Tuesday, December 2, 2014

New Old School Sci-Fi

Perhaps it's not fair to call Sergei Lukyanenko's The Genome (released today) "old school" sci-fi. But the book feels like it comes from another era. Not that that's a bad thing. Not at all.

Alex Romanov is a starship master-pilot with an animated tattoo on his shoulder that acts out his current emotional state. He's just been released from a hospital on a distant alien world called Quicksilver Pit. He's low on cash and without a job when he meets Kim, a teenage girl who is getting harassed by some unsavory characters on public transportation. Alex offers to help her out, but she declines and deals with the problem directly by smashing the head of one of her tormentors through the bus's window.

Alex and Kim are both "speshes," people who have been genetically altered to enhance their physical and mental abilities in a particular area. Alex has been modified to join his mind and emotions with a partially biological starship. Kim is a fighter "spesh," or at least that's how it seems. Speshes are born with certain traits, but others don't come along until they go through metamorphosis, a single episode in a spesh's life when his or her body radically transforms. Kim hasn't gone through the process which, because it can be deadly, should take place in a hospital under medical supervision. But Kim has no ID, no money, and no insurance so Alex will have to help her through her transition in a seedy hotel room.

The book has an old school feel partly because of the way it's structured: a lone pilot, putting together a crew, setting off on a vague but dangerous mission. But the book also has blatant metaphorical elements that remind me of old school stories. Alex's specialty, for example, comes at a price. In order to bond completely with any ship he needs to pilot, he's been genetically stripped of his ability to love another human being. It's not hard to see how this helps the story along thematically, and how it relates the book to certain sci-fi fables of the sixties.

Finally, The Genome, despite a lot of wacky ideas around genetic engineering and space travel, uses simple language in its storytelling, distinguishing it from much contemporary cyberpunk and space opera which sometimes expend a lot of syllables to gain techy credentials.

Overall, The Genome is a refreshing read.

The publisher provided me with a time-limited eBook galley for this review.

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