An environment filled with anthropomorphic technology (cell phones with names, who yawn and purr and scream), cloned salespeople, and eldritch space monsters is weird enough that supernatural haircutting abilities fit right in. On the surface, this novel could be read as a campy martial arts parody; at a level below that, it is a sharp critique of capitalism and society; and even further down it is a story about two people reckoning with trauma, learning to give and accept love and forgiveness. As in the best dystopias, Dee builds a society that has both futuristic technology and recognizable problems of inequality and exploitation, in which rich people are above the law and everyone else struggles to get by. The Samurai and the Ninja are perfect foils, exemplifying conflicting responses to the same forces.
The fight scenes are described in sharp, direct narration that allows their strangeness and intensity to shine through. The worldbuilding is enhanced by distinctive language choices: sprinkled into the English prose are Mandarin nongendered pronouns for all the characters and Hokkien slang. While the ending offers a sudden influx of new complications without resolving any of them, the ride to get there is a wild one and fully worth it. The Samurai Barber is the hero of a delightfully weird and imaginative story with a surprisingly tender heart.
Takeaway: This distinctive novel will delight fans of genre-blending sci-fi, martial arts stories, and anime.
Great for fans of: Saad Z. Hossain’s The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday, Zen Cho’s The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B