Friday, June 15, 2007

Leprous in Utopia: T. E. Berry-Hart, Escape from Geneopolis. London: Scholastic, 2007.

A well written dystopia that loses in interest as we move away from the city.

Arlo is a Natural living in a world of Citizens genetically engineered to feel no pain. He discovers he is a Natural just before he turns eleven years olf and at the same time as a new regent takes control of the city of Genopolis. Quite quickly he becomes the subject of conspiracy as the Regis seeks to control the city and the intellectual classes. Arlo is forced to run but is sent off with a book containing information about his birth and a map to the regions.

Usha is a Gemini. genetically engineered as a servant to work for a Citizen, she discovers that she is actually a clone of her mistress and is wanted for transplanted organs. She kills the surgeon and her mistress and runs.

The interesting material is all in the world building. Berry-Hart depicts well a socety that feels no pain and so, ironically, becomes susceptible to inury and infection. The collapsing economy of Genetopia is also well drawn and so are many of the poltiical conflicts.

Where the book falls down is that there are too many easy answers on the horizon: the Citizens will prove susceptible to emotion because proximity to a Natural provokes it (even if it is hatred), and while the book doesn't end in this volume you just know that the villains will die and there will be an emotional and emotive solution at the end--this is not a book in which, say, engineering will make a difference. The other problem is simply that this book is ongoing. Once Usha and Arlo start running, we lose the depth of the city and are into action adventure territory. It's written well, is reasonably excting but there is nothing new here, and very little reason for the adventure except to increase the pace--we know, after all, that neither main character will die.

Overall, a competent post-disaster story with an interesting dystopia, that falls into too many cliches of futuristic post-technological dystopias written for children. I've read a lot of them.


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