Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
Airline employees find love and fight back against horrific pandemic injustice using some thrilling future tech in Mid-Flight.
It’s October 2038, shortly after an unpredicted disastrous meteor shower killed many people.
“The midnight sky was pierced by jagged red veins. A thousand burgundy fingers tore through the stratosphere like lightning etched in the wrong color.”
When we first meet Lexi and Jason, in chapters alternating their points of view, we are privy to the losses that this sudden shower caused in their lives, but that is literally and emotionally just the beginning. The meteor debris left behind a “vicious pathogen” which “tore through humanity,”mutating to ensure maximum fatalities, leading to the death of two billion people.
There is an antidote available now, but a percentage of the population has also been revealed to be resistant to it, by pure genetic chance, and therefore could still contract the illness, allowing it to mutate in the population.
Despite the fact that this means they are vulnerable to a gruesome disease which kills suddenly, causing thick blood to ooze from their bodies, a terrifying (and, to be fair, terrified) majority of the vaccinated population has turned against them—with the American president taking advantage of and amplifying the messages of hate against them in order to expand his systemic isolation and elimination of a population he disagrees with.
In Mid-Flight, the president rapidly gives himself more power to vilify these antidote-resistant people alongside the women and queer communities he’s already worked so hard to harm at all costs.
“Politicians paved the way for systemic discrimination by forcing [the antidote resistant] to make themselves identifiable. They changed the laws. Rewrote the Constitution. Criminalized a genetic anomaly.”
Lexi, a flight attendant, and Jason, an airplane mechanic, work for the same airline. They are both spending a week at a training center where they have been assigned new roles to prepare for a post-pandemic and post-lockdown existence. This week changes both of their lives.
As their romance blossoms and they share their life stories, they learn of their shared commitment to preventing discrimination and ensuring equality for all. In extremely 2023 terms, the new couple discover that they can maximize their joint slay by working together to interrupt their evil president’s systems. Mid-Flight’s dedication, which reads “To the romantics who view love and justice as inextricable forces. To the optimists who envision better days, then fight like hell to attain them.” really sets the tone for what the driving force of the story is, and where the ideal reader’s heart should be.
When we first meet Lexi, she’s nervous and upset by the seemingly endless traumas she’s been exposed to, using casual sex and alcohol to soothe her pain at any chance she gets. She loves her brother and cares for him deeply. She’s immediately a flawed, endearing, gritty real, and relatable character who you want to stay with, whether she succeeds or fails. We’re instantly invested in her arc because it’s clearly going to be a thrilling, wild ride. By the end of Mid-Flight, she’s a magnificent champion for activism and changing the world with a committed group of people who love her fiercely.
As a lover of fictional futuristic tech and a fervent researcher of the tech advancements in our own world, I found Mid-Flight’s tech equally exciting and grounded in reality—it’s simultaneously wide-eye inducing and totally possible. This includes “ThumbPay” embedded into the table at restaurants; solar-powered cars with expansive holographic map guiding systems; “ocular swipes” to control devices without touching them; writing and reading messages by scanning neural impulses, sending them with a double-blink of an eye.
The way Lexi’s queerness is written is commendable particularly for its authentically casual presence in her life. I appreciated that there are also tons of other significant and side characters who are queer, and whose queerness is just another aspect of their vibrant, valued, adored selves. I also enjoyed that Jason’s Blackness is treated with equal honesty and matter of fact conversation.
Mid-Flight reads as a response to the way the government and politicians handled the COVID-19 pandemic and have backtracked on the basic human and healthcare rights of women and marginalized people in America. The novel channels the rage of those living in a state no longer separated from the church, where the loudest voices are the violent hateful ones.
The deadly virus and stigma surrounding the antidote-resistant people has also left the country devastated by something that closely resembles the misinformed hysteria and outrageous dehumanizing treatment of the HIV crisis. The president uses his power to enact a genocide under the guise of forcefully protecting the public—from people who happen to have a genetic mutation that makes them more likely to experience a sudden and gruesome death. These are difficult topics, but Wilkes handles them with grace and wisdom, and a visceral, true understanding of human nature. Mid-Flight does not shy away from exploring how difficult it is to carry the weight of a dangerous diagnosis, as well as the lasting guilt and loss for parties on either side of the relationships affected by the virus.
Mid-Flight is an exquisite exploration of the multilayered evisceration of grief and the sheer courage and determination that it takes to manage life every day with the cannonball of loss and heartache swinging through your memories. The combination artificial intelligence and holographic technology that helps these characters process grief left me breathless. Wilkes beautifully illustrates its possibilities and implications with regard to our relationships, identity, and memories, handling painful and intriguing topics responsibly while maintaining a captivating rhythm to the story.
Readers should note content warnings for: death & grief; death by virus, self-harm; mass death by natural disaster; discussion of past attempted suicide; discrimination against race, gender, sexuality, and medical status; The story heavily follows a character’s psychiatric instability (being treated for bipolar, intrusive thoughts, OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, and paranoid delusions at an inpatient facility) in the present.
Mid-Flight can easily be read in one sitting, but you’ll want to draw it out, savoring the reading experience, extending the gap before you must leave it. The closer I got to the end, the more I hoped it would somehow reveal itself to be the first in a series. I had so much more to learn from and see reflected in our society through the lens of Mid-Flight’s world, and because I knew I would miss these characters fiercely. The high-stakes methods Lexi and her crew use to fight back against an unjust system are inventive, serving as both informative and inspiring for anyone who would be interested in devising their own career-specific activism plan to support those who are being targeted by hate groups right now. This is an immediate favorite book of the year for me.
Wilkes’ writing conveys the moral, interpersonal, science fiction, social justice, and political aspects of the future with as much precision and personality as would occur if you had physically stepped into this novel. The worldbuilding is easy to sink into early on because it is so rooted in the relatable characters’ emotions.
And the romance is top notch! Lexi and Jason’s relationship is one of my all-time favorites. It doesn’t feel made up for pure daydream fiction (though I am a huge fan of that type of love story, too!), but instead reads like a real, living romance. They feel like a couple I know and would love taking down the establishment with.
Every issue entwined into this story is something I experience in my daily life, either through my passions or identities, so to see them written in a way that honors who I am and what (and how) I love felt uniquely special. If any of the themes I’ve mentioned here—Everything from falling in love to training to be a flight attendant teacher to fighting back against injustice, sometimes doing it all at the same time—interests you, I could not recommend Mid-Flight more! I am certainly going to explore Lisa Wilkes’ previous books and will absolutely pick up whatever she writes next in a heartbeat. I’m crossing fingers that there’ll be more to read in the Mid-Flight world! I would pay anything to read a sequel right now.
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