Published by Pyr
Hardcover, February 2006
Keith Brooke is fairly well known in genre circles, being the publisher of the highly-respected Webzine, infinity plus, and editor of two anthologies of fiction pulled from infinity plus. Keith has also published a number of young adult novels under the Nick Gifford pseudonym. With Genetopia, he steps into the US market under the increasingly impressive Pyr imprint of Prometheus Books.
The novel follows a young man, Flint, in search for his missing sister, Amber. That is the simple and quick version of the story. Fortunately for us readers, Brooke infuses the story with mysteries, intrigue, and cool creatures riding along the edge of a line blurring between Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Flint is the son of a violent Tarn, clan leader. Both he and his sister Amber live in near-constant fear of his tempers and violence. This coupled with Flint’s mother’s promiscuity don’t make life very easy for the younger members of clan Treco. On the surface, this world seems like many a pre-technological society imagined in Speculative Fiction, with villages and clans comprising the majority of the populations and hints of forgotten sciences hidden under the surface. In this respect, one can see parallels between Brooke’s world and that of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, Gene Wolfe’s Urth, the world of Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman novels, M. John Harrison’s Viriconium sequence, and another recent Pyr title, Tides by Scott Mackay.
Sickness and mutations are highly frowned upon in Brooke’s world, with ritualistic cleansings of people deemed unfit. As the story deepens, so does the culture of these people. As the title implies, and more is revealed about these people, genetic manipulation seems to be at the root of the various branches of humanity throughout the novel.
The plot begins in earnest after Flint and his sister Amber have an argument, typical of siblings. After Flint loses track of Amber at a large gathering, he asks their father, Tarn, if he knows where she could have gone. Of course, based on Flint’s earlier trepidation about his father, it should come as no surprise Tarn is quite adamant about not caring or knowing where she could have gone. From this point, the narrative flows into something of a travelogue, as Flint journeys across through the Wilds in search Amber. Along the way, he becomes involved with a mystical group of people and undergoes a number of transformations as he acclimates to the various cultures he encounters. Regardless of the characters he falls in with, Flint remains true to finding his sister.
Something I found mildly jarring, at least initially, were the periodic episodes detailing a particular character’s “Story,” which interrupted Flint’s journey and his search for Amber. However, as these stories were fleshed out, it provided an interesting mosaic-like storytelling technique which allowed Brooke to highlight Amber’s plight from the perspective of those characters with whom she came in contact. Not only did this illustrate different character viewpoints, I also liked how this further fleshed out the world and the various societies in Brooke’s world. Another particularly interesting creature Flint comes across is an Oracle, something fully alive, yet seemingly created by humans, an artificial intelligence. There are more of these wild instances, but discovering them and trying to figure them out is half the fun of the novel.
Throughout the novel, one strength is the many questions posed by the narrative and the characters, questions about the world in which you live and the central question buried in our subconscious – just what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be human in and amongst a people who only resemble the preconceived notion of humanity? Like many a good novelist, Brooke doesn’t offer any hard-and-fast answers to these questions. He lays out the story in the milieu of a fresh, living and evolving world and allows the characters to discover themselves, while the reader tries do discover their own answers along the way.
Despite some passages that lagged towards middle of the book, Brooke brought the story to a satisfying conclusion weaving all of the plot strands together quite adroitly. While a cynic might consider the ending a bit trite, I felt it was fitting and deserving of what the characters experienced throughout the story. Genetopia was a rewarding reading experience and another winner from the young and bold Pyr imprint.
© 2006 Rob H. Bedford