The Electric State is a difficult book to review in light of the Arthur C. Clarke Award as although the book is a story it is not a novel. Stalenhag is a renonwned artist and concept designer and what he presents here is a series of futuristic landscape paintings that is accompanied by a story narrative. These two halves make up a whole to describe and alternate world.
Set in an alternate USA in 1997 we follow Michelle travel across America to the west coast. Through the pictures and text we get to see a post-apocalyptic world that has settled into a new norm. The paintings are very evocative and conjure a world that is still just about functioning but is ravaged by war and addiction.
The lead character, Michelle, is not a very sympathetic one and her motivations are unclear. We see the world through her eyes but we care little because we never really get to spend much time with her. Each narrative thread attached to the pictures is short and does little to develop her as a character. I m not sure this is a problem for Stalanhag as I do not think that Michelle is a focus for him. She is a prism through which we see the world he has created.
As a narrative I do not feel the book works on any level. The text merely contextualises, a little, the pictures and fails to answer any of the questions they rise. We do not get to care for the protagonist and are left to wonder why it was important to reach the Pacific and what exactly was her relationship to her companion.
There is an interesting if not simplistic take on addiction and society but I am afraid this does not elevate this book enough for me. Overall the concept is interesting but I feel it lacks the depth worthy of such an award and comes across as gimmicky rather than innovative. This is an interesting slice of sci-fi but not a novel.