(2022) Eve Smith, Orenda Books, £8.99, pbk, 357pp, ISBN 978-1-914-58502-9
This one was a nice surprise. I must admit I groaned when I saw the cover text that suggested this book was ‘á la Michael Crichton’, but fortunately it’s way better written than that. It’s a near future, issues-based thriller with people doing the wrong things for the right reasons, unexpectedly dragging innocents into events they have no control over with very little hope of redemption.
This is a future Britain where IVF and genetic modification are widespread, where natural conception has become the exception and where wealthy, desperate would-be parents can bend the rules to get what they want, which in this case is a child free of genetic diseases.
The science is new, but that doesn’t stop Susan from being talked into an appointment with a Ukrainian specialist in gene editing. Normally the procedure’s done in vitro and before conception, tinkering with egg and sperm until genetic markers for, say Huntington’s Disease are eradicated. But Susan’s case is more problematic: she’s already conceived. The trouble is, it’s from a one night stand with a work colleague, Marty, and now with the husband, Steve, she’d been trying to conceive with for years. So she has all Marty’s generic indicators removed and replaced with Steve’s, so that, genetically, the child would be Steve’s baby. Steve doesn’t know – can never know – but what if he did?
What could possibly go wrong? Unsurprisingly, there’s a group of pro (natural) life religious zealots out to cause trouble. And then a spate of suicides amongst teenagers who have supposedly had the depression gene removed starts to cause alarm and a public backlash against ‘designer babies’. Which is when secrets and lies start to unravel and Susan has to find a way to make things right – assuming she makes it that far.
Topical, thought provoking and relevant, this is an intelligent take on one of the growing issues of our time. The technology’s definitely not here yet in the real world but can’t be far off and the scenario of clandestine Frankenstein-science is all too plausible. Eve Smith handles the material sensitively and she doesn’t judge. We’re right inside Susan’s head and who’s to say we wouldn’t have made the same choices if we were in the same position? Well, yes, it’s obvious when she makes it she’s made the wrong call, if only because this is a thriller and things are supposed to go wrong. but you can understand why – and you don’t hate her for it.
Very promising, near-future science fiction that deserves to do well. Recommended.
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