every day, and we recognize many of the behaviors, if not the causes.
Carr is an accomplished short story writer who has published several novellas, and Sip isn’t a long read. His brief, staccato sentences drive the story forward, using language so spare and economical that he often eschews full sentences. For example, this wonderful introduction to the hermit:
“He has a passion for grass fires. His teeth are like oyster gravel. You can smell the funny look in his eyes.”
One of the things I love about Sip is the unsparing spareness. Carr doesn’t indulge in the science-fiction writer’s trope of long sections of dialogue explaining the way the world works for characters who should know it already. He doesn’t even fully explain the world at all: the characters simply live and move and breathe in it as the only one they’ve ever known. By the time we come to the Town of Lost Souls, the dusty dryness, the suspicious quietness on Main Street, the madness in the saloon, we realize that even though we are in the future, we are well and truly in the Wild West.
Unfortunately, for me, the book doesn’t read like it’s entirely finished. The pacing doesn’t quite work, almost as though he didn’t know where the story was going when he started it. It reminds me of one of the most infuriating aspects of reading Game of Thrones: we spend an awful long time with characters and details that end up not being relevant to the story. Or maybe they are relevant, in a symbolic way, but the connection isn’t fully realized. I feel Carr wanting to gather up all these loose threads of story and detail and character into one climactic moment when everything comes together… but it doesn’t quite.
It is entirely possible that, despite the battles and journeys and losses and adventures, the entire story is actually about Mira and her mother’s addiction, and that she needed to go all that distance in order to find a way for the two of them to go forward. Sip is a fast read and a good story, with 3.38 on Goodreads and a lot of great reviews. The movie rights have already been picked up, and a movie version may resolve some of the pacing issues. Let’s hope a movie also resolves some of these loose ends. The book deserves a story as sharp and unflinching as Carr’s writing.