Dystopian fiction is all the rage right now, which is fine by me because I like reading it. Most new titles are aimed at the YA audience. They tend to be punchy, fast-paced and chronically over-simplified. They’re exciting to read, but entire continents subjugated by totalitarian regimes, headed by a crazed megalomaniacs tend to stretch plausibility to its limits.
Jonathan Trigell’s speculative fiction offering aimed at adults is Genus, a book that oozes authenticity and is all too plausible. Like most good dystopian novels Trigell alters one facet of society and analyses how that change affects the world. In this case, gene manipulation. Designer babies are the norm. The so-called Unimproved are the offspring of parents who could not afford, or chose not to have, designer babies. They have become an unwanted underclass.
Genus is set in near-future London. Most of the action takes place inside ‘The Kross’, a ghetto that was once Kings Cross. It follows a variety of undesirables, but focuses mainly on Holman a genetically challenged artist; a future incarnation of Toulouse Lautrec. His life is predominantly miserable, with flares of beauty. The story opens with Holman having discovered a body; random event, gang killing or serial killer? The answer to this question forms the spine of the novel.
It’s hard to describe just how good this novel is. It deserves to go down as one of the greats of the genre. By using a science fiction premise Trigell poses awkward questions about present day society, most notably the increasingly vilified underclass of homeless and jobless. Coalition Britain’s welfare reforms feel barely a step removed from the right-wing policies of the establishment described in Trigelll’s novel. His descriptions of attitudes of the press towards the Unimproved could have been clipped from a present day edition of the Daily Mail.
But this novel is more than just a left of centre jibe at corporate greed and welfare-cuts. Trigell examines the allure of genetic modification, and also its pitfalls. The ramifications for religion are manifold, but there are also many considerations on a personal level. With your genetic code laid bare, what does it mean for free-will? What does it mean to know that you are fundamentally inferior to others around you?
Trigell’s London is brilliantly realised. It’s dirty streets and ugly inhabitants are vivid and believable. The political system is all too real, and slots seamlessly into a wider geopolitical framework. It’s a masterclass in world building; layer upon layer of description and detail build up a stunning picture. Trigell is an expert at showing rather than telling.
What really makes this novel is first class prose. Not a single word is wasted. Each sentence feels like it was honed lovingly to resonate perfectly with the reader. If writing is a craft Trigell is a master wordsmith. I could pick out sentence after sentence to illustrate my point. I often fold the corners of pages (heinous, I know) with quotes I might want to use in reviews. For Genus there were just too many. I loved Genus. It’s a dark and depressing, but a fantastic story that is wonderfully told. The whodunit aspects of the plot work well, and the denouement wholly satisfying. This is a book that will stay with me long after reading.