this book opens with a line from oingo boingo’s song No Spill Blood:
We walk on two legs not on four.
To walk on four legs breaks the law.
a song which is itself referencing The Island of Dr. Moreau.
you want to get my attention, open your book with an oingo boingo line. i was “supposed” to read The Overstory next during my time away from home, but i read the first page and singsonged “too thinky for vacation,” picked this one up instead, saw the OB epigraph and thought “just right for vacation!” and it’s not that this isn’t thinky at all, in fact, the only other book i’ve read by this author is one of the thinkiest horror books i’ve ever read: Suffer the Children.
in this world, a sexually-transmitted disease known colloquially as “the plague” and officially as “teratogenesis” wormed its way into the world during the late 1960s and by 1970, one out of every three thousand* babies was born afflicted. in the US, carriers of the disease who became pregnant are forced to have abortions, and the “plague kids” born before this legislation were sent to special group homes; sequestered from the normal kids, often mistreated, poorly educated and tasked with manual labor as payment for their room and board.
because the plague kids, well, they look weird. their faces are upside-down, or they have tails, or dog heads, etc. and now that the first significant surviving wave of these kids are fourteen years old, along with the typical physical changes puberty brings, they are beginning to manifest specific abilities that are decidedly atypical. like the x-men, some of these abilities are really cool and useful: mind reading, pyrotechnics, etc. and some are less so – being able to chew through stuff. which has useful applications, sure, but not as useful as being able to fly.
because i never leave home without my RA bonnet, i was thinking to myself at the beginning of this book – “something about this reminds me of The Girl With All the Gifts.”
but i stopped myself with a “nah, GWATG is much darker than this.”
like i said, this was at the beginning. because HOO BOY does this go dark.
it sneaks up on you. because although this features a dystopian world in which malformed innocents are taken from their families, exploited, sequestered and treated like slaves, there’s something a little cartoony about it at the start. Dog and Goof are kind, funny, eager to please, and Brain’s revolutionary spirit is comically pompous, while the “normal” children given POV status are as squeaky-sweet as campbell’s soup kids. it feels as lighthearted as a book with this particular premise can possibly be.
but that doesn’t last.
and once it starts to turn, there are some truly shocking developments. there are a few predictable moves as well, but the ones that surprised me were perfect, sudden, bold moves that made me glad i hadn’t read too many reviews of this before reading it myself, because i have since seen several mentions of these moves in other reviews. (and also saw that my The Girl With All the Gifts feeling was also mentioned by Claire North)
i don’t know if this is going to continue as a series, but i kind of hope it does. as much as i think this says everything it needs to say as a standalone, and i don’t love the modern impulse that “everything is a series that goes on forever!!,” i’m still interested in the possibilities of this world, and i trust that dilouie would make any continuation feel earned; an intriguing exploration of contemporary issues rather than just the cashing of an offered check.
cuz things could get huge.
Victory is never given, it is taken – through violence if necessary. You want foundational change, you don’t talk to Dr. King. You talk to Malcolm X. No real progress would ever come from the normals…
The mutagenic had to win on their own. And no half measures for him. He didn’t want integration. He didn’t want to drink from the same water fountain as normals or ride in the same part of the bus. Brain wanted it all. A return to ancient times when men worshipped the plague men as gods and enshrined them in myths that endured thousands of years.
* i think that’s the math. the quote is
One out of ten thousand babies born in 1968 were monsters, and most died. One in six in 1969, and half of those died. One in three in 1970, the year scientists came up with a test to see if you had it. Most of them lived.
i took that to mean one in six thousand and one in three thousand, but i could be wrong. seems like 1 in 3 would have resulted in a somewhat different social landscape. but i could be wrong.