Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter
|Publisher(s):||Jo Fletcher Books|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Release Date:||March 28, 2013|
Gemsigns, Stephanie Saulter’s confident debut novel, is set in the world of the near-future. Humans have been forced to resort to universal genetic modification to overcome the effects of a mysterious cybernetic plague. Of course, humans being humans, corporations didn’t stop with curing the Syndrome, but went on to create a wide variety of genetically modified people (Gems) to take on jobs that were too dangerous or unpleasant to be done by non-modified people, or Norms, as they refer to themselves.
The novel is set during a dramatic week shortly after a declaration has been ratified that gives the Gems their freedom from the biotech companies that created them. Not everyone is happy with this new world order; religious fundamentalist groups who have formed into self-styled “godgangs” are out to attack the Gems, while the gemtech companies, personified by the cold and manipulative Zavcka Klist, want what they regard as their property back under their control.
But the Gems aren’t averse to a little bit of manipulation of their own, and they are led by the mysteriously deformed, captivating, Aryel Morningstar, and untied as a community to take care of a very special child who has come under their protection. Caught between the two factions is Dr Eli Walker. Can he sort the truth from the lies, before the violence in the city spirals out of control?
This is a smart novel, tightly controlled and paced, that works on a number of levels. It touches of themes of slavery, of fear of the unknown other, on religious symbolism and ethical questions. The Gems are marked by their “gemsign” – usually bright, glowing manga style hair, but in some cases an obvious body modification such as overlarge ears or extra digits on their hands. This brings up the issue of Gems “passing”, or trying to pass, as human, by dying their hair or otherwise covering up the sign that marks them out as special, different from the rest of genetically-modified humanity.
Gemsigns poses questions the reader may not feel too comfortable trying to answer. But it’s also a thundering adventure story, deftly written, with moments of both humour and great poignancy as the hardship the Gems have suffered in the name of someone else’s profit are gradually unveiled. Some of the twists and turns of the story are a little too clearly signposted, and the ending was never really in doubt, but there are a number of intriguing threads left hanging. The idea of Remnants, for example; pre-Syndrome survivalists who have never had their genes manipulated, and could carry diseases that could wipe out the human race. Or the intriguing sub-plot, barely touched on here, of the high-powered lawyer married to a Gem who is passing as a human.
The novel is the first volume in a projected trilogy, so here’s hoping those threads will be resolved in future books. There are certainly enough ideas here, and the worldbuilding is good enough that any number of stories could come from the scenario.