Fiction Reviews


The Seventh Son

(2023) Sebastian Faulks, Hutchinson-Heinemann, £22 / Can$45.95, hrdbk, 356pp, ISBN 978-1-529-15320-0

 

A CHILD WILL BE BORN WHO WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING

When a young American academic Talissa Adam offers to carry another woman's child, she has no idea of the life-changing consequences.

Behind the doors of the Parn Institute, a billionaire entrepreneur plans to stretch the boundaries of ethics as never before. Through a series of IVF treatments, which they hope to keep secret, they propose an experiment that will upend the human race as we know it.

Seth, the baby, is delivered to hopeful parents Mary and Alaric, but when his differences start to mark him out from his peers, he begins to attract unwanted attention.

The Seventh Son is a spectacular examination of what it is to be human. It asks the question: just because you can do something, does it mean you should? Sweeping between New York, London, and the Scottish Highlands, this is an extraordinary novel about unrequited love and unearned power.

True Confession time. Iíve never read a Sebastian Faulks novel, and I donít think Iíll read another one after reading The Seventh Son, which I would describe as speculative-lite. Oh, it is set in the future, for sure, or near future with the four parts of the novel-spanning the year 2030 to the year 2056, and there is science a plenty to describe the mechanics of the central conceit of the novel, but the best parts are when Faulks looks sideways at these future times Ė the politics, the environment, security, terrorism, the Government, and the world that the main characters inhabit. It is also a literary novel and because it is written by Faulks it will get the coverage that a straightforward science thriller might not get as it addresses important questions about the nature of humanity and the role of science and technology, but perhaps these larger issues have overshadowed plot and characterisation.

In speculative terms, we are in familiar territory, following a well-worn path that Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells and many others have ventured down. Here, Talissa Adam cannot afford to fund her post-doctoral research project, but one solution might be to take part in research that the Parn Institute in London are doing to try and improve IVF success rates. Thus, she is implanted with the sperm of Alaric Pederson, whose wife, Mary, is infertile due to cancer treatment. In 2031, Talissa gives birth to a boy which will be named Seth, which is why the book is called

The Seventh Son, as Seth was the third child of Adam and Eve, and Adamís seventh son as he had four sons with his first wife. Lilith.

So far, so good, but unknown to Talissa, Alaric and Mary is that the sperm has been replaced by an unscrupulous scientist under the direction of billionaire, Lukas Parn, who wants to create a hybrid and possibly a better kind of human, more in tune with nature, with natural gifts. No spoilers about the how and why of this being done, but Seth is slightly different from his peers, and does seem to possess inner qualities. It is only years later, when the Institute is mired in controversy, does the truth come out with shocking consequences for all those involved.

It is an interesting conceit, and given the rise of questions in society about humanity, and gender, and our preoccupation about the rise of artificial intelligence and whether or not it is cleverer than us, going to conquer us, or even kill us, I wouldnít be surprised if similar experiments to those that Faulks writes about are being carried out somewhere in the world where regulations and medical ethics are pretty scant. Possibly under the direction of a maverick billionaire (insert likely candidates here). Potential real-life aside scenarios aside, I felt that we never got inside the skins, or heads, of Faulksí main characters. The plot also veers unconvincingly into thriller territory and there are a couple of OTT seΧ scenes, but ultimately it is a sad, bleak and melancholy tale, one for Faulks fans, but perhaps not the hardened reader of speculative fiction.

Ian Hunter

 


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