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The Genome
Sergei Lukyanenko
Open Road, 490 pages

The Genome
Sergei Lukyanenko
Sergei Lukyanenko was born in Karatau, Kazakhstan, then a part of the Soviet Union. After graduating from school, he moved to Alma-Ata, and enrolled at the Alma-Ata State Medical Institute in 1986 majoring in psychotherapy. After graduation in 1992, he worked at a hospital in Alma-Ata, specializing in child psychiatry. He had started writing as a student, and had just started making money from it. In 1993, he was appointed deputy editor at a local Science Fiction magazine, where he worked until 1996. In 1996 Lukyanenko moved to Moscow, where he currently resides.

Sergei Lukyanenko Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

I was unfamiliar with the byline Sergei Lukyanenko when I picked up this new book. But apparently this Russian writer is well known world wide, and particularly successful in English translation for a series of dark urban fantasies the first of which is Night Watch, which take places in contemporary Moscow. This book however, was billed by the publisher as a "science fiction thriller." What does that even mean? Mostly publishers use the label "thriller" when they promote an unlikely spy suspense story, and that isn't my sort of thing. But I persisted, and quickly discovered that this was a somewhat unlikely space opera, which is sometimes exactly my sort of thing. Perhaps "space opera" isn't considered an attractive marketing label.

Another factor which I considered interesting was that it was by a Russian author. I started reading science fiction translated from Russian when I was a teenager in the 60s; I was buying books mail order from an arm of the Soviet Union known as the Foreign Language Publishing House, which was allowed to do business in this country as part of a treaty which also allowed the USA to distribute some publications in the USSR. I've always suspected that I got myself on an FBI list that way. Anyway, what better way to learn a bit about how people in other parts of the world feel and think?

The narrative supposes a far future interstellar human empire, in sometimes uneasy contact with other advanced alien civilizations. Humans have developed a way of altering genetic structure to create individuals with specialized physical and mental attributes which make them particularly well suited for certain professions, such as starship captains, which is what our protagonist soon becomes. These "spesh" are an elite workforce, and humans who are not genetically engineered are "naturals" -- and frequently discriminated against. It did seem to me that the enhanced abilities of the spesh occasionally moved beyond the biologically possible and defied the laws of physics.

There is a lot here that is wildly imaginative and entertaining. I particularly liked the tattoo-like image on the hero's shoulder, which changed in appearance to reflect his true feelings, even if he was a bit in denial. This "demon" was his little buddy. Well along in the book, after setting up all the necessary back story and introducing a large cast of carefully delineated characters, the story suddenly becomes a murder mystery. A clone/spesh (clones also face discrimination) patterned after the most famous literary detective in the universe shows up to investigate. One of the rules that editors of mysteries usually enforce is that the murder must take place early in the book. It doesn't bother me that this particular rule is broken, but there is another rule about fairly constructed murder mystery, and that is that all the clues used by the investigators must be shared with the readers. Here, those clues and hints aren't shared until the reveal.

The Genome is complex, witty, ambitious, amusing and entertaining, and many readers will just love it. Overall, I certainly enjoyed it. There were aspects that I found annoying. First, something that is just a personal quirk. I don't like characters who sit around all the time smoking and drinking booze. You'd think a starship crew would know better than this. You could argue that their modifications make them able to tolerate tobacco and alcohol. Maybe, but I still didn't enjoy this part of the story. On a more important level, one of the ambitious themes of this book was a study of prejudice and discrimination. Women, clones, aliens and gays were all identified as groups that were sometimes treated badly. Of course you can't always assume that the protagonist reflects the author's ideas, but I think in this narrative the protagonist was intended to be sympathetic and identifiable. But every time he wanted to make sure he had the undivided attention of one of his girl friends, he would pick her up and sit her on his lap. How patronizing! I think among the people I know something like this would get you a good headbutting. It also bothered me that while the protagonist insisted he did not discriminate against gays, one of the climactic pay offs for the whole book was the seduction of a gay male character by a woman.

Copyright © 2014 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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