Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Book Review: The Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko

Pros: interesting & diverse characters, solid world-building, some thought provoking philosophy

Cons: several highly disturbing (though not graphic) scenes, Lolita style relationship

Five months after a devastating accident that physically cut him in half, Alexander Romanov is released from the hospital.  With little money and no plans, he encounters a young girl nearing her spesh metamorphosis and - due to the programming inherent in his pilot spesh - has to help her out.  He takes a job as a ship captain to help pay for the treatment she needs and, once she’s done her metamorphosis, assembles a crew for an unknown mission.

The book is split into three sections.  The first section introduces the characters, the second deals with the fallout of discovering their mission, and the third revolves around a mystery.  While I really enjoyed the first two parts, the third got irritating as two of the characters claim to have solved the mystery but refuse to explain what happened, presumably so the reader has time to put the clues together.  It felt artificial, though there is a reason given for their delay in the text.  The resolution was interesting as it referred back to several of the philosophical questions the book as a whole posed. 

The world-building in this book is solid.  There are four groups at play: 1. Natural, unmodified humans 2. Speshs, people whose parents decide before birth what specialized job their child should have, and are then genetically modified physically and psychologically to do the work and enjoy it.  3. Clones.  And 4. the Others, several alien races that have interactions with humans.  You’ll also encounter human politics, with a child Emperor, various religions (and religious extremism), numerous branches of racism, etc.  Different planets have different specialties, atmospheres, and customs, while travel between planets is done using hyper-tunnels and takes a surprisingly short amount of time.

For the most part I liked all the characters, at the beginning at least.  The captain’s a great POV character.  I love his demon tattoo (and what it does for him), and the way he analyses his world, questioning the way things are, even when he’s ok with the way things are.  Kim’s a great character, though I did have issues with her… relationship with the captain (and others, as her being 14 and having sex with people significantly older wasn’t something I’m comfortable with, even if the characters - for the most part - considered it normal, or at least, not unusual).  Her specializations made her self-assured, despite her lack of experience.  Janet was my favourite character until the half-way point when her upbringing came to the fore.  I liked that she’d taken charge of her life, getting several specializations and was willing to be a mentor for Kim.   

The one character I didn’t much like was Puck.  His antagonistic attitude and desire to prove that a natural human could be just as good as a spesh made him kind of irritating.  I did, however, appreciate that he was gay and that his being natural showed off the prejudices of his crewmates.

This is a book that makes you think, though some of the scenes that open the way to philosophical discussion are disturbing to say the least.  While nothing’s particularly graphic there are mentions of rape, slavery, and war.  I could easily see this being put on university reading lists and/or used for book clubs, as there are some very interesting essay and discussion topics brought up, particularly around genetic modifications and freedom.  So, for example, as disturbing as I found the hunting scene, I did appreciate the questions about class, ethics and humanity that the captain ruminated on that arose from it.

In addition to her relationships, I had a few issues with what happened to Kim at the end of the book (dealt with in the spoiler section).

I’m not sure I would want to read it again, but it was an interesting, if somewhat uncomfortable, book to read.

*** Spoilers***

I had a serious issue with one aspect of the ending, Kim’s rape by the murderer.  Apparently, based on a throw-away line by the geneticist, Alex determines that Kim has some sort of anti-rape mechanism that will help her incapacitate the murderer.  Ignoring the fact that this isn’t a deterrant, she has to be raped for this ‘ability’ to come into play, the fact that part of Alex’s plan depends on her being raped is horrific.  

I’m surprised that the detective would agree to sell a 14 year old girl a comatose body for unknown reasons.  She also seems pretty assured that her 2-3 days of employment entitle her to a decent severance package from her now bankrupt employer, and that the company will be able to pay it.

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