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Keith Brooke
Infinity Plus, 314 pages

Keith Brooke
Keith Brooke's first novel appeared in 1990, since when he has published four more adult novels, two collections, and over 60 short stories. Since 1997 he has run the web-based SF, fantasy and horror showcase Infinity Plus (, featuring the work of around 100 top genre authors, including Michael Moorcock, Stephen Baxter, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, Vonda McIntyre and Jack Vance. His previous novel, Genetopia, was published by Pyr in February 2006. Writing as Nick Gifford, his teen fiction is published by Puffin, with one novel optioned by Little Bird.

Keith Brooke Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Keith Brooke
Nick Gifford Website
SF Site Review: Faking It
SF Site Review: The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie
SF Site Review: The Accord
SF Site Review: Genetopia
SF Site Excerpt: Genetopia
SF Site Interview: Keith Brooke
SF Site Review: Infinity Plus One
SF Site Review: Parallax View

Past Feature Reviews
A review by D. Douglas Fratz

Genetopia was British author and editor Keith Brooke's first SF novel published in the U.S., as a hardcover in 2006, and provided a propitious introduction to American readers. It presents a poignant story set in a well-imagined future world, and is now available again in Kindle e-book format as well as a paperback edition.

In a degenerate far future, long after a nano- and biotechnology transformed the world, true humans live in small clans seeking to avoid exposure to the "changing vectors" that infect the wilderness around them and threaten to mutate and transmogrify them. One of their only remnants of high technology is a tenuous grasp of how to use these changing vectors to create beings to serve them as slaves.

Flintreco Eltarn and his sister Amberline have grown up as members of Clan Treco in the small village of Trecosann. During their clan's trading festival, Amber disappears. Not knowing whether Amber ran away or was sold into slavery, Flint consults the clan's oracle, a long-lived plant-like intelligence, and decides to leave his cruel father and promiscuous and indifferent mother, and try to find and help his sister. He surreptitiously leaves Trecosann and travels by boat and on foot to Greenwater to see if Amber has run away to visit his estranged Aunt Clarel. There he learns a family secret that makes him certain that his father sold Amber into the slave trade for specially bred low-intelligence "mutts" and the mutated "lost."

His aunt arranges passage for Flint on a boat taking caged mutts and lost to the annual trade carnival in the city Farsamy, where he expects is the most likely place to find Amber. During the long trip, he angers two cruel mutt-traders, and is forced to jump overboard. He barely survives, and with no provisions, must continue on foot through dangerous jungles toward Farsamy. He is nearly killed by a degenerate oracle, and rescued by members of the Riverwalker clan, where he must survive a trial to become accepted into their clan. After some months learning the mental and physical disciplines of the Riverwalkers, he travels with them to carnival in Farsamy.

During the weeks of carnival, Flint continues to search without success for word of Amber, his only lead becoming a dead end. When carnival ends, he stays in Famsamy to find work, and ends up recruited by the Nightwatch to participate in a pogrom to exterminate the lost in the wild lands around the village of Tenka. In these strange times, Flint slowly comes to realize that all is not as it seems, and the world in which he grew up, with true humans oppressing the mutts and lost, might soon be changing.

Brooke's degenerate far future world, filled with the remnants of biotechnology, is a startlingly original creation, filled with memorable characters and places. Occasionally the antecedents appear too obvious -- the Riverwalker culture is obviously based on Buddhism, the treatment of mutts as slaves strongly echoes the antebellum south -- but Brooke still maintains a very high level of verisimilitude.

Brooke makes masterful use of point of view in this novel. While the primary narrative is told solely from the point of view of his young protagonist, some of the most interesting and illuminating chapters in the book are those few told from other viewpoints -- a highly intelligent mutt named Dinah who helps Amber, a young clan leader named Henritt who buys Amber and is smitten by her uniqueness, and a lost man named Cedar with his mute mate who provide for Amber both threat and redemption. It is in some ways unfortunate, however, that the only chapter told from Amber's point of view is at the very end of the novel, and she remains somewhat of an enigma throughout the book. The failure to establish Amber as a strong character makes Flint's quest to find her plight occasionally -- during the many slow points in the narrative -- seem merely an excuse for Flint to go sightseeing.

The greatest strength of this novel may be its thematic handling of the issues of slavery, the nature of humanity, and the values of diversity. Brooke makes appropriate use of moral ambiguity. None of his characters are fully evil or fully good; all are understandably reacting to the circumstances with which they are faced. In addressing slavery, he appears to recognize that mankind's history of slavery -- in all of its forms -- is not simply the result of some innate evil predilection toward cruelty and domination, but the result of a more subtle and equally pernicious failure to accept and embrace diversity.

The dark and depressing nature of Brooke's world make's one question at first the book's title -- only at the very end of the novel does one fully realize that it is indeed appropriate. While Genetopia may not quite attain the level of popularity that make for award-winning science fiction novels, it nevertheless was one of the most thought provoking novels of 2006, and science fiction readers who have not yet read the novel should consider picking it up in reissue.

Copyright © 2013 D. Douglas Fratz

D. Douglas Fratz has more than forty years experience as editor and publisher of literary review magazines in the science fiction and fantasy field, and author of commentary and critiques on science fiction and fantasy literature and media.

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