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Keith Brooke
Pyr (303 p)
$25. ISBN: 1591023335
(October 2005)

book cover Genetopia's "big question" is: "What does it mean to be human?" And it presents two morals: true humanity lies with change rather than stagnation; members of the human race who consider themselves superior and base a society on the ingrained devotion of those they consider "less-than-human" will eventually fall at the hands of their slaves. Genetopia's far-future world is the product of no longer understood nano- and biotechnology gone wild. Evolutionary change is rapid, prevalent, and feared as a force that corrupts "true" humanity. "True" humans live in a brutal agriculture-based society where semi-human "mutts," are both slaves and work-animals. Even the offspring of humans are not accepted as "True" until they have reached age three free of taints that would prove them to be "Lost". If tainted, they are exposed and left to die. Other forms of "corruption" emerge later in life or are contracted as illnesses. These Lost are cast out to fend for themselves or sold into the mutt trade. There is no mechanical transportation or communication, yet the Trues use high-level genetic engineering via vats of something-or-other. Mutts are dunked into the vats and the Trues believe shamanistic mumbo-jumbo accounts for the success of the resulting change. Failure is as common as success. Protagonist Flint, a truebred, fears his missing sister, Amber, has been sold into the mutt trade and goes off to find her. As Flint ranges further from this home turf in search of his sister, he pieces together clues to his family's history, himself, and his world. An encounter with the God-fearing Riverwalkers allows him to see the part-machine, part-plant, part-animal nature of much of his world. The reader may become frustrated by Flint's series of near-encounters with Amber, annoyed that her portion of the story disappears at times, and, ultimately disappointed at the too-tidy chain of coincidences that constitute the plot. The better story might have been told primarily through Amber's point of view as it is she who is directly experiencing the world Flint is awkwardly stumbling through. Brooke's clear, crisp prose, however, cannot be denied even if Genetopia may prove more parable than novel. -- (CFQ Jan/Feb 2006)