Genetopia by Keith Brooke

Pyr, 2006, 303 p.

 Genetopia cover

We are long in the aftermath of The Fall, in a genetically unstable world. Traits can migrate from species to species, carried by plague and fever, or deliberately induced in the gennering vats. Humans can become Lost, animals be brought up from beasthood to a form of sentience. Those called Mutts have been bred to obey – to love – humans without question and carry out menial tasks; slavery by another name. Technology has regressed to that of muscle power only. In all of this, true humans strive to keep their bloodlines pure. People are judged on what can be divined of their breeding and different clans specialise in different occupations.

While Brooke occasionally uses other viewpoints our main window on this world is through Flintreco Eltarn, whose sister Amber (Amberline Treco) has been sold into Muttdom by their father who (suspicious of his wife Jeschka’s proclivities) has always thought of her as impure, one of the Lost. The book then takes the form of Flint’s quest to find Amber. Along the way Brooke has the opportunity to present various aspects of his imagined world where everything outside the familiar bounds of a person’s knowledge is dangerous, any transformation a frightening thing, all change harmful and corrupting. As well as in the gennering vats changing vectors may occur in unfamiliar plants and fruits – or even in familiar ones. Yet human nature it seems is perennial. Venality, concupiscence, love, fear, hate all make their appearance.

He finally encounters one of the Lost, whose changing he was complicit in bringing about, who tells him, “‘The last trump has wiped out most of True humankind. All of nature (was) engineered to defer to your kind. When you find your judgement, the world will be inherited by those who have embraced change,’” and, “To be human is to be fluid, unfixed. Humanity today is not what it was yesterday, and it is only the start of what it will be tomorrow…. Out here we are truly posthuman. To be changed is to be blessed.”

Genetopia is in some ways an odd book. Within that familiar quest structure (which it partly subverts at the end) it seems to both decry and advocate a change in humanity. Perhaps the biggest problem I had with it was that the profound ability for biological change felt out of place with the regression of other technology. Brooke is good on relationships though, if a little pessimistic here about the possibility of a kinder humanity.

Pedant’s corner:- “When a human baby shows signs of the taint, when it reveals itself as one of the Lost – it was taken and exposed on the Leaving Hill.” (“it was taken”; therefore “showed” and “revealed”,) “a series of wooden rungs were lashed” (a series was,) “they were easier tolerated than enslaved” (they were more easily tolerated,) bouyancy (buoyancy,) Taneyes’ (Taneyes’s,) “and it fit” (fitted, but it was a US publication,) “either side fringed by bamboo and tall rushes” (each side.)

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