In a dystopian future where the gulf between rich and poor is even greater (if you can imagine that), Arad is a “slug” — the common slang term for someone who's poor, homeless, and assumed to be uneducated. They are considered the dregs of society, and there are a lot of them. Most work is mechanized so jobs are scarce. The challenge is especially hard for Arad, whose true identity has been erased. Arad is at least young and good looking enough to make enough to eat by selling himself to those with the money to pay for his services. When Captain Torrin offers Arad a job on his cargo ship as cabin boy, the young man is absolutely certain what the job entails, and is almost as sure that the captain is not to be trusted, but he feels out of options and takes the job. When Torrin's deviousness backfires on him spectacularly, Arad is left alone on the ship, or at least he thinks he is until he uncovers what the captain was hiding.
“Ansariland” is far and away the best science fiction book of the year, and then some. The story is rather fresh and full of twists and turns. Even when you know “something” is going to happen, the exact events still come as a surprise. While all the standard elements of gay romance are present, they're woven together in a way that's much more convincing that usual. Even the sex — the hot steamy sex — turns out to be much more integral to to the story than just a perfunctory consummation of a growing love between the two main characters.
The entire story is told from Arad's point of view. He is quite an inspiring character. While he's definitely no angel, Arad has a strong sense of right and wrong, despite his years on the street and the way he was treated by his family. He's definitely done things that would definitely not be accepted in polite society, but he won't be looked down on for making the choices he's had to make to get food or other essentials. In fact, he makes a rather vigorous defense of sex work at times in the story.
The other main character of the story is Roku, an apparently “re-manufactured” human combined with tiger genes making a powerful weapon. He's very alpha male and seems to imprint on Arad the moment they meet. Roku's background is pretty obvious to Arad soon after they meet, although the true facts of how, and why, the tiger came to be proves to be one of the story's major twists.
The dystopian, corporate-controlled future described by the book is, sadly, not all that hard to imagine. That universe, and the people in it, are all very believable. There's a rich set of characters around our two heroes, and they're all distinctive in their own ways. It's the detailed character development along with an very believable world building that make this one of the best science fiction reads of the year.
“Ansariland” is available from Amazon.